This immediate region, nay, Africa, is an interesting place. As a people, for the region as for the continent, we are all joined at the hip, whether our leaders want it or not.
We may be cocooned inside bounded land masses but we are all one family.
You’ll remember, for instance, the case of a Kenyan vice-president visiting Uganda, where his brother was some sort of doyen of the opposition – and as Ugandan as matooke.
Many of us, though reading the news from far afield, didn’t see anything unusual about it.
Theirs is a classic case of how these arbitrary colonially-fixed borders cut through families to assign different nationalities to the same family members.
The case reminded me of a story a friend told me one evening.
As a Rwandan refugee in the 1970s, he was on his way from Dar es Salaam, returning home near Karagwe, western Tanzania. To his surprise, seated in the bus chair in front of him was a Tanzanian uniformed soldier and an old mama conversing in, of all languages, Kinyarwanda!
After the soldier had alighted, my friend politely asked the lady how a Tanzanian soldier spoke Kinyarwanda. It turned out that the soldier, though Tanzanian, was actually a relative.
She came from the border area of Rusumo, where the same families live on both banks of River Akagera. One side Tanzanian, the other, Rwandan.
To confound matters, she was visiting family friends who were Rwandan refugees. After which, not to irk the Rwandan regime contacting its disowned citizens, she’d clandestinely sneak home.
“So, son,” asked the lady, “what’s your name?” When my friend gave his name as Prudence son of Rwabera, the old lady broke to tears, shot up and yanked him to herself over the back of her seat to hold him in a long, tight embrace, to the amazement of everybody.
How, she sobbed, could she fail to recognise baby ‘Purudansi’? She was on her way to visit his family! Surely, grieved she, how could her government have let this happen?
I haven’t talked about how my own family straddles three, if not four, borders. And, no doubt, you have your story, too.
But blood relations or friendships apart, think of the joy of hearing someone speak your language, in a foreign land where you thinks it’s totally alien.
I remember in the 1980s, as refugees, my elder brother and I commuting from the Nairobi City centre in a matatu. When the manamba (tout) I’d given a Sh20-note delayed in giving me balance, I indignantly and callously wondered to my brother: “Uyu mushenzi ariko ko atampa amafaranga yanjye?”
When the young Mkamba (one of the Kenyan tribes) boy politely apologised in better Kinyaranda than mine (Ikirerera!), not without a dig at me, I earnestly wished for the metallic bottom of the commuter minibus (matatu) to open and swallow me! My nasty, uncalled-for comment: “Why doesn’t this good-for-nothing give me my money?”
His original, good-mannered response: “Mubyeyi, nyamuneka munyihanganire mbone ayo kugarura. Ariko ubundi Abanyarwanda ko batagira umuco wo kuvuga nabi!” (My papa, please bear with me…It’s odd though, Rwandans are not known for uncultured language!)
Who wouldn’t cringe at that? He became a younger brother to me from then.
The lad had grown up with Rwandan refugee children as brothers and sisters in Toro, Uganda.
An equally embarrassing fix in Six-Eighty Hotel, Nairobi, with an English bishop who’d lived in Rwanda, I’ll leave it unsaid – you’d pull out my guts for it!
All of which goes to show that as humans, we are all interlinked. We crave bonding; we instinctively yearn for friendship from others, rather than hatred. As nationals of different countries; as Africans; as humans of the globe.
Which is why you hate to see another human in pain. Faced with no threat, man/woman has always sought collaboration over treachery and bellicosity.
It’s only greedy men/women, in search of riches, power and fame for their selfish ends, who solely have been responsible for our discord, infighting and strife, I dare posit.
But methinks parochial and bankrupt leaders who think they increase chances of popularity and self-preservation by setting individuals and societies against one another are engaged in an effort in futility.
They are consumed in self-preservation games by hook or by crook, but to no gain.
Juggling divisive patronage networks, creating kingpins and thus unknowingly distancing them from the masses from whom, paradoxically, the leaders seek an assured vote.
They create enmity with neighbours, or interfere in their affairs, deluding themselves to be deflecting attention from their shortcomings and deceive themselves that that will dissipate their people’s hostility. No chance, Sirs/Madams!
Little Machiavellian manoeuvres will never get any pea-brained leader anywhere.
What’s hard about just doing your best to work with your people for self-advancement, for the advancement of your immediate region, of our continent? It’s thus that with a common voice, we can work with other continents as equals.
Seek no cheap popularity, work with all for progress and popularity will seek you.
Self-seeking leaders, this world is a mean place. It’ll see your demise before you see that of your pauperised populace and of your imaginary enemies.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.