You all must’ve been bemused by the news of Japan appointing a government minister for loneliness. And, I gather, the British government already has such an office. Maybe you know other advanced economies similarly enjoined to find such an establishment essential. Japan instituted this ministry following a spate of suicides that reached alarming levels with the onset of today’s pandemic. The minister says he was appointed “to address matters of national importance, including the issue of increasing women’s suicide rate….” With the isolationist nature of advanced societies, engendered by individual material self-enrichment pursuits, it’s a tough call, indeed. Moreover, he must also tackle the problem of a falling birth rate. But Sakamoto, the said minister, is confident he will “carry out activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people.” Tall order, sure, but he is lucky; he has an expert at his beck and call. And this one has spelt out the problem for him. “A lot of women are not married,” says the guru. “They have to support their own lives and they don’t have permanent jobs….” He rattles off more diagnoses, only he does not prescribe the requisite cure. And so, may Japan’s imperial ancestors help the minister! If the loneliness minister cares for better advice, I suggest he couples up Japanese women with Chinese men as these face a reverse dilemma – lack of women to marry. The minister will have killed ‘many birds’ with one stone, especially that “strengthening regional economies” also falls under his docket. Other despondencies and binds will be roped in, too. The two countries only need to put their long-standing fierce differences aside, and bingo! Then they can thank my expertise later. After all, here in Rwanda, none has sought it. There’s never been need and I am the poorer for it! Because, seriously, here who are more likely to feel so lonely as to entertain suicidal thoughts; women or men? I’d say men, because I’ve seen many single ladies who are more prosperous for it. But then again, I’ve never seen men who grieved over being single. Of course, suicides have always been here. However, they’ve been too few and far apart to cause grave concern. Usually, they’ve involved the odd love-smitten youth disappointed by a partner. Or the odd person incapacitated by age or sickness, who felt they were being a burden to loved ones. Quite often, however, those feelings are misplaced. Because the youth likely would’ve been happier with another partner, if they’d had the courage to face the challenge. Or the geriatric and the sickly would’ve realized they were too cherished to be a burden, with closer observation. Otherwise, loneliness and isolation here? Nah! From President of the Republic to Citizen of the Village, all are playing ‘Sakamoto’. From national level to grassroots level, economic, social, cultural, name it, networks are being created or strengthened all the time. Everyone is concerned about everyone else, which is why there are so many social – and other – networks. This pandemic aside, everywhere there is the monthly Umuganda to wait up to, where people meet for work as well as for discussions, all on self-betterment. Meanwhile, there will’ve been a weekly Akagoroba k’Ababyeyi to iron out socio-econo-cultural hiccups. These may involve Ibimina that will share or pool resources to address immediate common problems, maybe on rotational basis. These are at the grassroots level. At the national level there is Umwiherero, where government, departmental and parastatal heads go recluse for self-censorship and together pledge better performance. Performance contracts which those serving the citizenry will have signed after their past performance will have undergone hardnosed scrutiny by same citizenry, ever unencumbered by fear or favour, in Umushyikirano. The challenge and hope of overcoming every hindrance, including individual weakness, greed, nepotism and suchlike, keeps everybody on their toes so as to see a better future. There is nothing like being able to build and hoping to see a better future, by simply your participation, to keep isolation and loneliness at bay. As for social networks, they are in their zillions. Rwandans cannot be alone and lonely; if anything, some crave a solitary moment at times. There are many functions that bring them together. Meeting with leaders; celebrating national events; religious celebrations and meetings; asking for a hand in marriage gatherings and wedding celebrations; vigil and funeral gatherings; social media groups; groups socialising over drinks; etc. Is Rwanda happy in living for hope only? No, she is happy in hoping to realise her hopes. But as a friend based in the UK reminded me, an African proverb says: “The poorest ‘wo/man’ in this world is not the one without money [per se] but the one without people”. If advanced societies can bend towards understanding and internalising what lies at the heart of that proverb, they’ll have bent towards leading fulsome and fulfilling lives. As Rwandans aspire and work towards reaching the place of advanced societies, they must never lose sight of the insight in that proverb, either.