Interaction, collaboration: a sure bet for strength, wealth

For March 30th 2018

And so there you are, bemoaning your woes of difficulty in fulfilling travel needs because you think that at fifty thousand Rwanda Francs (Frs), the business of acquiring a passport is costly.

You’re not impressed by the fact of simply sauntering into the immigration department to place your document-accompanied request, and that’s it. Nor that in a mere week, day in urgent cases, a polite message will tickle your cell phone to announce that your document is ready.

Yet you want to travel because now thirty African countries have adopted the protocol on free movement of persons and may soon put an end to those irksome visa charges. You’d have wished for all countries to jump on the bandwagon but some are still steeped in this myopic, self-protection shallowness, seemingly oblivious to its stunting effect.

Our ancestors would’ve taught these countries a thing or two. When they coined the adage, “A bird that does not explore the skies will never know where there is harvest down below” (akayoni katagurutse ntikamenya hao bweze), they knew that isolation never advanced anybody.

So, ma’am/sir, you’d better consider inflation, cough up that tiny dough and even make a song about it.

Embrace Africa and the world. Observe one another’s harvest. When you celebrate and party together on shared harvest, others will beg for an invite to collaboration and its benefits.

It’s a chance we could never have dreamt of at one time.

Once we were so isolationist that we made all effort to isolate even some of our own people, to the point of attempting eradication of some. And Rwanda was the poorer for it.

This country was then inhabited by an unrecognisable society of tiered groups that included ‘genuine citizens’ and ‘squatters’. Squatters, one group of who lived for as long as the ‘genuine ones’’magnanimity lasted.

That ‘division-effect baptism of fire’ history is now well known courtesy of the yearly commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi that has been carved into this country’s constitution…..

But we digress. We were talking passports.

The process of passport acquisition one time, to be precise. This process necessarily excluded everyone from the squatter groups. But sometimes in one of these squatter groups, branded ‘alien’, the odd chance of being in the employ of a ‘genuine citizen’ as long-distance driver could earn you that precious paper.

Therefore this story of that passport acquisition concerns those so-called genuine citizens. However, even for you as ‘genuine’, it was no walk-over.

A passport cost about five thousand Frs, which was small beer. The only little nagging problem was getting the passport in your hands, if you were not one of the bigwigs in government.

As small fish, on top of that five thousand Frs you had to pay an un-refundable extra fifty thousand Frs as caution money. Why, search me!

Which would be fine if you were comfortably moneyed, only that the way to the immigration office was not a straight route, the way you see it today. No, it was a long, circuitous line of palms waiting for greasing before they could be smoothened enough to serve you.

But your pockets were not ‘yawning’, since you were part of a small elite group that could afford an air ticket. So you went for the biggest ‘smoothener’ of all – a cabinet minister.

At the ministry entrance, if your name did not ring a bell to the gatekeeper, a dent in your pocket magically saw the gates fling open. To persuade the reception desk lady to go through the tedious motions of shifting her gaze from her nails needed an additional puncture in your pocket. Whereupon, with an ear-to-ear smile, she sprang up to usher you into the office of the minister’s assistant.

Here, a sizeable shrinking of your pocket prompted the assistant to coo in the intercom as he/she informed “son excellence monsieur le ministre” that there is a very interesting man to entertain him. By the time you emerged from son excellence’s office, minus the whole bundle, you’d have promised to meet him in the evening for a chummy chat as you shared igisiga (large bird like a crow, meaning ‘chicken’), washed down with lots of champagne.

In the evening your refilled pockets had to be touched sparingly, however, because the same story would play out at the immigration office, before son excellence’s ‘note of commendation’ smoothened your passport acquisition.

So, being limited in number and only serving self-interest, our traveller compatriots were blind to another of our ancestors’ adage: “Ubwenge burarahurwa”. They thus never got any light of wisdom – of emulating the better living standards of where they travelled – from their visits and returned to live happily with their mud houses (rukarakara) and general poverty till death would they part!

These passport acquisition hassles are only a wee part of the rot that keeps many a country stagnant to-date.

When Rwanda stopped wading in this insular, sectarian-centred murky mire of short-sighted avarice, she opened up to welcome, and travel, the world and embrace and share all. For that, see how the lot of her people has improved economically, socially, politically, say it.

Interaction and collaboration across societies are a sure bet for building strength and wealth.

