I remember the good times à gogo, aplenty no exaggeration, that we used to have in secondary school outside classes, as refugees. We were a wee minority in comparison with locals and so you’d certainly have expected us to be a forlorn lot. Interestingly, we were far from that.
Having come from communities of our refugee camps, and having gone through different difficulties to make it into exile, we had a lot in common but also different stories to share. That gave us conversations that spread mirth among us, even when on topics of atrocities.
Our joyful groups were so infectious that some of our kindred from outside refugee camps found it irresistible to join us. Reluctantly at first for those who’d tried to pass as citizens among their neighbours, true. But some locals were drawn to us also, so, why not them?
Our constant elation despite our plight, however, also elicited strong hatred among other locals.
All the same, we were not fazed and created our happy ‘Rwanda’, wherever we were.
This was the case in all neighbouring countries that hosted Rwandans in refugee camps but also wherever Rwandans lived in communities, however small, outside camps.
And, bet on it, it’s the case among today’s self-exiled refugees where they are living together.
Wherever they may be, Rwandans’ affinity to one another inevitably draws them together.
This affinity has not only manifested today or just in recent times. It is there today as it was there before, when colonialism imposed itself at the beginning of the 1990s.
You see, the colonialist, to enrichen his country, had to enforce the cultivation of cash crops otherwise unknown to Rwandans. But a man does not come to your house from foreign lands and begin to order you around.
Only, unfortunately, you defied the colonialist at your own peril.
So, those who depended on cultivating their land opted for exile over acquiescing to forced labour. As did cattle-keepers, who fled with whatever cattle they could put together. For the latter, the colonialist had had to infect their pasture-land with the tsetse fly, to break their obstinacy.
Still, wherever any small community of them settled, it formed its small ‘Rwanda’. They remained strongly attached to their society and only waited out the expiry of colonialism and its local surrogate puppet rule because they knew all these were but passing clouds.
The second caseload of refugees came with the upheavals of 1959 targeting a section of Rwandans, among whom we, the now jolly secondary-school youths. Many followed, fleeing persecution of the 1960s/70s/80s that carried on from those upheavals.
Nonetheless, wherever they were, they, too, all stuck to their ‘Rwandas’.
However, what with all these dislocations, the social cord that bonded together all Rwandans was severed. Those successor puppet leaders after colonialism either totally disowned their kin in exile or in many ways turned others in the country into second class citizens.
Which explains the exodus into the Rwanda Patriotic Front the moment it was formed. It promised to be a Rwanda of more hope, as its aim was to unite all in their land.
That’s why the moment it tapped into this affinity, all the oppressed and marginalised rallied together to reconnect with Rwanda of the old, strong unity. And the RPF did not disappoint.
It has delivered beyond expectation and is still delivering more, but that’s history.
Today, mother Rwanda has come home to roost and contentedly congregates her offspring for a united, prosperous future. The roost is a beehive of activity for growth and final maturity so as to be among the well-to-do of world societies. Otherwise, the roost is safe and sound.
The wayward or outright criminal fugitive-offspring who are sworn into penetrating this roost to plant evil are only wishful thinkers. They may harm or dash a few hopes in a one-off surprise attack but the sword they wield, they’ll fall upon worse. And they know it.
Their sole course is glaringly in their face and so, either they seize it and join their kindred or they reject it and forever go into oblivion. The writing has always been on the wall.
For, unlike them, the happy lot who fly to other lands to check out better harvest (better ideas, richer knowledge, faster wealth-creation methods, et al) may happily build their ‘Rwandas’ there. But they do so in the happy knowledge that mother roost awaits, open arms.
However, on Rwanda Day, make no mistake. It does not come in this long lineage of the diaspora ‘Rwandas’. It’s the roost going out to hug diaspora offspring in the fold of its wings.
Today’s leadership, having noted the importance of the values that have always bonded Rwandans together, even with the interruption of colonialism, has taken up the gauntlet and it’s all systems go. It has become one with that affinity that has always marked Rwandans.
As the leadership visits with the country’s provinces, so does it with the diaspora provinces.
Rwanda Day is a celebration of that affinity that spreads mirth all round, without forgetting the serious business of nation-building. All of which also attracts many a non-Rwandan.
Mother Rwanda is happening and happening globally.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.