May the best candidate triumph!

I was filled with joy that brought a lump to my throat on hearing the RPF candidate pronounce these words: “They dug a hole for us, put us in it and buried us. But they didn’t know we were seeds that would grow. Rwandans became seeds; they grew tall and today we are standing strong. You have me and I have you. Nothing can stand in our way.”

My exhilaration stemmed from the fact that the words brought the whole range of their meaning flooding to my mind because I’d not grasped the significance of a different negative variance spat out at another time, when I was of tender age.

That time the words were expressed loathingly and ruefully that the opposite was not the case; that we had not rotted and perished.

Which is why, on the other hand, I bled inside that that ‘holy’ man was not here today to be stung, seared and burnt inside by the candidate’s words, in their confidence-inspiring sense.

It was 1968 on a Sunday in a Catholic church. But I remember the padre’s words as if they were voiced yesterday.

As Father Bart Kamugeni ended his homily, he sardonically remarked: “….konka imwe Banyarwanda muri nka muhogo; ah’omuntu akubanaga hona nimumera!” (…comparing Rwandans to cassava/manioc stems, which germinate wherever they are thrown).

This was in Rwamurunga Parish, Nshungerezi Refugee Camp, south-western Uganda. The priest was haranguing his refugee flock for holding their heads high with a noticeable air of confidence, instead of supplicating to the locals for soiling their land with an undeserved presence that should otherwise have been death and burial.

But, a disclaimer. Father Kamugeni was talking as one priest who neither shared his feelings with other priests, other Ugandans nor with citizens of other countries in the world where Rwandans have been hosted, as refugees or otherwise, at different times.

If anything, almost to an individual, the hosts have been very kind and I know, without claiming to talk for them, that Rwandans will always be thankful for that hospitality.

By the time many refugees got to the point of receiving that hospitality, though, they’d gone through excruciatingly dehumanising and decimating times. Times which applied not only in the refugee camps and forests of different parts of Uganda but also in those of today’s D.R. Congo, Burundi, Tanzania and countries further afield in Africa, without excepting city wildernesses of countries beyond the oceans.

Usually it meant the refugees being packed like sardines in open creaking lorries or trains that broke their backs, ribs and limbs, rocking them up and down.

It didn’t matter that you were a baby or similarly vulnerable. Nor did it that at times it was raining cats and dogs and other times so scorching hot as to “crack the forehead of a dog”, as Rwandans say. Or freezing cold, in wintry climes.

And there was worse. There were those, in same-said conditions, who didn’t enjoy the luxury of those ramshackle rides and had to wear their feet, often hands too, to their bloody bones to cover km upon km for days and nights in order to reach their destination.

If the hellfire awaiting them could be called “a destination”. In Africa, when you think of the forests teeming with tsetse fly, mosquito, snake, hyena and other hordes of small and big land and marine human-flesh wreckers and diseases where refugees were dumped, “hellfire” does not begin to define the anguish.

Add to that the weevil-infested beans and rotting maize-flour offered by humanitarian NGOs of those days, without instruction on hygienic cooking, and what you had was a catastrophe whose magnitude could break the strongest of human endurance. Very few refugees survived.

Yet if the condition for Rwandans in these foreign lands was hellfire, that of some “citizens” within this land was a red-hot eruption of deadly magma that left many in a daily battle for survival, with countless ending up at the losing end.

“Citizens” in quotes because this land hosted Rwandans according to allotted tiers.

The lowest tier of expendables was hosted in a Rwandan Siberia (Bugesera) where they were subject to regular slaughter as need arose.

The next upper tier was quarantined in forests and only let off the leash to extend their emaciated beggarly palms for morsels of food to quieten their hunger pangs. For only a while before diseases sank them into death and ended their suffering.

Yet another upper tier was given free rein to till the land in their regions, but nowhere else, and there to fight mostly a losing battle with the ravages of disease, famine, floods and other menaces of nature. But at least, while alive, these enjoyed the honour of serving the select top.

These select few who had inherited the land from a foreign invading master, who had seized its ownership illegally before that, were themselves marionettes stringed to that master in seeming serf-master bondage of eternity.

