We can sleep soundly secure in the knowledge that no harm will come to us in the dark of night. We can go about our lawful business in the assurance that our endeavour will be allowed to bear fruit. No person or group of persons will be permitted to disturb our peace and enterprise. This is the assurance President Paul Kagame gave Rwandans during a press conference last Wednesday.
Of course, we have always known that we are secure, that we can sleep and dream and work and even gossip freely. But it is still very reassuring and does us a lot of good when such guarantees of our security are reaffirmed in the most categorical way as the president did on Wednesday.
Reacting to a question about rumours of a coup d’etat seven years ago and other rumours, the president was unequivocal. A coup d’etat could not happen here. Said he of the possibility of its happening, “ Zero! Never!” You can’t be more categorical than that.
Ordinarily the president’s pronouncement should put an end to rumours and speculation about coups d’etat or whatever. But it will not. More likely, it will fuel more rumours.
So, why do we love rumours so much that they are even the basis for questions at presidential conferences? He complains about this at every press conference. Do we love them so much that they become sources for news reports? Some of our reporters (not The New Times), I am afraid, cannot distinguish between rumour and fact, news and bar talk. Or is it because we are so idle we must invent stories to keep ourselves occupied?
There are many reasons for this. A few of them readily come to mind.
People love a good story. The definition of a good story for most people is one which has conflict, mystery and intrigue. It is a combination of a good detective story, a murder mystery and action thriller.
It gets better if these ingredients involve very important people, and even better if they are erstwhile allies or friends.
You see the amount of fallout from such conflict is great and hugely entertaining. Equally, the loud thud with which one of the protagonists falls sends people jumping in delight. There is a satisfied, “how the mighty are fallen”, on every lip.
The whole drama, you see, is proof that these mighty fellows are, after all, ordinary mortals.
People will invent rumours to entertain themselves because traditional forms of entertainment are lacking. The scenario described above makes for good theatre. Now, there is no theatre in this town.
True, there are movies on DVD which people watch in the privacy of their living rooms. But theatre was meant to be a communal activity, to be enjoyed in the company of other people, not in solitary confinement.
This is the advantage of rumours. They are shared stories, hugely dramatic, whether whispered in the comforting presence of close associates or loudly trumpeted in the loud anonymity of the market place, or even sent in some form of script.
A good story, containing the elements described here, is thrilling ( read or listened to). Most of our people do not read. Yet they must find something to excite their imagination. Even those who read have nothing to read.
Luckily, we are largely an oral society and still have wonderful story tellers who will spin a spell-binding tale that will have us all in its grip. And there are no inconveniences of copyright.
So the story can be retold many times, altered, refined and embellished to reflect the imagination of the narrator and satisfy the appetite of the listener without risk of prosecution for breach of copyright.
In the absence of traditional forms of urban entertainment, people will invent their own forms of amusement.
This hyper imagination feeds on another streak among some of our people – the love for conspiracy. Plots that are weaved in the dark, in inaccessible corners and out-of-town hideouts in which there is a huge amount of treachery, betrayal and back-stabbing are particularly appealing.
The amount of satisfaction they give is proportional to the intensity of the clash they cause. If there is no earth-shattering clash, the disappointment is visible, but inevitably leads to another narrative with a variation of the same plot.
Rumours also thrive in situations where there is lack of information. Either the information is not available, or it is difficult to obtain, or those who seek it do not have the right information-gathering skills or are too lazy to look for it. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum.
And so information is created to fill the vacuum. The result of this invention is the passing on of incorrect or inaccurate information, also known as rumour
People love rumours. Even in those societies where they are spoilt for choice of what to read or which theatre to go to. Discount one and another one will immediately appear.
We love a well-spun web in which peolpe get caught in its intricate mesh and find it immensely difficult to extricate themselves. The more elaborate the web, the better.
The more frantic and futile the effort to cut through it and the longer this goes on, the greater the amusement. It is part of human nature. Only some of us have more of it than others.