It takes more than a gesture to create goodwill

As good religious people, we are enjoined to love our neighbours, even if sometimes it is not as we love ourselves.

We laugh with them when they are happy, cry together when sad; admonish them when they do the most stupid thing, or laud them for some great stuff they have done. 

We wring our hands in helplessness when we can do little about what they may be going through. Sometimes we don’t know whether to laugh or cry or be angry. Other times we look on in bewilderment at some inexplicable behaviour.

That’s what good neighbours do. You go through a whole range of emotions. It has always been with our neighbours to the north with whom we share a lot. We love them dearly even when they have this habit of doing some terrible things to us.

Which they have done repeatedly over the last few years and still expect us to love them for it. I suppose neighbours also have the right to expect to be loved no matter what.

The other day, our Ugandan brothers had a change of heart and did one of those unexpected things. They released from detention nine Rwandans out of dozens they are holding. But that change did more than that; it also untied tongues.

You see these neighbours of ours love talking. You can hardly get them to stop talking and listen. Lately they had become strangely silent on some very important neighbourly issues about which they would normally express strong opinions, and vigorously too.

They immediately reverted to type and began doing the customary thing but with the added eagerness of someone who had not spoken for a while. It was clear that holding their tongue, especially for those in the media, for any length of time must be a very trying thing.

Anyway, they had been loosened by what was called a goodwill gesture by grim-faced government officials, with no trace of goodwill in their manner, who had invited the media to witness that gesture. The neighbours in the media liked the sound of it and happily repeated it for our benefit.

It seems when you have not been speaking for a while words change meaning. Goodwill did. What was so goodwill about releasing people from detention who shouldn’t have been held in the first place?

Wasn’t this in any case supposed to have happened much earlier according to some kind of understanding between the two countries?

But the officials said it was and the media repeated that message and both demanded that we believe it. They even asked that we reciprocate the good gesture.

That is another word that seems to have changed meaning: reciprocate. How do you reciprocate? Release people you have never held? Arrest some and then set them free and so return the gesture?

Well, there it was – a bewildering use of words and an even more perplexing request that we love them for it and follow suit. Of course we love them. They are our neighbours, aren’t they?

But as good neighbours we also found it sad that the media that once prided itself for its independence had been reduced to merely carrying official statements. It used to boast of being a thorn in the flesh of officialdom, of its acerbic tongue and sharp barbs. Now here it was obediently lending its powerful voice to it instead. What has happened?

These neighbours are reputed to be intelligent, critical people. For some reason, they have allowed themselves to be manipulated by official pronouncements. Why does this happen?

Three things probably explain this.

One is a decades-old attitude about Rwanda and its citizens formed when Rwandans were refugees and labourers in Uganda.  That attitude seems not to have changed even though Rwanda has and there is ample evidence for it.

Many of those refugees have since returned home. Not many people go to work in the tea, coffee and sugar cane plantations or Kilembe Mine. The latter is long dead. Locals would crowd them out of farm labour. In any case a better livelihood can be earned at home.

But that’s the image of Rwanda many Ugandans love to keep. Somehow it gives them a sense of superiority, obviously false and misplaced.

Another side to this is that they are in denial of the reality of Rwanda today. They simply cannot come to terms with the idea of Rwanda as an independent nation, able to choose and chart its own course and make progress, and with the means to defend that choice.

Two, there is a misplaced sense of love of country; that it is their patriotic duty to shut out your neighbour when you disagree and  support your country even when it is obviously in the wrong.

Three, and the most regrettable, is that they have been gagged by being stuffed with contents from the famous brown envelopes they say their president readily hands out for that very purpose.

Whatever the reasons for this attitude, it has been in evidence for some time and all the authorities have had to do is to cleverly manipulate it.

Back to the goodwill gesture our neighbours have been trumpeting. Of course, release from any kind of detention is a good thing. We can certainly be happy that nine of our own are now free.

We could be even happier if the others held in unknown and illegal places are also freed, and all those other causes of tension are removed. We could then love our neighbours even more.

Still, we love them as we are required, as neighbours should, and only ask that they reciprocate.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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