Bondage the rivalry fights over which left few survivors; the louts who rode the crest of oppression, division, banishment, butchery and engineered the elimination crime of all crimes to seal the grave.

That the Rwandan citizenry could work together with its leadership to painstakingly rise phoenix-like from this nadir and sprout into a near-12m-strong true family bond to post indicators on politico-socio-economic and other areas’ progress that show a country rapidly headed for middle-income, in a mere 23 years, is nothing short of a miracle.

“With our unity….energy and commitment, we cannot fail to achieve anything we have set out to achieve. We cannot lose the battle to develop our country”, cemented the helmsman of this family bond responsible for the turnaround, the RPF candidate, on another leg of his campaign trail.

When you hear such time-tested statements as this and seriously reflect back, can you hold back tears of joy?

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Tread cautiously, critics; Rwanda is a whiff of many surprises

Pray, why is everybody (self not excluded!) fretting over this flood of criticism from the Western organisations, hurled at the behest of their governments, of course? Haven’t we always been with them, especially when we have had an important engagement going?

And yet we have never been fazed and have continued to do what’s in our best interest, their noises notwithstanding. So, let them indulge their vain self-amusement.

A saying in Kinyarwanda goes that the big eyes of a frog in water do not stop cattle from watering, but it’s too polite; a French one about canine conduct not stopping the caravan from passing, too crude.

Maybe we should settle for one from Uganda, considering our David-Goliath relationship with these organisations. It’s about a black ant ‘being assaulted’ (for civility’s sake) by an old village lady on the pathway-side. The ant mockingly tells her that if she knew how many devastating storms it had weathered, she’d know that a little trickle means zee to it.

As the saying goes then, so is it with Rwanda: how many predictions of disaster have we weathered?

The predictors have come in all colours, all masquerading as objective know-alls concerned over the plight of our society. But they can neither run nor hide from self-exposure, in the end. By their conduct, utterances and actions alone, they’ll always betray their nefarious agendas.

Many times results of their efforts have been so embarrassingly absurd that you’d think they’d have given up, but no. They ride roughshod over the embarrassments and press on, despite always ending up as the laughing-stock of those they set out to embarrass, as well as outside observers.

We saw this most starkly in the presidential poll of 2003, the first to be held after the 1994 liberation of this country. It was a three-horse race then, as today, and, also as today, among the candidates was one freshly from exile.

Then, as in the following 2010 race and today, everything was spick-and-span and the campaigns ran smoothly and the voting too, as it verily is going to, this August.
But in 2003 at the final tally when the count was out at one polling station, in what’s today Musanze District, everyone was stunned to see a “neutral” election observer break into tears, softly moaning: “Nooo! He has lost…..!”

Impossible to comprehend as it was, it’d have been tolerable if she was crying over the loss by a credible candidate. No, ‘her’ candidate was the bald-head whose campaigns were attended by mostly passer-by school children, whose curiosity was, in any case, consumed by cows or goats grazing at the campaign venue, with their attendant cattle-egrets or crows.

The candidate’s selective message to those who cared to listen? “My Rwandans, I am of your stock (mumenye ko ndi uwanyu). Cheer your candidates but remember to vote with your heart!”

To Rwandans and the “neutral observers” fronting him, of course, the message was clear: a call to go back to the days of ethnic division. He and his Western backers had banked on the “tyranny” of ethnic numbers.

And the Western proxies (media groups, rights activists, humanitarian organisations, the lot) had worked so hard to prepare the ground, ‘awakening’ Rwandans to their ‘repressive situation’, but only to be left with an egg on the face!

From the outset, 1994, they had worked to destroy the name of the man who, so unfortunately for them, turned out to be the 2003 RPF candidate. There was no dirt on this earth left unturned to paint in him the picture of a man who was a menace to Rwanda, the continent and the world.

In that crusade, even the hitherto bedrock of balanced reporting, the self-billed BBC world radio, was not left behind.

In its Kirundi/Kinyarwanda programmes that it had established to “assist” Rwanda in the repatriation effort of her citizens, one time it declared to the world: “In the southern part of Rwanda, a section of the citizens are forcing another section to carry them on their backs, considering themselves too superior to walk. Those who refuse to carry them are cooked in drums and bangles made out of their cooked remains!”

