The above statement by President Paul Kagame, at the YouthConnekt Summit this October 9 in Kigali, kicked me back to the times before 1994.
But first things first.
The statement referred to how this country has thrown her doors open to all citizens of the world who wish to visit. Particularly, how no African needs to go through the rigors of visa-hunting before visiting.
As an African, present yourself at any point of entry into Rwanda, state your plausible reasons for visiting and pronto, a visa for you. “Plausible” because much as you may get free and easy entry as a visitor, you must not come with nefarious intent or for reasons of loafing, for example, without means to support your loafer-lifestyle.
The same applies to citizens of friendly countries outside Africa.
But that’s not all. For any African for one reason or another in distress, consider the soil of this land as your soil.
That’s how some Africans marooned in Libya, after inexplicably paying through the nose to risk their lives in the hot sands of the Sahara and yet failed to try it out on the deadly waters of the Mediterranean, have found a home here.
By the time the exercise is done, five hundred of them will have a place to rest in total tranquillity, no more enslavement, etc. After which, they can plan their next freely-chosen course. To regain their abandoned home, head elsewhere or make this a permanent home.
Yes, Rwanda is tiny and resource-strapped and may be bursting at the seams with her own population. However, our ancestors’ manners and mores expressed in two succinct adages that this government has taken to heart.
One: aho umwaga utari, uruhu rw’urukwavu rwisasira batanu. Two: ahari amahoro, uruhu rw’imbaragasa rwisasira batanu. Crudely translated, one: where there is no acrimony or cruelty, the skin of a rabbit can accommodated five persons as a bed. And two: where there is peace and stability, the skin of a flea can, an equal number.
Impossibly hyperbolic as the meanings of both sayings may sound, their essence is simple: where there are a big heart and an atmosphere of serenity (in which innovations can flourish), the impossible is doable. So, all things remaining constant – and they sure will – this land will always be big enough to accommodate more humans, more fauna, more flora, more constructions, more technologies, more-n-more.
This has not always been the case.
Remembering which, those who were here or heard about it, will plunge you back to the pre-1994 dark days. The murky mess where this country was a ‘camp’ of restrictions.
Only the ruling clique and their acolytes had access to this camp’s bounty. Which bounty, if its limitedness can pass for that, was in the form of handouts doled out by the West.
So, if you were European or North American, you did not have to utter a word, not even flash your passport, to immigration officers. Ushers would be waiting, ready to lick the dust off your boots if you so desired, to convey you to your destination or place of work.
But as an African, you entertained the wish to visit only if you wanted grief visited upon you.
Umpteen physical calls on disdainful embassy officials left you cursing the gods that ever put the absurd idea into your head.
If you chanced upon one of the fat cats in your country who facilitated your visit, you regretted your ever craving that visit on arrival. What was the use of visiting a country whose citizens lacked any cheer? And, indeed, what was there for the population to be cheerful about?
To move from their home village to any other village required a travel permit. Which was only obtainable if a citizen had a fat pocket to empty into that of a local leader. But no movement meant no access to a market, to employment, education, health facilities, to nary a single thing.
At least, however, they had cultivable land to fall back to, for their nourishment survival.
A part of their fellow citizens had been confined to increasingly dwindling forests, there to live as hunters and gatherers. Worse still, there were others who had been thrown into a Siberia called Bugesera, where they served to fatten tsetse flies. The latter, in turn, ravaged them with sleeping sickness, survivors of which were regularly cropped by government soldiers’ bullets.
But if you think the then government had served enough misery for some citizens, think again. There was another lot of citizens who had been banished to foreign lands, there to roam without end. They risked so much as point a nose to this country at the pain of death.
Because, as it’d been ‘decreed’, Rwanda was like “a glassful of water”: one drop more and the water (read blood) would all spillover.
That “spill”, remember, came to pass as the horrific Genocide against the Tutsi.
Today, Rwanda has proved that that “glassful” was to all intents and purposes near-empty.
She accommodates all her offspring in healthy and relatively wealthy conditions and still has room for any number of stuck souls. A truly healthy and wealthy nation at heart.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.