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AfCFTA: May Kigali be the launch pad for a united Africa

Talking to ‘The East African’ weekly, a Rwandan based in Kenya says: “Kenyans are go-getters and great entrepreneurs, Ugandans are hospitable, Burundians are colourful, Rwandans have discipline and focus.”

The statement is a summary of the opinion that answers to his quest for work-related needs, of course. And I guess he’d say “courteous” about Tanzanians, if he’d worked in their country.

Otherwise, we all know that our different nationals have a lot more positive attributes that they can harness for a richer region and continent, if only they can cultivate one thing: unity.

God knows I, as a Rwandan, wouldn’t place myself anywhere near “discipline and focus”. And I know many birds of a feather we flock together and others that are outright rotten eggs. But generally, many fellow citizens can amaze with their hard work, self-sacrifice, courage, solidarity, tenacity, generosity and other qualities that accompany the “discipline and focus”.

No doubt you’ll see contradictions in these qualities. How, for instance, can you talk courage or heroism when in your history you gave in to foreigners who scattered you around their farms wherein to put that hard work to effect, in spite of yourself?

Because, as said here before, during the colonial days, Rwandans, for being hard-working, were the favoured labour force for Belgians in their copper mines and coffee and tea estates, in the then Belgian Congo. In Uganda and Kenya, the British shipped them in to labour on their tea, coffee and sugarcane plantations.

And the glaring shame! More recently, the world was gripped in a horror from hell as it watched live devilish barbarity in action, when some Rwandans turned on their compatriots for total elimination.

A people who as one had stood firm to successfully fend off the powerful slavery wave that had all but consumed the entire continent, what had so forcefully ripped them this much apart?

Where had their courage, solidarity, selflessness gone?

However, a near-century of a colonial division-drive and the subsequent native leaderships’ scorch-earth obliteration effort aimed at part of their citizens had gnawed at this society’s fabric so mercilessly that it was by sheer luck that it still existed.

That a nucleus of braves rose to stop the fall and stitch back this shredded cord, and that the whole society quickly rose to the occasion to work hard on reunion, demonstrated that Rwandans had unity as their very DNA. Thus, it defied destruction.

It’s for that that whatever opportunistic ill-will those rotten eggs and myriad other self-seekers may seek to effect, for whatever length of time, cannot break this society’s spirit, ever again.

There is no other way of explaining what happened on March 18, 1997. That day saw a wondrous incident that was commemorated last week and was reported in this daily.

Teenagers stood together in the face of definite death to reject being categorized into ethnic constructs that had been woven around this society for close to a century. Said they: “We are not this or that ethnic group. We are Rwandans”.

Sadly, six of them were immediately hewn down in a hail of the bullets of those demonic infiltrator kinsmen. 40 others were left with permanent injuries and the rest suffered life-long trauma.

Those youngsters will forever be our heroes.

For, barely three years previously, at age fourteen or fifteen, some had watched as their parents butchered countrymen/women they called foreign pests, cockroaches or snakes in an apocalyptic orgy of unprecedented proportions. And some, yes, at this tender age, had been drafted into that band of maniacal mass génocidaires.

Who knows, maybe the catechism of that apocalypse was still being preached to these kids in the secrecy of their homes by parents still nursing consummation intentions of that heinous act, three years after the failed attempt. Or preaching that there was no trusting ‘cockroaches’, now among them, that may harbour revenge intentions.

Those three years previously, their classmates-to-be, formerly on the victim side, had been resigned to death, convinced they had to live every minute as it came, at the mercy of kinsmen/women in power; ‘true owners of the land’.

Imagine the strength of the bond that this single moment of show of solidarity built.

For, daring division, youngsters stood together in unity, ready to fall together as one. If that doesn’t boggle the mind, I don’t know what does!

It was by sacrificing to fight all evil and promote common good that Rwanda is in this good place today.

That, fellow Africans, is one elaborate but little example – considering the huge mass of pain that gave birth to a similarly huge mass of miracles on this land – that is an exhibit of what is possible when people stand together for a good cause.

Rotten eggs of East Africa; rotten eggs of all regional blocs; rotten eggs of Africa: lay down your short-sightedness, selfishness and greed.

Let’s all together in solidarity embrace the giant leap made in Kigali on this 21st day of March in the year of our Lord 2018, with the signing of The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, towards the Nkrumah-envisioned United States of Africa.