(The implication of who was supposed to be behind it was certainly not lost on anyone).

Indeed, some citizens near the border with Burundi hopped over, just in case. But, of course, it all proved to be a silly hoax and they all returned. Did BBC apologise? Not on your life!

That, moreover, was on top of giving genocide fugitives plenty of platforms to spread their hate messages, where elsewhere it was a crime to host them.

So, when these are the kind of organisations Rwanda is dealing with, is it a wonder that even disinterested outsiders, seeing the country has advanced in spite of these stupid efforts, are beginning to pay no heed to claims of “sham democracy”, “decades of repression”, “feted and feared”, “climate of fear”, “police state”, “Africans…[seeing Rwanda as a model]…are wrong”?

That’s why the pains of these know-alls instead seem to inadvertently campaign for and popularise the candidate that Rwandans know they deserve and one the world will continue to love doing business with.

The lifespan of all humans may be finite, as we are needlessly ceaselessly reminded, but in his time of building a society with an infinite lifespan, “perhaps the most successful general alive” (as ‘The Economist’ reluctantly concedes) can prove to be like old wine: improving with every decade that passes.

Is that, maybe, precisely the reason for us to fret?

For, God forbid, were they to get a whiff of the threat of a leadership of a total neo-colonial cord severance drive, the guns trained on North Korea would turn Africa-ward, no less!

But then again, going by the superpower missile tsunamis we’ve weathered on this landmass, isn’t that a mere trickle?

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Rights defending tricksters in the grip of a malingering electoral fever

They are back, guns blazing, those champion rights-abuser busters! Those fellows that never tire in their fight for the defence of our rights, whenever a big event is here!

Only, poor fellows, they never seem to ever get right that little thing about what Rwandans take for rights-defence. Here, rights-protection means ensuring that none lacks in: –

Proper nutrition; good clothing; decent shelter; swift healthcare; education for all; 24-hour security of person and property; platform for self-expression and assembly (as a pillar among others); transparency and accountability at all levels; access to all government officials; a whole host of others.

And that’s not all: making sure these are improving all the time.

Most of which rights, if these so-called rights-defenders did any introspection, they’d be hard pressed to find in their ‘advanced’ backyards where, more often than not, colour and creed define who gets attention in the protection of their rights – those who have them.

You would therefore think their concern would be themselves first but no, so abundant is their magnanimity! Or, maybe, their governments are not ready to pick up the reward tab for rights-protection of their people?

So, say what you want, rights busybodies, because we know you are seized in a malingering electoral fever.

If I got my doctor friend correct, a malingering disorder is the purposeful feigning of a physical or psychological sickness with the goal of getting a reward but where, in some cases, the affected problem can actually end fatally for the feigners.

And I add: …..with the rewards left as the monopoly of surviving fellow feigners!

Don’t you think in this country we’ve had more than our fair share of pretenders to our rights protection, even when they knew not how we got them?

Without favouring any of them with a mention, you remember those that claimed to roam the globe without concern for borders and yet seemingly confined themselves only inside our borders. These and bizarrely comical others all seem to have fallen by the wayside.

But there were also those avowed to watching every human on this earth and yet seemed to have no eyes except ones borrowed from exiled Rwandans, the latter whose eyes can never see but what’s inside their own hearts. And those that fought for amnesty for all; amnesty which, here, we never saw.

These are attempting a feeble come-back, forgetting they never got anywhere in the first place. Now, though, they have to try; the times demand it. Remember, it’s election time.

Because if these Rwandans are too cultured to indulge in mudslinging one another as citizens, journalists, rights organisations or politicians, who can pass such a chance to show the world that Rwanda brooks no freedom to self-expression?

Why, there might be a buck to pick from their cash-strapped governments.

As for material to pick on, there are many outlandish assertions to be recycled: dictatorship, killings, no freedom of speech, no political space, the dirty lot.

May they have happy hunting! But they sure know the reasons for the demise of their malingering mates. Because when together they failed to unearth any mud that could stick on Rwanda and convince their sponsors, they came off as false prophets of doom.

They may persist but they learnt a lesson from that, knowing how they started with big ambitions, sure that nobody could see through their ‘foolproof’ designs. And did they start a long time ago, or did they!

