If dictatorship be the mother of this progress, let it play on

Today cars are being assembled in spotlessly clean and secure special economic zone...so, if this is a dictatorship, it’s by the citizenry. And is it eternally delighting or is it!

Looking at how the citizenry have taken up abandonment of a think-small mind-set for a think-big one where they strive for self-empowerment in a hygienic environment of order and cleanliness, it’s a shame that there are Rwandans still clinging to the past glorification of shallow ambitions, squalor and muckiness.

After twenty-five years of rigorous effort by all to uproot all these, you’d think everybody would have seen the indignity of wallowing in them.

Apparently, no. Or else, how could you explain the case recently lodged in court by some slum dwellers of Kigali which, happily, was thrown out?

Wishing to stick to their slum, even after being offered a $11m-worth housing estate in a different area literally free?

The slum area ‘squeezed into the armpit’ of the up-market housing estate of Nyarutarama looks like a festering sore on Kigali’s, nay, Rwanda’s, nose.

It bears noble names without merit, and, indeed, its residents saw them as too flattering and gave it a fitting nickname. Being unutterable in a family paper, the nickname is translated into ‘polite’ English: “Where-the-heck-does-one-go-for-lavatory-convenience?”

Quite a mouthful but the name’s anguished question alone tells you all about it.

How a person in their right senses refuses to move from such filth to all-facility (sitting room, bedroom, etc.) housing units beats reason. Moreover, their new home will have amenities like a playing area, modern market, workshop hall, central sewerage system and more.

Throw in an exquisite view of the rolling hills around and you’ll wonder how they can be averse to enjoying luxuries hitherto unknown to them.

The compensation for their shacks that they seek cannot amount to anything near US $1m dollars. So, their intention: to pick the little dough and go set up a messier slum elsewhere.

Whether they are being egged on by their few landlords does not excuse them.

It throws you back to the time, before 1994, when whole government ‘big shots’ used to proudly say they lived “Ku-Munuko” or, in polite English(!), “At-The-Stench”.

Which would have been very well if the ‘big shots’ alone risked their lives, inhaling the foul smell.

Problem was, their quarters were in an area that was home to the only national referral hospital in the country. Poor you, if you had a patient there and visited them, you’d come out not only sure they wouldn’t live to see another day but also that you’d not live to revisit the hospital!

Today, Centre Hospitalier de Kigali (CHK, now CHUK) may not be the epitome of cleanliness, having been beaten to it by many other hospitals and health centres, but it holds its proud own.

Also, earlier were the days when “Made-in Rwanda” meant activities like knocking together discarded metallic drums in Gakinjiro. Meaning of the name? “The Abattoir”, for the many nightly dead victims of thugs and robbers, a then accepted and expected way of life.

That apart, what was the ‘factory’ churning out? Anything from improvised rickety beds, sofa sets, sauce-pans – say it, they manufactured it! All with broken-down ‘dying’ metal.

In fact, to-date I hold a souvenir of the time: “igilasi”; that is, a knocked-together metallic drinking ‘glass’ that, when containing lukewarm water, will turn your fingers into cinders!

In contrast, today cars are being assembled in spotlessly clean and secure Special Economic Zone.

But about the old days, we haven’t talked about the dust, dirt, sludge, disease, poverty, murders, mud-hovels, say it, in all areas of Kigali and the countryside. Or about the grime of government officials’ corruption amid general hopelessness of the population, in a country with a leadership that lived for its beer-and-champagne bellies and to hell with its future generations.

In their poverty and hopelessness, which did not exclude those dirt-avaricious ‘big shots’, all they together shared was rancour towards one another.  None wished another well, which kept them divided. Who is thus divided, cannot nurture the notion of progress.

Because a country can only realise true progress as a united society. Indeed, “United we stand, divided we fall” is a universal truism that has stood the test of time.

So, from there to this place in a mere twenty-five years is a wonder that these Western dispensers of unwelcome council and their African running do… (sorry!)…‘cerebral’ professors cannot begin to grasp.

(That “sorry!” is to Rwandans for almost slipping into quoting the Chinese who used to talk of “Imperialists and their running dogs”. It’d be like the gutter language that a Kenyan ‘cerebral professor’ flung at our young erudite commentators.)

But again that aside, today when the nationwide citizenry that necessarily includes the leadership come together in Umuganda to render their country clean, that’s not the end. They put heads together to ruminate over how to fast-track their development.

When it’s decided every citizen must get access to any life-saver, it’ll happen even if it means acquiring drones. If internet access to the remotest island, even if it means a satellite.

The citizenry has always had its aberrant members, like those of “where-the-heck…?” but has never failed to knock them into line. Because citizens can perform miracles when they work together.

So, if this is a dictatorship, it’s by the citizenry. And is it eternally delighting or is it!

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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