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From the “glassful” of yore, Rwanda is a busy-bee, welcome-all house

“Rwanda is like a glass full of water. One single drop and the glass will overflow.” You remember the author of that infamous statement, made in all seriousness.

Whatever corner of the none-too-cold place he is in, has that author swallowed his words? To jog your memory, the author was the man who reigned over Rwanda until he dropped out of the heavens in a ball of fire.

But our culture forbids talking ill of the dead. So, mea culpa. Unfortunately, one can’t stop oneself from being stricken by a bolt of memory. And, on recalling the absurdity, from laughing out loud.

Because, as example, look at the Special Economic Zone that we first heard of as a mysterious zone, wondering what a bush could zone. Today, it’s an expanse zoning not-so modest a number of different factories, warehouses, et al, a few complete and humming and buzzing with activity, a lot others at different stages of construction.
Beyond and all around as far as the eye can see, the erstwhile wild hills are covered with bright modern buildings, interspersed with trees contentedly swaying in the gentle wind.

In the countryside, villagers may not be living in palaces but that they enjoy simple, decent habitation is in no doubt. With easy access to health, education, energy, sanitation and other amenities, they’ve seen their standard of living take a turn for the better.

Now recall end-1994, those who were here. Save for the city centre and its near-environs like Gikondo, Nyamirambo, Nyabugogo, Kacyitu, Kimihurura, Rememera and scanty others, all else was scrubland, with a banana grove around a grass-thatched mud-and-wattle hovel here and there.

Four or five concrete storied buildings graced Kigali city centre as did a few other decent but mud (rukarakara) residences for the rich, the above-mentioned environs.
The rest of the country was dotted with those hovels that were kilometres apart, whose occupants were ravaged by disease, hunger, squalor and hopelessness.

So, when before Rwanda was so small that she could only accommodate a select section of her people while she ‘spilt out’ her excess baggage (another part of her citizens), today the country is not only home to every Rwandan but also to any foreigner who chooses to herein pitch tent.

A walk around that economic zone alone takes you through sign-boards that read like an encyclopaedic display of the whole world business community.

So, cynics though we be, let’s give it up to the leadership of this country for this swift turn-around that has seen a rise in the fortunes of our people. “Swift turn-around” because in the life of a country, 23 years could as well be 23 weeks.

To get a sense of this, you only need to look at the poor parts of the world. Many countries, having suffered upheaval or not, are still lost at sea as to how to get rid of the disease, hunger, squalor, graft, internecine acrimony and all other miseries that seem to hold them in a vicious, unbreakable vice.

“These Rwandans and how they like blowing their own trumpet!” you’ll say. “Wasn’t it being reported the other day that ‘Despite several advancements, [their] country still has severe malnutrition among children”?

Yes, ‘The East African’ newspaper reported that but, on that, whom was it quoting? President Paul Kagame himself, who is so exacting you’d be tempted to think he sounds the alarm before the fact. Which, even if not exactly before the fact, is an expression of the fact that if malnutrition can be minimized, why shouldn’t it be eradicated totally?

Especially since “….several advancements…” precedes the “malnutrition” phrase.
To think closer back, I remember one time a foreign neutral observer, in one of these unique annual leadership retreats, pleading with President Kagame not to castigate government officials. Because, explained the observer, “….these guys work very hard surely!” But to the president, again that’s an expression that, if they can attain better, why can’t they, best?

No, for sure – without appearing to denigrate the high integrity of the reporter – that quoted 2015-statistics child malnutrition is not so severe as it may sound. Moreover, 2015 is eons ago in this land!

The report is captioned with a slum that’s adjacent to the up-market housing estate of Nyarutarama. The slum, whose name is equivalent to what in Nairobi’s Kibera slum they call “To Whom It May Concern”, is truly alarming, though not to the point of its namesake.

But, interestingly, the resident ‘guys’ of this slum are resisting a free offer of an 18m-Frs-worth flat each. Instead, they want cash in compensation for shacks that, combined, are hardly worth ten million. But cash, anyway!

Such a mind-set has survived the passage of time and pervades all aspects of life in the citizenry and needs much effort to bend towards change. But this top leadership, having no luxury of time for any malady persistence calls for no single-minute let-up on that effort.

And, certainly, with unity of purpose and all hands constantly on deck, what appears impossible can turn to something of a walkover.