They had sniffed out a rumour of a few Rwandans in Uganda trying to join others to together craft a plan to repair their unity. So they hatched up a grandiose doomsday plan that went thus: there was a “Hima Empire” forming that’d overrun the entire East and Central Africa and turn citizens into serfs.

Whom it was supposed to involve and what its divisive effect would be, you understand.

In fact, for that, the “Empire” rumour spawned a so-called republic that was supposed to embrace the same region: a “République du Soleil” that never saw the sun.

However, when the “doomsday” came, it turned out to be a coming-together of Rwandans to overpower and stop a genocide overseen and guided by a superpower. From whence, Rwanda set off on the hard road to recovery and progress.

Talk of “Hima Empire” had mysteriously vanished from all conversation!

But not so fast, said the malingerers; there was another doomsday to predict. A “primitive kangaroo court” system was being set up whose “definite” result would be to target some Rwandans for revenge imprisonments and killings, shouted they to the eager anarchy-milking media for dissemination to the decision-makers of the West, just as they are doing today.

The Gacaca court system came and was through with its work, having cleared millions of genocide cases and, in addition, reconciled Rwandans in less than ten years, at a minimal cost. Meanwhile, the UN ICTR in Arusha was still clumsily crawling through a trifle of dozens of shoddily handled cases, at colossal sums of dollars.

Even in the case of the rescue and repatriation of Rwandans from D.R. Congo, where they were held hostage by a collection of génocidaires gathered together and armed by same superpower, efforts were made to brand it the genocide of the Congolese, generating derisive public laughter.

Initiatives like Umuganda, Bye-bye Nyakatsi, Girinka and others were not spared, either. Initiatives which, to the chagrin of these layabouts, have gone beyond being the talk of the world to being touted as best practices to be emulated by many in the third world.

Freedom-of-speech suppression in Rwanda? It’d be a fool who’d suppress rights they sacrificed so much to create.

Lay down your smoking guns, rights-defending cowboys, you ain’t gonna fool no soul no more: your end is nigh!

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Presidential campaigns: which candidate carries the message that matches our pace?

A story goes that a young man recently got a photo of what’s dubbed Kigali’s budding financial district, Car Free Zone area, and asked his elderly relative to see what Kigali looks like today. On taking one look, the woman sneered: “Son, you’ve been had, too! Those inyenzi tricksters take a photo of Dubai and call it Kigali and you idiotically swallow the fib hook, line and sinker!”

The old lady in question? Self-exiled Mrs. Agatha Habyarimana, widow to long-time president of genocidal pre-1994 Rwanda.

Of course Kigali is nowhere near looking like Dubai. And, hopefully, it has no intention of becoming a concrete jungle, anyway.

But whatever the case, it would be understandable for the old woman to imagine something like Dubai on seeing the cluster of near-skyscrapers in the area captured in the photo: Ubumwe Hotel, Grand Pension Plaza, M Peace Plaza, Bank of Kigali headquarters and City Hall, among others.

After all, the last time she was there, the tallest buildings the area boasted were a three-storey Foreign Affairs ministry and a two-storey Post Office. To say nothing of these being in the company of only unsanitary rukarakara (mud-and-wattle) shops, it’d be an understatement to say the state of the buildings was a shame to humanity; imagine something worse.

If you visited those two ‘wonder buildings’ of the time before 1994, you remember that their ‘bathrooms’ used to send forth a permanently foul odour that wafted towards the nearby “Présidence”, whose occupant never ‘smelt’ anything wrong.
How could he, when his office itself had its own heavy cloud of none-too-perfumed smells?

It consisted of a set of dried-brick-and-iron-roof buildings, some of which were slimy torture chambers, as testified by a friend I routinely walk with, who was once hosted there.

So, if the occupant of that ‘august office’ were to see today’s Kigali Convention Centre’s cloakrooms, wouldn’t he take them for the eighth wonder? As Rwandans say, those departed were too hasty (abapfuye….)!

More than all the aforesaid, however, what blew me away was the old woman’s reported reaction when shown a you-tube video of what Kigali is projected to look like in 2050. She let out a long, sarcastic laugh: these inyenzi (cockroaches), intelligent as they supposedly are, delude themselves that they can live beyond the normal human life-span? (A contradiction, but well…).

