“Ubugabo si ubutumbi” is a Kinyarwanda adage. I’d take it to translate as “Size does not matter” but many people can translate it in many ways. For instance, as “The lard that a man carries doesn’t denote his strength”. Or, as Mark Twain aptly put it, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” that matters.
Is Old Geezer losing it, you may be wondering! What is he blabbering about?
Well, troubled reader, put your heart at rest. Fossil isn’t unhinged yet – not just yet!
That apart, this came to mind amid gusts of laughter as I was watching a YouTube of a Kenyan stand-up comedian by the stage names of MCA Tricky, as he turned his jokes on Rwanda.
“Rwanda is so small,” said he, “that from there if you kicked a long ball, it’d land in Burundi! Plus, Rwandans’ census doesn’t have to be a big, costly deal. An official only needs to ask them to step outside, then count them as they enter back into the country, one by one!”
The hyperbole of a ball sailing the whole of almost 300km from Kigali to Bujumbura, or a census official counting 12 million Rwandans off their fingers.
The thud of the ball in Bujumbura, wouldn’t it set off cries of “Harbinger of death!”? And during that census, who’d be willing to host Rwandans for those ‘few’ minutes?
Imagine all that and there lie the jokes.
However, when you reflect over it, isn’t it a wonder that today everybody in Tricky’s audience, plus himself, knows about Rwanda, her size and her location on the map?
It wasn’t always that way. Before 1994, a lecturer of Geography wouldn’t have placed Rwanda!
We lived there and every time you said you hailed from Rwanda, they’d all invariably be quick to correct you: “You mean Uganda?” Or, especially those with that vernacular interference problem of not differentiating between “r” and “l”: “You mean Luanda, Angola?”
That joke is on Rwanda, yes, but every African should remember that none of them had any say in determining their size, save for two countries. Rwanda was a big country till the 1884/5 Berlin Conference decided Germans had to have a piece of her, then Belgians, then the British.
With her mountains and lake shared out, a small piece of her and part of her people were left perched on these compact highlands.
Rwanda may have exploded into the limelight for all the genocidal, wrong reasons, alright.
However, it’s not those genocidal reasons that today keep her in the headlines; her cleanliness and order do. And these don’t only mark her physique but also her people’s governance.
Equally, how this came about in the short span of a mere twenty-six years is eye-catching.
How a few sober Rwandans whipped a colossal force of a superpower that had bundled their misguided compatriots into a genocidal mission, to send the superpower packing and liberate their kin and bring them together in a unity of cleanliness and order.
To prove that, indeed, ubugabo si ubutumbi. And from there, to work together and demonstrate that l’union fait la force. People working together can become a formidable force that can catapult them to unimaginable heights.
The Asian tigers, big and small, provide a good example of how a common vision and accompanying correct policies can swiftly turn societies great.
Rwanda’s small size may generate mirth and for sure there is nothing wrong with that. Here, such sketch comedies make Rwandans laugh themselves into stiches. Local comedians, few though they be, have also usually made a name thanks to such sketches.
Still, it should never escape anybody’s mind that size counts for zee where unity lacks.
On this continent, countries that are large and vastly resourced in natural gifts are legion. Yet, embarrassingly, their big populations are either starving or dying by the day in aimless wars. There are many large populations in massive countries that may be feeding and at peace but are floundering about without direction, stagnating in endless, debilitating electioneering.
So, fellow Africans, let’s laugh and be merry but let’s have an ‘after-merriment’.
After the laughter and merriment, let’s sober up and seriously reflect.
The consolidation of our countries and our continent, none else can deliver it. The unity of our people as individual countries and our peoples as a continent lies with us. People-centred governance for our countries and continent, only we can strive for it.
Wherever we see visionary leadership that has a clear roadmap for the future, let’s nurture it and work our ill-advised leaders into supporting its vision and joining that leadership to deliver it together. Where there be wayward leadership in Africa, let’s rally together to knock it in line.
Let’s work together as Africans and shed the shameful label of sick man of the globe. Then there will be no small country or big, poor or rich. There will be greatness all round and we’ll be laughing at our past history of division.
Divided, every society, however big, is trivial. United, every society, however small, is great.