The burden of a name

Sylvestre Semajeri, my well-known homeboy, was back in town and even bubblier. Hardly had he greeted me than he enthused: “As we’d promised, we gave our daughter’s hand in marriage.”

“Who is ‘we’ who ga –”, I tried to enquire but he irritably interrupted me with: “Of course our First Family, grizzled greybeard of my soil. We are part of it, no?”

Anyway, he continued, Rwanda’s First Family held a wedding for their daughter last weekend. Nothing unusual about that; many parents held similar weddings the same weekend.

Except here, some exiled-hate online-radios went to town on the news of that wedding being held secretly. Which prompted us to wonder how it could be so when, long before the occasion, phone-lines for local private radios had been jammed by private citizens’ calls, enquiring on where to channel contributions to the wedding expenses.

That no contact was given, could it have been the reason for the assertion of the talking heads behind the hate radios? No doubt, they’d have got a truly fat bone for Western self-styled do-gooders to pick with the Rwandan leader, about “his dictatorship” now invading citizens’ pockets. Well, fat chance!

However, they are everywhere, these do-gooders.

In his address as parent, when President Kagame opened with “burden of the second name”, we in the audience were thrown into confusion.

Till he elaborated. When his daughter was pursuing a university degree course in USA, she tried to bank some of the pocket money her parents sent her. Nothing unusual in that, either, is there? Many parents, through their salaried-employment or private-business earnings, always send such pocket money and their children bank some of it.

But in this case, on seeing the daughter’s second name, no bank official wanted to be seen anywhere within a ten-km distance of her money.

On that point, we hollered with laughter!

You see, the penny had dropped. As it has for you, too, no?

Sylvestre continued, not caring for my reaction. All the money from an African president is looted from donor funds or citizens’ earnings, see? Nary a single leader is clean.

Yet you remember, don’t you, in the mid-1990s, what happened when the new government had gathered enough funds to go canvassing for world recognition. Every government official sent out on a mission was eager to pocket whatever contingency allowances they were given.

To anybody’s memory, only then-Vice-President Kagame sent back to the government treasury all the money that hadn’t been used on such missions. And that strictness has marked his character to this date, now as president.

From then, you know how he has been on the frontline of the fight against such greed and for the enforcement of exercising frugality in all areas of government, by all officials.

It’s mainly thanks to that that this country is among the most respected of the world.

President Kagame sending little pocket money to his children abroad so as to slowly stash away looted funds? Who wouldn’t ‘LOL’ at the misguided contempt of these Western greenhorns?

But, come to think of it, “the burden of a name” does not start and stop with African presidents.

When I remember the story you once told me, I now see that it’d become a way of life for some Rwandans. Remember the story, when you were wretched refugees in Kenya?

Of course I remembered it very well. So, I took over to remind him the details.

We’d been welcomed and were seated in the expansive garden of a wealthy Kenyan, inheritor of a huge farm vacated by colonialists. We were happily engaged in idle talk, sipping drinks.

As a delegation of Rwandan refugees in Nairobi, we were led by one of our elders. Either late Mzee Kayihura or late Mzee Mungarurire, as Mzee Rwangombwa and late Mzee Sebyeza were almost always preoccupied in their own schedules.

Our hosts obligingly gave our delegation leader the floor to state our mission. On declaring that we were here to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage, the husband interrupted with a question as to which part of Kenya we hailed from.

It took long to make him understand that we were from Rwanda and not Luanda, Angola.

When finally he understood, we saw his demeanour change as it dawned on him that we were refugees. Without a word, he rose and briskly walked to his house, only to emerge at his door with a ‘simi’ (a kind of a sword) in one hand and a ‘rungu’ (knock-berry) in another.

We knew these to be lethal weapons that could kill a lion in a flash.

So, we didn’t hesitate; old and young, we took to our heels! You should’ve seen the way our ladies’ mishanana (Rwandan dress) and our men’s coat-tails were fluttering in the wind. In the cars, those who drove us must have set a record for covering the distance to Nairobi in no time!

How times have changed, I concluded. As being called Rwandan is no longer a burden, so shall it soon cease to be so for carrying President Kagame’s name. That’s the meaning of liberation.

Sylvestre picked another topic and our chat continued.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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