In short, to her, her husband, their cronies and hoard of followers, planning ahead was not for the black-skinned. In their humble station as by God’s design, the gift of complex thought was not granted them. So, why waste time imagining what was beyond them?

Imagination was for the superior races and theirs, as black-skins, was to follow commands on what to do and how to behave and await, beaks open like chicks in a bird’s nest, hand-outs from the God-anointed races, generation after generation ad infinitum.

So, the elite competed for favours in sharing that ‘handout manna’ from the West and the rest of the populace languished in poverty, ignorance, hunger, disease, say it. The result was a citizenry consumed in despondency, bewilderment and anger, which latter they vented on their kith over imaginary differences, as directed by their leaders……

But we digress. We were talking about the incredulity of a self-exiled old lady.

This fast-modernising Kigali apart, what’ll be her reaction when shown a picture of the latest of the model villages that are mushrooming around the country, with an ultra-modern hospital adjacent to it: “Fils, ça c’est mo touer touruoi fouwoi”?

That, remember, is her way of pronouncing “….me tuer trois fois”, meaning that telling her the bitter truth is like killing her three times. And the utterance will be in reference to the model village of Kizirankara and the new Shyira Hospital, both in Nyabihu District, Western Province.

For info, President Paul Kagame unveiled them last week.

The model village consists of 108 modern houses built in two months flat and handed to vulnerable villagers, free. Those houses, with electricity, running water and furnished to rival slick city residences of Kigali, form a village that’s one model of villages that have been and continue to be built in all the 30 districts of the country.

That village is one of the catalysts that continue to fire the imagination of citizens with means.

But the bitterest truth to the leadership of yesteryears that centred its politics on regionalism: these latest developments are in what used to be their stronghold, being home to most of them, like the lady mentioned.

It was a stronghold where the ‘privileged’ citizens lived in houses that at night were lit by a noxious sooty flame issuing from a kerosene-tin-and-wick contraption known as agatadoba. And where sighting iron-sheet roofs was only on visiting the area’s health-hazardous dispensary.

Naysayers, “rapid-growth-but-dictatorship” wishful thinkers and those of your ilk, wake up and smell Rwanda; she is happening. “Dictatorship”? A Kizirankara villager will laugh in your face!

But on a soberer note, at the rate initiatives like these and others are rising, with government using departments like the RDF Reserve Force and other stakeholders to slash implementation duration and to cut cost to rock-bottom, soon the country will be dotted with minor and major satellite cities of the capital, Kigali, freeing more land for more creatively productive activity.

That, citizens of this land, is quoting only one possibility on the vista of possibilities that stretches before us, if we make an informed choice come August 3/4.

Indeed, that’s the meaning of liberation: ushering in freedom, which, as someone said, “means the opportunity to be what we never thought we would be.”

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Presidential hopefuls, who is up to the task of safeguarding Agaciro?

As a Rwandan, especially presidential aspirant, or friend of Rwanda, have you all taken time to think deeply about this word Agaciro? What’s this hullabaloo many are making around Agaciro, the Rwandan word that means their dignity and more?

As is the wont of oldies, unfortunately, in form of opinion I’ll drag you back into the past – hopefully not kicking and screaming! Where we meet a 19th century man who came face to face with, and got to know, about Agaciro probably better than most, despite himself.

Whom, when you think of it, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) leadership must’ve had in mind when they set up this government. For, when they took on the mantle of heaving this country out of the cesspool, they adopted the mantra in French called “reculer pour mieux sauter” (to jump higher, you need to step back).

And when they stepped back into history, they must’ve seen that there was a time this land was known as “Nchi ya Bwana Mkali” (Land of the Fierce Warrior). That title was coined by a man by the names of Tippu Tip.

Now, if there was any abhorrent quantity that Africans in this region lived in mortal fear of, that quantity was that 19th century man called Tippu Tip. He was a monstrous region-rover whose gun-toting gang all but laid bare this entire region ‘harvesting’ slaves. Slaves who, in the bargain, functioned as freight haulers of his looted ivory.

