They’d always been humble humans, living harmoniously with neighbors and occupiers of their land. Understandably, quite often protesting this forced occupation but still ready for a peaceful parting of ways with the self-imposed occupier.
Now here they are, refugees crouching in tall savannah grass as they scurry hurriedly towards the nearest border. Sadly, it’s often an effort in futility because that “nearest” is sometimes a gross overstatement. They may take weeks to attain the border.
Young, old and mothers, many with babies on backs. With almost all of them nursing just-inflicted wounds. Helped along by their able-bodied.
What’s Old Geezer on about this time, you must be wondering.
Well, good reader, Geezer is on about a YouTube documentary recently shared by an old boy of my now-distant secondary school days. The documentary’s title: “Opération Banyarwanda”. A gross misnomer, if ever there was one.
Why “misnomer”, we’ll see anon.
First, a French-speaking voice opens with something like: “You’d think this is an African market. Well, you’d be wrong. This is a group of refugees receiving relief.”
And from here, the story is no longer on the refugees. All through, they are voiceless zombies that are ‘taught’, and directed on, what to do.
About why these refugees are fleeing, mum is the voice’s word. On that background of peaceful co-existence and forced occupation of their country, no word.
About accessing the border alone being a tough call, nothing. Pangas, spears, arrows, other death implements carried by a populace maddened by colonial influence being in pursuance, nary a thing. Supporting Belgian helicopters overhead flying upside down for choppers to clear any tree cover, or even chop off a tall head, nil.
We are simply bundled into listening to how a small number of humanitarian ‘volunteer’ braves, with assistance from the then League of Red Cross Societies and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “have to be everywhere at the same time” to save these sad souls. How these braves struggle to negotiate land to host these wretched souls with Burundi and Belgian Congo government officials.
So, done with doling out handouts, the braves ‘teach’ (!) the refugees how to construct grass-thatched hovels and to plant seeds allotted them.
As magnanimous bonus, they allot a goat, a sheep or even a cow to three families to share. How, don’t ask me!
Thus ‘empowered’ (!), the refugees can form co-operatives and sell produce to enable them to construct schools and ‘pay’ teachers, health workers, the like.
Those who can learn trades like carpentry, sewing and other opportunities galore can turn into self-sustaining artisans.
And there, a bright future is forged for them; a crafted destiny handed them on a silver platter. The erstwhile worthless refugees now have the option of staying on the land negotiated for them or returning to the land of their birth.
The important thing is done: they are now capable of looking after themselves.
Concludes the voice, oozing confidence: “These refugees have learned from people of another race who came to their aid that solidarity and fraternity of humankind is possible.” A job of work well-executed and fini, terminé, off they go!
Halleluiah! Indeed, what could we have done without these, our knights in shining armor?
Teaching our people that “solidarity and fraternity of humankind are possible”, my foot!
Such arrogant dismissal of a proud people! It galls your very soul!
See, the documentary is about only a section of Rwandans (therefore not “Opération Banyarwanda”) who were banished, maimed or butchered and their houses torched in what has been termed the practice genocide that started on November 1, 1959.
It would recur over many years until its 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi culmination that claimed the lives of more than one million innocents.
The documentary’s fallacious flamboyance and a whole big bag of humbug does not even get the dates correct, placing the touch-off of that anarchy in 1961.
Another insult, it tries to hoodwink everybody that those Rwandan refugees were transferred from one Belgian colony, Rwanda, to the two neighboring Belgian colonies, Burundi and Belgian (yes!) Congo, only.
Nothing about the multitudes that were in those colonies and never saw a single one of these do-gooders. Nil about the many scattered in other neighboring countries and further afield. Nor the fatal diseases and atrocities these hapless brethren/sistren underwent during the close-to-forty years of exile that followed.
No word about that pain suffered having its roots in that forced occupation by the documentary-voice’s Western cousins.
All of which finally Rwandans together put to a stop, at a heavy cost.
And now, even as they never forget that harrowing history, they are holding their heads high. Because they are shaping their own future. They are masters of their own destiny.
Remember, today Rwanda welcomes all from anywhere to share in her tranquillity.
Tell me, “solidarity and fraternity of humankind”, isn’t this a foreign phrase in most, if not all, of the West? With governance in shambles in most of their countries and their xenophobic and nationalistic madness, who needs to learn that fraternity spirit?
Methinks it’s they who need to learn it from Rwanda, un point, un trait!
The views expressed in this article are of the author.