I’ve said here before that if the USA were to offer Rwanda its nanoscience, nanotechnology, nanobots and ‘nano-whatever-else’ for a disease-free life when it fully masters knowledge of them, Rwanda would maybe ponder swallowing her pride and accept its (US) castaway cloth and footwear. Pan Butamire That, of course, was only in jest and, if you took it otherwise, mea culpa. After regaining her self-worth with sweat and blood, today Rwanda is not the country to stoop that low, I can bet on it. In the good old days when they were whole and before some compatriots gave in to outside forces and allowed themselves to be divided, Rwandans could never wear ‘Vietnam’. Admittedly, parents could indulge their children and accept charity from colonial priests. The charity often came as second-hand dolls (white ‘skin’, blond hair, blue eyes and all) and wear, capped with the temptation of sweets. That, for the sake of kids’ pleasure, could be tolerated. But worn clothes for adults? Nah! Anybody who accepted them knew that they’d be the laughingstock of the villages to no end. They’d be taken for village clowns or madcaps. To ridicule these clothes, then, Rwandans called them “Vietnam”, sometimes “Cambodia”. The terms were not ridiculous because they referred to those countries, no. They referred to American soldiers who fought in Vietnam, in a war that dragged on from the early1950s and into the 1970s, in the latter part of the period drawing in Cambodians. The details of the war, no Rwandan had any idea and neither do I, to this day! We only knew that the war sounded like an invasion and that Vietnam became the Waterloo for Americans. The way it had been a second Waterloo for the French before that, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, what mattered was the potency of the message that naming carried. Castaway clothes were mostly from the USA then, as today. They were therefore called “Vietnam”, and later “Cambodia”, in reference to the American soldiers who died in that war. The names meant that these were clothes taken off dead soldiers. It may sound crass of Rwandans to talk about victims in that manner but, knowing nil about the war, they did not say it in bad faith. The message was directed at Rwandans who glorified donning these hand-me-downs, as it was taboo in their culture to wear clothing taken off dead bodies. There may have been no clothing industry to talk about but there was bustling tailoring activity. So, you could buy the imported brand new ‘tergal’, ‘shikibo’, ‘terlenka’, ‘forongo’, nylon as the various types of material were known, plus cotton khaki and other material. The rest was for you to get a good tailor to dress you up to your best fitting. If you were among the small circle of moneyed indigènes (natives), you bought them as imported readymade wear. Those were the halcyon days, when the unity of Rwandans was still holding, though increasingly shaky as it’d been hijacked by colonialists. Indeed, as the 1950s saw their twilight, that unity was torn totally asunder. It was not until the 1990s that a process to stitch it together again truly gathered momentum. Unfortunately, by then ‘Vietnam’ was the trending wear of many a Rwandan. There may have been well-heeled Rwandans who wore new clothing, but they were a measly number. So, for the popularity of the hand-me-downs, from ‘Vietnam’ they’d been christened what was thought to be a respectable name: “caguwa”. In reality, though, that’s a Kinyarwanda corruption of the Kiswahili “chagua”, itself a short form of “chagua lako” to mean “your pick”. The appellation is thus anything but respectable because it means one taking one’s pick from a heap of second-hand clothing in market places. Which is why, because usually these markets are dusty places, the clothes are referred to as something that’s equivalent to “shake-off-the-dust” in some African countries, to instruct the buyer on how to pick the best! All in all then, second-hand clothing by any other name remains as demeaning. And that’s why no amount of threats of cutting the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) facilities can bend Rwandans into swallowing the indignity of parading themselves around in the rejects of others. When USA gives Rwanda conditions of buying its ‘Vietnam’ before it can continue to honour the AGOA pact the two countries entered, Rwanda sees that as trumping her honour. The Rwanda of the 1960s-1990s is gone and anyone who wants to peddle their effrontery on any African country should look elsewhere, not at the Rwanda of this day. After all, it’s not for nothing that she is on the fond lips of the world, on fond arms of footballers and fond screens of homes of the world. It’s for rising from the ashes and on her single-handed mettle and in record time placing herself among the civilised and principled, thus respected, countries of the world. That’s how, in this hard-at-work land, ‘Vietnam’ is quickly meeting the fate of the said Waterloo soldiers. The views expressed in this article are of the author.