Sadly, the lot of Africans was such that some of their leaders needed no gun-scare. They were the slaver’s willing salesmen, gathering their own people for sale.

Not so in Rwanda.

At the sound of the first gunshot at the border with Burundi, Rwandan warriors descended from their ridges to spray Tippu’s gang with arrows and, when they cut and ran, Tippu’s slave-hunters never looked back towards Rwanda, ever again.

To this day, the area from where that shower of arrows emanated to put these gunslingers to flight is named Ibwanamukari (“bwana mkali”). Rwanda’s “ukali” (fierceness) had won the day!

In “Bwana Mkali”, Tip may have referred to one leader but behind that leader was an indomitable army of highland warriors. And they were unconquerable because they came from a bonded community where no Rwandan could hurt, betray or in any way harm or wrong another, let alone sell or kill, in their coveted dignity, their Agaciro.

Rwanda was a country of “fierce foes” if you were spoiling for a fight.

But welcoming to, and respecting of, well-intentioned foreigners. Which, sadly, proved to be her Achilles’ heel when colonialists faked friendship, having been tipped off by Tip.

That’s how this otherwise unassailable land was for a century put in the doghouse and turned into the sick man of Africa by colonialism, only to close the century as the pity pet of the world at the hands of its surrogate barbaric leadership.

That during those lost years it could get leaders whose vision was to wipe out part of their compatriots will forever remain a dirty blot on Rwandans’ conscience.

It’s how when they state that they have regained their dignity and confident respect for anybody of good will, it’s no political gimmickry.

When they sing about their Agaciro, they are invoking their ages-old culture. For when they dig deep into their culture and marry what’s appropriate with what they find appropriate in modernity, miracles begin to happen.

Gacaca, for one, that resolved millions of genocide crimes, in the process uniting victim and génocidaire, all in less than a decade, a first anywhere.

It’s how, from the abyss, Rwanda has emerged into “a country of heroic people…..who triumphed over colonial hangover….[to become a society that,]….with determination, audacity and hard work,…..[has achieved]…..great socio-economic development”, to quote a message from one of Rwanda’s bosom-buddy countries, Tanzania.

Tanzania being a fusion of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, where this latter, in an interesting twist of history, was home to the fearsome Tippu Tip, that long ago!

Rwanda’s achievements are a result of a combination of all heads and hands working together to serve dignified common cause as, from the quote again, a “solidly united people….in whom what one sees is what one gets”.

Never again hollow heads whose idea of development was to kill off compatriots, so as to monopolise alms from Western “papas”. Nor naïve sorts who only took pleasure in hitching plane rides from powerful guests as an end in itself and to hell with seeking gainful cooperation.

He/she’ll have our ears, who believes in the equality of all men and women of this earth.

To the point that, if a visiting president from a powerful country you are hosting lays that patronising arm around your shoulders, you patronisingly respond with an arm around theirs, too. A tiny gesture, but one that makes a statement on partnership of equals.

Such statement, we’ve seen. And its loud, clear message: Rwandans must be equal to the best.

Whichever party, whichever aspirant, all should put country before party or self as we, the citizenry, wish them to. So, they must put their heads and hands together, too, to support the best among them, even if it means coalitions beforehand.

The best is that who leads us in our journey of “Rwandanising democracy” and not seeking out those who “can democratise Rwanda” for us, to slightly misquote another message!

As it is, we stand on the shoulders of giants whose 27-year (yes, not 23) track record says that what they say is what they’ll do. And “I will give it my all” tells us volumes.

For that track record, today we are “Nshi ya Mabwana na Mabibi wakali” (country of great men and women)……….thanks to “Agaciro k’Ibwabimukali”?

Need we ask who is equal to the task?

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Our army is our kith and kin, not dogs of war

There is a saying in Kinyarwanda that goes: ukize inkuba arayiganira (loosely, when you have a brush with death, you’ll never tire in telling the story). And with the life-threatening experiences each of us has undergone in this region at the hands of killer soldiers, who wouldn’t harp on the story?

This thought came to me after seeing the camaraderie among civilians, active-service soldiers and army reservists as Minister for Defence Gen James Kabarebe chatted them up last 24th May, after he had officiated over the inauguration of affordable houses built by a company belonging to the army reservists.