Welcome to a new Rwanda that wants better for, and more of, you!

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Kigali ripe for an animal sanctuary

The other day a friend from the 1980s, when we lived in Kenya, was telling me about an idea he wanted to try out in Kigali in 1998 and how he shelved it, when it met resistance. Seeing as it was a brilliant idea but also that it was at a time this country was grappling with so messy a situation, I personally thought his, at the time, was an idea whose time had not come.

His intention was to give tourists and other interested parties a mini-taste of our national parks. He wanted to create an animal sanctuary; a small home to a diversity of wild animals.

Today, that idea is an opportunity that has urgently been crying out for seizure.
Already, somebody has an ‘animal garden’ in Rwesero, near Kigali. And, on top of other tourist attractions, Kigali is host to a snake park.

In 1998 the urgency of settling all Rwandans after the effects of a calamitous 1994 overrode everything so much so that, if you’d suggested a snake park, we’d all have hissed in your face!

For info, an animal sanctuary is not like a zoo, where animals – bought, captured or poached from the wild, especially from other countries – are kept in prison-like conditions for public viewing. Nor is it like a zoo-like animal shelter under the charge of an individual or groups of individuals.

It’s a safe haven where animals receive the best care.

Our friend’s idea was therefore to create a mini park where resident animals are given the opportunity to behave as they would in the wild, but in a protective environment.

Having worked in the wildlife and tourism sector in Kenya at a time when their tourism industry was booming, our friend knows best what he has in mind. But, listening to his enthusiasm, you’d be persuaded to give him all the support he needs, however sceptical you may be of the practicability of carving out such a facility in this city.

The idea is compellingly appealing.

Most of you, especially senior citizens who’ve ever been refugees, hate hyenas I am sure. And who wouldn’t, knowing how they used to stealthily poach us out of our makeshift grass-tents, in our sleep? If it were not for their cowardly foolishness, some of us wouldn’t be here to tell the story. It’s thanks to their frightened haste that they picked whatever their fangs caught and ran away, only to find themselves chewing sleeping grass-mats, on settling down for a meal!

Still, however cold-hearted against these innocent creatures you may be, I’m sure you’ll feel a pang of pain when you see a desolate wounded young one limping on its own, perhaps abandoned, if not orphaned, and easy prey to predators, sometimes from its own family.

Wouldn’t you be happy to see such a poor thing in that kind of facility, which would act as its orphanage?

Now think of all the animals that used to be our constant companions, in the old days when we led lives of little Tarzans. Unfortunately, these seem to be facing extinction.

Take ‘urukwavu’, wild rabbit or hare (not domestic ones that are for your avaricious palate pleasure!) I am made to understand that rabbit and hare are vastly different but in Rwanda they are all considered ‘inkwavu’ (plural), anyway – unless ‘bakame’ is not strictly for folklore.

Then there is ‘isha’, ‘little gazelle’ according to my inept dictionary. ‘Agasamunyiga’, skunk/polecat, that little animal that fends off impending attack by letting off one hell of a nostril-choking stink. ‘Umutereri’, a kind of chicken-chomping squirrel. ‘Ikinyogote’, the porcupine that’ll shower you with its poisonous quills, if you are a greenhorn hunter. Etc.

Does anyone see these little darlings anymore?

We have not talked about the birds that seem to be gone for good. Crested crane, guinea-fowl (‘inkanga’), partridge-bird (‘inkware’) and more.

We can also acquire exotic animals and birds for introduction into our game parks so that the sanctuary will also have served conservation and nursery purposes. The endangered ones will be protected and others can be tended until they are of age for release into the wild.

Exotic animals and birds that immediately come to mind are: rhino, okapi, ostrich and peacock, without forgetting the existing but rare shoebill. These can be nursed in the sanctuary and then tested for fitness in our park conditions before a suitable home for them is decided.

To all the above and more, add samples of the usual birds as well as land and water animals in our game parks and you’ll see how we’ll be among the world’s most visited countries.

I can bet my last ‘franc rwandais’ that a passing visitor, say a conference delegate, once given that short tour of the sanctuary instead of only the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, will make it a point to return for longer tour of the true game parks and the other genocide sites of Rwanda.

In this cutthroat world competition to attract tourists, every small idea will count.

So, individuals who’ve been harbouring such ideas should be encouraged to try them out.

