The eerie calm that reigned in the streets and housing estates of Kigali last Tuesday 7 felt like a sword of Sophocles hanging over our heads more than this coronavirus plague could ever do.
You felt that the searing sombreness was cutting sharply through the heart of every Rwandan.
Last Tuesday marked the start of the season of sorrow. A season of commemorating the horrific hundred days of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
The searing sombreness was a clear sign that no pandemic, however pernicious, can dampen the spirit of remembering.
Pandemics come and go but never shall the pain of remembering go.
Experts may define the stages that precede the commission of the worst crime on earth, genocide, but the preparations and commission of the Genocide against the Tutsi defies all definition. For it goes back to the time when a foreign man took possession of Rwandans.
Humble erstwhile ‘state-denied’ son of this soil that I be, I cannot unabashedly lay claim to the full knowledge of the rich history of this land.
But the little I know is that the period before colonialism would not in any anyway have led to the horror that engulfed this land in 1994. Rwandans may have had problems but what was never in doubt was that they always faced them as a united force.
Slave snatchers, expansionist neighbours, domestic-animal rustlers, hunters of our wild animals and sundry other swashbucklers never afforded Rwanda any time of calm, sure. Still, Rwandans rose in unison to fend off these bothersome nuisances, as they always proved to be.
However, when colonialism came, it was something else. It slowly gnawed at the web that weaved us together and turned us into disjointed shreds.
It was as if the colonial world had conspired to turn us into uncoordinated wild animals in a park that could be tossed from the care of one park ranger to that of another at will.
After WW1 and the defeat of the Germans, our first park ranger, the League of Nations remembered there was an even more brutal park ranger nearby and tossed us into his fangs. The Belgians had done a good job of work, distinguishing themselves as truly capable masters over any African park.
After buying the Congo from their own king who had claimed the vast territory as his property, they carried on his vicious campaign, without being all too overt about it. But, even if not so ‘brilliantly’ covert, they rounded up the figure of those murdered at 10m, as records show.
Indeed, the ideal killer colonialist for Rwanda that was reportedly difficult to manage. So, this is the executioner colonialist that became our ‘keeper’. However, knowing we were talking game with one language, the colonialist changed strategy and became game ranger.
And as wise ranger, he was able to subtly work and convince the weak among us that we were animals of different species, some superior, others inferior. The new ranger knew, in the end, we would turn against ourselves.
Alas, by 1959 the converted Rwandans were on the ready. With colonial help, they set in motion the offensive of obliterating their kindred with murder, arson, looting, and banishment. They had cut themselves from the cord of kinship and saw a divided Rwanda as their prise.
From there, the rest was to prepare the ground for the 1994 apocalyptic culmination.
The Belgian campaign of division from 1916 led to the campaign of destruction of lives, property and ‘statefulness’ by exiling a section of Rwandans from 1959, which was carried on by compatriots. When the colonialist left in 1962, therefore, he was in even better charge.
Their local successors would do a superior job.
For some Rwandans, then, independence was going to be worse than colonialism.
And truly, if colonialism was hell for these Rwandans, independence made it look like paradise. The Genocide against the Tutsi was a humongous infernal out of this universe.
Yet on top of the colonial crusade of crucifixion, on top of the anguish of suffering a genocide, on top of those malignant memories, Rwandans have never stopped celebrating hope.
Commemorating the halt to the most insane savagery perpetrated by humans against their own blood as witnessed by history is not all for Rwanda. She also remembers an act that established uninterrupted calm that has reigned in this country for the last twenty-six years.
A calm of progressive activity for the good of every citizen and non-citizen of this land.
The stoppage of the carnage ushered in the beginning of this calm that had been alien to Rwandans for all of their lives. A calm that is nowhere “for good and forever”.
Still, as Rwandans all, save for a few that cling to the macabre malevolence of the authors of that horror, we feel that sharpness of pain today as we felt it in 1994.
As progeny after progeny shall feel it as long as this earth shall be ‘breathing’ and revolving around in this universe.
But as we feel it, so are we spurred to work hard together that none sees its cause, ever again.