How the hell did Rwandans do it? Grit, resilience, common vision, that’s partly how

Asked how “the hell [Rwandans] did it” in a recent TEF Entrepreneurship Forum in Abuja, Nigeria, President Kagame answered: “There was no alternative. We had to do it because, looking back in time for our country, we sank so low that there was no lower point to go. The only way to go was up. And up, we decided to go.”

This was in reference to how, having been counted off as worse than a basket case after the most brutal genocide, Rwanda had so quickly managed to rise from that chasm. And how now she is counted among the fastest transforming countries of the world.

If you ask me, “sank so low” is putting it mildly. Which is President Kagame’s characteristic way of picking his words to leave no room for misinterpretation. In this case, for his people not to be taken as craving pity or soliciting sympathy or succour at any point.

Otherwise, in my view the state of then-Rwanda was at far lower than any “lower point”.

It was a true, literal “hell”, not a metaphorical one. Rwandans were truly dead and burning. They were in the grip of a satanic regime and its angels of death, the ruling clique, who went around brandishing their sword of fire to see to it that the incineration was definitely terminal.

Things took a turn ‘for the worst’ from October 1, 1990.

After many futile efforts at pleading for a national dialogue, that day a group of Rwandans who’d been denied the minimum of their basic rights launched an armed struggle. This was an effort to try and persuade the divisive regime to see the sense in a civilized coexistence for all citizens.

Unfortunately, for going in “kifua mbele” (incautiously thumping their chests), the small group of braves was met with the full force of an incensed regime that all but wiped them out.

With the support of Francophone African forces led by those of a superpower, it’s a wonder that there was a survivor to tell the story.

Interestingly, by the end of two weeks of enduring the regime’s all-consuming, all-blazing fire, there were more than one survivor, according to one esteemed survivor gifted with unequalled sharp memory. But, alas, surviving was all they managed.

They’d lost all sense of direction, place and reason. In short, they were a group of blind zombies wandering the open grassland, even as they were under unceasingly heavy fire.

If this was not the lowest cindering point of burning hell, tell me what is.

Miraculously, one absentee in the group, who’d been away studying as-yet unknown survival tricks at the time of launching the struggle, joined up and took command.

Upon taking which, having taken in the situation, declared: “The opponent we face is weak!”

While his comrades believed they had gone haywire, now they despaired for their new commander’s head. It had no single wire in place! (Hah! Allow me a laugh!)

Truly, even the President Kagame of today would laugh at the Commander Kagame of then, if he had the time to think back! But who’d ever wish to revisit that hell of a zombie-land? The future of this land demands undivided attention.

However, even as we tell that past, we know it cannot penetrate our brains. We cannot capture its nature. However dramatically or graphically told, it cannot find traction in our brains.

It’s a zombie-land hell seared on the brains of those who lived it. Who, in themselves, know they are incapable of transmitting its nature, for its transcending any transmission capacity.

Yet the group of survivors rose from that zombie-land hell. How, that, too, transcends transmission.

What I know is that demonstrating common values and preaching unity took precedent.

In defence of which, the formation of a carefully crafted, clear-headed guerrilla group that consisted of minutely managed groups capable of practically being everywhere without being seen. In addition, mounting short, sharp, surgical attacks where and when unexpected, then vanishing into thin air.

Thus, the powerful opposing forces in reality proved to be weak!

Of course, said simply like that makes it sound like child’s play, masking the pain of covering the cindering path that our braves had to survive to lead this land to this place.

However, bad as all the above was, it was child’s play, in comparative terms.

Because Rwandans had not hit the mother of all-burning-hells point yet. 1994 was that one-million-plus-lives-lost point.

But again how by their bootstraps they lifted themselves from that “place at the limit of human experience” to be here transcends telling. That no outsider wanted to look at that “hole at the limit”, leave alone assist, did it contribute in giving them the grit to succeed?

For it’s true that nothing gives strength like the realisation that you are on your own.

So, they came together, harmonised their mind-set and resiliently pursued their mission of realising a common vision. “Wire in no place” was, in truth, wired for success.

That, I dare submit, is partly how the hell Rwandans did it.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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