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Africans, the Western ‘paradise’ we crave can find us here

Refugees demonstrating over reduced hand-outs? My heart bled when recently I saw Congolese refugees in Kiziba camp, here in Rwanda, violently demonstrating over these alms.

In our long and roaming runs as refugees (1959 – 1994), anybody entertaining such an idea would’ve been laughed out of the…er…refugee camp! It was common with refugees from other countries like Sudan but taboo for Rwandan refugees.

Which, paradoxically, put us on a collision course with host countries and Western do-gooders.

This meant that there was a possibility of being hewn down by our hosts, with endorsement of do-gooders, if we’d so much as attacked anybody over rations. But in any case, our elders considered dependence on hand-outs grossly dishonourable.

For that, the refugee camps that Rwanda’s neighbouring countries put us in turned out to be death-traps that few of our people survived.

If we were not battling cholera and similar diseases that were ready to summarily do away with our loathed lives, a raft of killer beasts in those forest reserves were in waiting, to receive us as their delicious manna from heaven.

Yet we bore it all stoically and not once did any refugee raise a voice.

Those of you who survived those deathly camps remember the worst of them: Oruchinga and Kinyara in Uganda; Mushiha in Burundi; Mwese in Tanzania. Then the hardly habitable jungles of what’s today’s D.R. Congo, where no one gave a hoot whether you lived or died.

However, the worst of the worst was the tsetse-infested camp for internally displaced persons inside Rwanda, where the luxury of any hand-outs was unheard-of. And where, in the end, they perished in the ghastly Genocide against the Tutsi, with hardly a survivor.

Comrades all, pardon me for re-scorching your hearts but we must look back to those days that, as a society, we may take our re-united self-organisation as our enduringly protected treasure.

For today, to a single Rwandan, including those of us who deluded ourselves that it’d only be the fate of a few, we’ve suffered this hell.

Admittedly, though, back in our time at first (1960s) things were so bad that our elders could tolerate such hand-outs for the kids who could not withstand endless days of hunger. But, emphatically, not so for themselves; those who couldn’t somehow make it chose death rather than insult their ancestors by soiling their palates with them.

In any case, what did the hand-outs consist of?

Weevil-infested beans, American cow-feed that comprised grains of sorghum and yellow maize, all of which claimed victims before our parents got round to knowing how to properly cook them for their children.

Meanwhile able-bodied men and women worked for food for the aged outside the camps because the latter could not touch those hand-outs.

One hand-out, however, our parents couldn’t touch with a mile-long pole: American salted fish, which was hard to tell whether it was more salt than fish, or vice versa!

The fish/salt itself was so big that, cut and spread out, it was the size of a small satellite dish. But the taste, only a few of us fiendish young rascals could find out after we’d been given a castaway saucepan (sufuria), which we took to a secluded forest-nook as our kitchen.

Villainous as we were, still we could not cook the fish/salt until after either of two processes: put it on the roof of a house for a week, to be ‘desalted’, if it was rainy season; take it to the water-well for a wash, which involved knocking it hard against a rock repeatedly after immersing it into water.

Even after all that pain, however, it proved to be wasted effort for some of us as that ‘indesaltable makayabo’ left us with an unquenchable thirst that has followed us to this day!

Good riddance, therefore, for before six months were out, the donations-tap had been cut and it was every refugee for themselves.

Did we raise Cain? Nope, we said “Tis as well” and went back to fending for ourselves.

The way, many years later, the RPF/A fended for itself in the bush and triumphed over much bigger and more resourced forces. And the way from 1994 the Rwandan nation-state has been working hard at fending for herself: from 100% aid-dependence to a fast-diminishing mere 17% as we talk.

What a shame that fellow Africans can fight over hand-outs instead of campaigning to regain their identity, rights and dignity that their countries deny them!

These Congolese and various other fellow Africans, should anybody wonder that they seem unable and sans intention to organise themselves towards good governance and self-sustenance?

Of course, these riots are a disguised hankering for that all-too-precious visa to America or anywhere in the West. For, like so many Africans of their ilk running to their deaths in oceans, they’ll do anything for a life in the West.

To the point of, on top of fighting their meal-doling masters, attacking the police of a Rwanda that accords them a peaceful atmosphere and everything else up to a university education.

Our dear guests, the sights of this host country you abuse are trained on lofty aspirations: to get the West, nay, the world, hankering to come to Africa as proud partners.

