I’d seen the horror and didn’t like it one little bit. Nor did I ever again want to be identified with it. I was in Kenya as a teacher and, luckily, many mistakenly took me for a Ugandan.
Few Kenyans were familiar with Francophone Africa and only the Genocide brought Rwanda to their attention. Even then, though, to them the country was simply that genocide place that they could not associate with a normal human.
If you cared to tell them you were from Rwanda, they dismissed it with: “Oh, Luanda? I see.” And who would care to correct them? No, not yours truly.
Newspapers ran stories of the horridness that was Rwanda. Radios blared the monstrosity in macabre detail. Television screens showed graphic, sickening pictures that parents forbid their children to see.
Was this a country to be identified with or something out of Hell?
But apologies, Satan! I doubt your Hell could be this depraved. The Genocide that had just unfolded in Rwanda was something no human could imagine or any God create. Between Hell and Rwanda, I was ready to pick Hell any time.
Yet, however much I craved to be disassociated with this “Hell”, deep down I knew I couldn’t.
Rwanda was in my DNA, as indeed she was in almost every other Rwandan’s. So, as cadres of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), we had waxed poetic about the beauty of the country and the strength of the traditional bond of her people that united them.
Our task had been to demonstrate to our compatriots the virtues of uniting around the cause of a renewed country. All had to struggle to restore their virtues and thus reunite their country to accommodate all her citizens, as had always been the case.
All had to reconcile in a strong re-bonding and harness their timeless values and develop the country. They had to pick Rwanda from the shambles into which the Kayibanda/Habyarimana regimes sunk her.
So, during the August holidays I set off. I had to check out the “horror”.
But when I reached the northern Gatuna border post, what I beheld was nowhere near any horror. The rolling hills around instantly chased away feelings of horror and brought memories of 1959, the year we fled and left the beautiful country I was born in.
Suddenly, I felt as if I wouldn’t be in Kigali fast enough. I was re-hooked.
And then we approached Kigali. An acrid smell began to waft towards us and seemed to fast grow in intensity. By the time we reached Kigali, everybody in our minibus was retching. The stench the country was enveloped in was nothing like any smell I’d ever inhaled.
In the end, it turned out that wherever you went, you were assaulted by that stench. However hard the new leadership and people tried to clear the heaps of bodies of genocide victims, they could not remove the reek. It stubbornly defied all efforts at general cleaning.
Meanwhile, everything else was at a standstill. People swirled around in confused circles without moving forward. There was no economy and you wondered how these leaders and their people got the courage to do anything at all.
In spite of all that, however, everybody feverishly worked around the clock to bring a semblance of normalcy, although the effort seemed to be lost in the directionless motion mayhem that seemed to spin around purposelessly.
To compound a hopeless situation, the defeated government was camped a stone-throw across the eastern border, with its war machine intact and still backed by powerful foreigners. Massive numbers of refugees were camped with them from whom they drew recruits to swell the numbers of these insurgents, ex-FAR (defeated army) and Interahamwe militias.
In addition to fighting to bring normalcy, the new leadership was in the thick of repulsing those incursions. While the government was at it, it also had to shoulder the burden of accommodating those pouring in from countries that had given them their 35-or-so-year refuge.
The resultant bedlam was unimaginable. Pray, how have we got here?
Today, when I reflect I recall the RPF cell meetings up to general congresses in exile. How money was raised; clothes down to food cooked in exile that supported RPF fighters. How a few hundred fighters in their sections up to battalions strategized together and decided on tactics.......
I recall how all these were replicated during that bedlam. How from Village Urugwiro meetings Rwandans learnt to rally together in the Gacaca court system; Umuganda; Abunzi; Ubudehe......
I recall the coming together of this age: Umwiherero (national retreat); Umushyikirano (national dialogue); monthly press conferences; weekly cabinet meetings; frequent village gatherings of the leadership and the citizenry......
I recall how a simple, young civil servant chairs a session in such a gathering and everybody follows attentively, from the president down to the smallest local leader.....and now, the Global Umuganda.....
Rwandans, there is nothing like rallying together. So, nimwikomereze imihigo; ignore callous criticisms and stay the course.