Knowing the minister, I could imagine the roars of laughter all round as he, with fellow veteran Generals present chipping in, offloaded the repertoire of hair-thin escapes they’ve made in practically this entire region.

It’s a long recount, even if they cannot give it in full as much of it is older than they.

In this country before July1994, an encounter with a soldier out of the barracks was a stare into the jaws of death. In Uganda, the hell soldiers visited on citizens in the 1970s and early 1980s is well documented. Then the harassment in Kenya one time in 1982 when soldiers went amok. Maybe also in Tanzania in 1964, before the mutinous army was disbanded.

Burundi, South Sudan and DR Congo, need we say anything? We can only pray that their leaders finally find the formula to create a rapport between solders and citizens, so the people can get to tell their chilling stories.

It’s sad but true that soldiers can render life worthless, once out of barracks, in some societies.

My glimpse at this was in Uganda in 1978 at one of the dreaded roadblocks of Idi Amin’s infamous soldiers when once I was accosted thus: “Chacha wewe nini? We kwisa kuwa tajiri natumia dora?” (“You are so rich you deal in dollars, eh?”)

My smattering knowledge of Kiswahili (still, better than theirs!) was going to bail me out after pleading a case of only carrying dummy plastic dollars but my Ugandan fellow spoilt everything. He produced his university ID (soldiers couldn’t tell!) and blurted out: “Wona, mimi muyizi.”

I quickly pleaded that he meant “student” (mwanafunzi), not “thief” (mwizi), but also that we were not students but simple villagers. The latter fib was to save us from being branded “Ayino tu mach” (I-know-too-much), a capital offence of claiming superior knowledge that was punishable by death!

But for my Kiswahili, my friend and I would be singing Halleluiah in Heaven prematurely!

All of which goes to show you why that mirthful banter of the group around our minister for defence is telling a long story.

A long story, to see the ramification of which, you need to walk the streets of Kigali in evenings as an example. When you extend your hand to any soldier patrolling the streets, their handshake will be with both hands, yet without once blinking in their alertness.

That Rwandan ‘both-hands’ handshake is a sign of high respect and, in it, the soldier will be telling you this: nothing can go between you and your peace and comfort without removing me.

However, that removing him/her is easier said than done, as any French soldier who was in Zone Turquoise in 1994 will tell you – another long story, the telling of which needs pages!

Anyway, without even going into examples of how, for instance, whereas some European governments (may God help their victims) have learnt to copy our government and bring their soldiers out on the streets among the people, they’ve never remembered that pre-emptying these terror attacks is a permanent, collective business. It serves no purpose, doing it after the fact.

Which is why here the army is in sync with the populace at all times. The Rwanda Defence Force is one with the people, kufa na kupona (life and death).

Where other armies are kennelled in barracks and only unleashed when war and other attacks break out, to the extent that once out they can’t tell who is or is not enemy, in Rwanda the army is folded-sleeves, working with the citizens, at all times.

In their Rwanda Military Hospital that’s set to be one of a kind in the region, they are busy treating any patient who comes to them, soldier or civilian. If you can’t come to them, they’ll come to your village for free medical care in their outreach activities, whatever distance.

In the army week initiatives, they are providing whatever can develop their people: modern houses for genocide survivors, other vulnerable groups and those relocated from risky areas; building schools, roads and bridges; providing biogas, modern cooking stoves and clean water.

The RDF and its Reserve Force are contributing to the Girinka Programme; planting trees and digging trenches to play their part in protecting the environment.

Their rescue missions within the borders and in foreign lands have become something of a legend. In all the aforesaid, not forgetting themselves and their self-advancement, of course.

As Gen Fred Ibingira once quipped, even if they were attacked in their sleep, the RDF would defeat the enemy and only wake up to clear the mess. He may have said it in jest but, having cheated death innumerable times like us all, he should know.
To the RDF, for having internalised the ethos of being one with the people, “impossible n’est pas Rwandais”.

That, if you ask me, is our story. And it’s a story worth telling.

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Tribute to the heroines of these highlands

I remember a fellow columnist musing in these pages that if she were not married, she’d consider marrying Rwanda.