And with our hearts and hands together as Africans, we can bring that precious ‘paradise’ you fancy, to you!

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Can current individual countries’ political tectonic shifts deliver the prosperous integration Africa craves?

Some of us heaved a sigh of relief when Robert G. Mugabe went with a whimper and not a bang. He was past his sell-by date and there are so many tumbles a man can take, true, but we’ve to admit we always cheered when, once on the rostrum, he tongue-lashed those superpowers that lord it over us – and did it more eloquently than many a polished Englishman/woman could ever hope to!

The equally linguistically agile Winston Churchill, once British PM, must still be booing his compatriots derisively on recalling this, where he lies in his repose!

He knows, jolly chap, that much as Mugabe cannot be spared the flak for lacking a vision for Zimbabwe’s future, the UK, too, shares the blame for grinding it down. Moreover, Churchill’s quintessential “my word is my bond” was glumly disgraced when the UK went back on its pledge of helping to build the newly independent country that it’d abused so.

But of course, when even your young wife or bodyguard cannot be swift enough to rescue your knee from a none-too-soft connection with the airport tarmac, it’s time to call it quits. Sadly, our Mugabe had to wait until he had to be nudged off that thankless throne.

Even the all-time-impossible-to-kill Fidel Castro of Cuba (RIP) on another continent, when he suffered such a tumble, knew it was time to withdraw his trademark military cap from the ring. Strong as he was and despite a sterling job done of advancing his country, he immediately saw that true as it may be that revolutionaries never die, it’s only in as far as they live on in their ideas and ideals; not in their mortal ‘housing’.

So, may the successors of our revolutionaries continue from where they left, after plucking their people from the yoke of tyranny, and now build progressive societies.

And the “man down yonder”, Jacob G. Zuma? Well, he zoomed onto the helm of the biggest African economy, gathered dishonest, even criminal, friends as he stuffed up his pockets with the wealth of his country and his Nkandla harem with its fair gender. So, he happily executed a few jigs of his Zulu dance but before he could finish with his hot shower, he’d been rudely prodded to throw in the towel.

By that time, though, South Africa, once a pariah Apartheid infamy but an economic giant, now as a near-democracy was at its knees so scandalously that it suffers electricity power-cuts and dry water-taps. It’s a fading shadow of its discriminative but heyday era self.

President M. Cyril Ramaphosa and your team, bring down this wall of division, racial disharmony, abject poverty for the majority and stinking riches for the minority. Demonstrate that personally, though of feet dripping with the ungodliness of that minority, you can build a classless and flourishing South Africa and anchor it in an optimistically integrative continent.

An integrative African continent whose seat (Addis Ababa for the AU), alas, looks shaky.

No, Ethiopia, in the name of Africa, don’t go down that route again!

The scandal of 1983-5, when Bob Geldof and his group of dark-glass-and-long-hair sporting yodellers were the last hope to come to the rescue of bare-boned Ethiopians in a devastating famine. The group’s “Do they Know It’s Christmas?” song saved some, yes, but what a shame for Africa!

Africa’s kin, Harry Belafonte, chipped in also to up the ante by doing the same with another group of songsters who added on the meagre £ 8m with their own $ 141m in the song “We Are The World”. So much for the effort, however; the hand-outs evaporated in the hot embers of the dearth that was consuming much of Africa.

From Mengistu H. Mariam’s Red Terror (1974 -11991) and the famine that counted in excess of 1.5m deaths, to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that turned around everything to put the country back on the road to advancement, despite sailing in choppy waters, Africa has been watching keenly with rising hope.

So, what’s all this, pan-Africanist Hailemariam Desalegn, that you should just go as PM and no byes? What is amiss in the EPRDF house? What could comrade Meles Zenawi hold together that you can’t? A united EPRDF can sort out these protests, surely.

With a robust near-constant 10% growth economy, a focused investment in public infrastructure and industrial parks, Ethiopia is a hub for light manufacturing in Africa. Despite sporadic bouts of hunger, the mainstay of exports is in agricultural commodities.

Ethiopian Airlines, with its sprinting growth in the industry, is the largest on the continent. The kilometres of road network and extensive rail network, even connecting to the port of Djibouti, without forgetting the light rail of Addis, all are the envy of the continent.

