Verily, this country has come a long, hard way

A visit to the Campaign Against Genocide (CAG) Museum in Kigali is a plunge into the scary hole of the near-impossibility of recreating a genocidal Rwanda into the new country we see today! That the museum is in the basement of the Parliamentary building doesn’t help matters.

The terror of the museum’s tale hits you bang in the face when you observe the way the building commands the view of the hills around. Because as it commanded that view, so was it in the crosshairs of the heavy artillery guns atop those hills, all with itchy fingers on their triggers.

Now remember that it was this building that housed the RPF politicians supposed to join the Broad Based Transitional Government and the National Transitional Assembly.
Ranged against a whole genocidal government with a horde of mighty foreign backers, what could a trifling 600-man/woman RPA protection force do to pluck those politicians and itself out of the jaws of death?

Remember, also, that those artillery guns trained on them were not alone. This land and its sky teemed with those and other guns while the land, in addition, swarmed with génocidaires rearing to go, with their killing implements on the ready.

Nearer, muzzles of other guns were pointed at the entrance to, and all around, the building. Just as killer génocidaires laid a 24-hour siege.

Of course, the transitional government never came to be. And, indeed, as the RPF officials sat in wait, on April 6th 1994 the massive final phase of the Genocide Against the Tutsi exploded.

Yet, improbability of all improbabilities, the 600-man/woman force not only protected the politicians and itself but also pushed off the whole raft of maniacal, blood-thirsty attackers to a safe distance. Meanwhile, they cunningly made forays into the areas around to rescue the still-breathing genocide victims and piggyback them to safety.

By the time their comrades joined up, the 600-man/woman strong force had given a good account of itself of setting in motion the campaign against the Genocide.
The hell-fire that they together went through to regroup and finally throw out the demonic killers and bring sanity, only the museum can give you the frightful details.

Think of it then.

Isn’t it a shame that, before I was awakened to the importance of that visit by my workstation group, it’d never occurred to me that the museum was home to such a long, painful story? And, bet on it, many Rwandans don’t believe that the RPA fighters actually covered those kilometres on foot to reach Kigali and join their comrades, in a few days.

Hah! If only they knew!

Some of our fighters have trekked thousands upon thousands of kilometres to go perform wonders in distant lands, through impassable footpaths. And someone asks if a 60km walk-fight through enemy fire was possible in so short a time.

But for the whole story, you’d have to listen to a man who was in the thick of it all the way and seems to possess a photographic and ‘archival’ memory.

Defence Minister James Kabarabe’s accounts will hold your guts like a vice. He places you right inside that chilling journey that pierces and grabs you as if you are in the grip of a monstrous eagle’s talons. Yet that won’t be all for you.

When he tells you of the overall commander who made the impossible look like a walkover at every unthinkable turn, you’ll be left not only speechless but also thoughtless!

Truly, what can you say or think about what has happened and is happening to this country and the man who has led and is leading this then-unimaginable process?

That a man could devise a strategy and lead a tiny team in retrieving this country out of the murky mire of dependence on donated “sumbiligi” she was drowning in, as Minister Kabarebe recalls from his memory of the Rwanda of the 1980s, dumbfounds him when he thinks back.

As, indeed, it rightly does every one of us.

But it’s interesting that, for a man who was here as a refugee toddler (another long story!) in the 1980s for a fleeting number of months, Minister Kabarebe remembers what I could find only one person to confirm, among the many who lived here at the time.

“Sumbiligi”! Many of you have seen “Gift of the UK”, “Don de la Belgique”, etc., marked on, say, vehicles donated by those countries.

Well, when Rwanda was in the grasp of an extensive famine in the 1980s, it was the lot of Rwandans to depend on that “Don de la Belgique”. Only that the “don” was actually “sumbiligi”, a Kinyarwanda corruption of “souris belges”, French for “Belgian mice/rats”.

Just imagine the shame!

Our kith and kin depending on rodents branded as “Don de la Belgique”, which, in any case, only ravaged the little crop they had, before fattening! Whether they were “cochons d’Inde” (French for “guinea pigs”) is beside the point.

Yet if you’d mentioned today’s transformative home-made programme, “Girinka”, that has magically positively impacted poor families, the government of the day would have dismissed it as a “Rwanda-hater cockroach curse” – umuvumo w’inyenzi nyangarwanda!

That, dear Rwandan and friend of Rwanda, is the long, hard road we’ve had to navigate.

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