Well, ma’am, I have good news for you. Even in your happy matrimonial state, you’d not raise your loving husband’s hackles, marrying Rwanda. Because I think he wouldn’t hate a similar conjugal union, either. So, both of you, why don’t you go for that nuptial knot?

For, to allay your fears, Rwanda is actually not “he” only. She is also “she”!

Yet again, neither of you need think of a case of polyandry, polygamy or gay union because you’ll be joining the long list of close to twelve million Rwandans of all gender who’ve laid claim to her/him as their spouse. The truth of the matter being that when you marry Rwanda, she/he doesn’t become your spouse as such.

She/he becomes your mother/father! Jamaican or any nationality, acquire and uphold her/his values and, as motherland/fatherland, she/he’ll be yours for the asking.

However, at the risk of inviting the wrath of men on myself, I’ll state my honest opinion and stake my life on it: Rwanda, being strong, is more motherly than fatherly. And I base my venture of an opinion on my observation of women generally which, according to many, I do not hold a monopoly of.

But, in particular, the women of Rwanda have a kind of tenacious strength that they can only have been favoured with by an equally strong motherland.

It suffices to visit any office in this country or see the streets of its towns or the ridges of the land and homes thereon. The biggest number of people who’ll be at busy-bee hard work will be female. And so will that of those of ripe age, who’ll have survived ravages of such taxing tasks.

As for being the fittest in the Darwinian sense, take these rains that were recently pounding this country day and night. Now think back to April 1994, when they were more merciless. Among the survivors of those terror days, submerged in disease-infested swamps or later scorching under the burning sun, the majority are women. In all survival situations of then, the same holds true.

And that’s not all. Rwandans, almost to a woman or a man, have been refugees at one time or another.

Talking for myself, I recall how in the 1960s it was practically impossible for our parents to adjust to the hardships of exile, having come from a life of comfort, or even affluence, back in Rwanda.

Those days, it was every refugee family for itself. The whole coterie of humanitarian refugee organizations had given us a wide berth, for reasons only known to themselves – or did agitation for self-determination have anything to do with it?

Anyway, back then, these organisations that today, in addition to pampering refugees, entice them with creature comforts that are enough to lure level-headed citizens into a permanent life of statelessness, wouldn’t have touched us with a 10-mile-long pole.

Yet on our own as we were, when we thought we were getting on the verge of starvation, wasn’t it always our mother who somehow made food materialize from thin air?

Faced with the indignity of failing to provide for family, many fathers opted for suicide. Those who persevered, to their credit, could not betray their honour and integrity, looking beggarly. But they lived in despair, even if they went about their near-starvation business in their spotlessly clean clothes, however worn and weather-beaten, rather than appear wretched.

Not so our mothers. Eschewing despair, while sharing the men’s honour and integrity, they were ready to ‘cook’ towels to make believe it was food, so as to give hope to children but also dupe ill-wishers, as cooking was in the open. Still, they avoided that men’s ‘ready-to-die’ stoicism by grimly working to somehow magically procure us food.

May they be celebrated every day, not only once a year!

However, after all is said and done, there are unsung heroines that no one cares to acknowledge. The young ladies who sacrificed themselves, body and soul, to sustain family and educate siblings. Many were a young lady who gave of herself to a foreign brute of a man, who abused her as wife or otherwise at will, and yet stoutly bore it all, that her people could have a future.

Senior citizens who were witness remember how these sacrificial lambs were sometimes used as ‘conduits’ for contraband minerals and drugs. And how sometimes these ‘conduits’ were not live – need we be too explicit?

The women of this land are, and have always been, the pillars of our society.

Luckily, “this man right here”, President Paul Kagame, envisioned all this, that long ago.

That’s how, in his thankful job that has inspired Rwandans, the women have taken their rightful place to use their gentle but tenacious work methods to temper the regimented rigidity of men’s work methods. The increasingly evident result of this is an overall resilient society.

For emerging from kitchen relegation early enough, our strong women have joined men to put the bad times behind this country, “for good and forever”.

Sister and brother of any nationality, feel free to tie the knot with these gender-balanced highlands known as Rwanda, dual nationalities even if it may mean.

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