In electricity, Ethiopia is projected to generate more than 10,000 MW. Some of which, if it weren’t for some quislings along our connecting way, as Rwandans we’d now be tapping into.

Ethiopians, you can organise your politics to all, without exception, share in this wealth fairly and together make your economy even stronger.

These political tectonic shifts in our countries need must birth a truly rising integrative Africa.

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Volunteer leaders at the grassroots, our unsung heroes

There is a cadre of workers that we take for granted in this country. Few of us really appreciate the profundity of their work’s impact, especially to the ordinary citizen.

I was awakened to this truth recently in a conversation with a friend, who is head of Umudugudu. As a village (so-commonly translated into English, a misnomer in the context of a town), Umudugudu is not in the formal administrative structure as it’s a communal voluntary coming-together of neighbours. So, its leaders are volunteers, too.

The self-organisation of neighbours chooses their hierarchy of a volunteer leadership and gives it the powers to be in command. And so the leaders freely exercise the powers to organise umuganda but also do a lot more.

The enthusiasm of these leaders verges on excitement. For leaders who are not paid for their pains, to sacrifice so much energy and time to fulfil their obligations is nothing short of astonishing.

You will hear one boast about how their village is always the best in everything. There is no insecurity, no theft, no homes with problem couples or children, no clogged culverts, no unclean streets, no poverty case that’s not addressed expeditiously.

During the elections, their polling station was the most beautifully decorated. Their women organisation is the most active, advising one another and together identifying family problems that need solving, always working with men, in evening meetings called “akagoroba k’ababyeyi”. It’s the same for their youth organisation, for the youth’s specific interests.

And truly, all villages may not be excelling in their performances but it will not be for lack of effort by these village leaders, our unsung heroes.
It’s not that there are no bad apples among these leaders, far from it. But when it comes to implementing government policies, it’s my conviction that they beat some of the paid local leaders at higher levels, hands down.

Always thinking of new ways of making sure any personal or family query is responded to sooner than before, for example, the village leaders have divided up the villages into zones (amasibo). Every zone (isibo) can get together and solve their problem if possible and, if not, the leader takes it to the village level.

So, from zone to village, to cell, to sector, to district, to province, to the many government agencies and non-governmental organisations, civil society, et al, all the way to the three arms of government and up to the president, the lowliest citizen and their word ride unhindered. And that’s what makes the village leader’s day.

If you ask me, our villagers may not be opinion leaders but ‘baravuga rikijyana’!

All, of course, will have started at the grassroots. When in my friend’s village recently a helpless old couple announced their son was getting married, close to 1m Frs was instantly raised through a whatsapp group by the village members. And many graced the occasion.

When an old widow lost her life, the village members garnered just under 2m Frs, much as they are not rich, and everybody was involved in the bereavement, as one family.

For assistance that villages are not capable of dispensing in their combined effort, the poor and vulnerable, having been identified in name and condition, are forwarded to government programmes in charge of uplifting their state.

It’s thus that the smooth voluntary leadership at the base of our society helps the vulnerable to access all services the central government has laid out. The village members thus feel as empowered as those who count themselves as rich and powerful.

Among these community leaders who have helped propel the lowly into this feeling are also mediators (abunzi) who resolve simple disputes, as well as health-
counsellors (abajyanama b’ubuzima) who advise on healthy living and swiftly connect with health facilities.

The gratitude of the vulnerable groups, in all its innocence, has spread loads of mirth for the elite, especially on social media.

Which maybe should call for a fee to be levied on that free entertainment! The mongers and consumers of this ‘uncopyrighted’ comedy should start coughing up some dosh to help finance those government programmes.

In the model villages spreading in the country by leaps and bounds, for instance, you’ve seen the excitement of an old man over a modern house that was dished to him. No, he says, he had to sleep under the bed at first, until he had repeatedly rubbed himself clean enough to be worthy of his kingly beddings!

Or the old woman who excitedly recounts how she only needs to flip a button and sunlight floods into her house (i.e. electric light). As for cleaning herself, she only needs to twist something and rain falls (shower). Moreover, she need not go far from there for any other ‘convenience’ – (you dig?)

All in all, we should appreciate the contribution of our volunteer leaders in advancing a progressive, egalitarian and democratic Rwanda. For them and the highest levels, we are a happy, united family.

As for our African leaders still choosing hate over a continentally united family, down yonder and elsewhere, one down, how many to soon go?

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