It’s true what President Paul Kagame said last Thursday on August 23, while campaigning for RPF parliamentary candidates, as chair of the party, in Gisagara District, Southern Province.
It’s also true that his statement, as I understood it, was two-pronged; double-barrelled.
As is usual for his statements, in fact maybe it was multi-pronged. Put in my inept translation: “Undisturbed, a lion is a very peaceful and friendly creature. But once stung, it can make for the most of overpowering opponents.”
First, the literal meaning. To which I can attest, as I lived its expressions.
My initial encounter with a lion was only virtual. But, knowing nothing about cinema, how could a villager tell? It was 1959, before some of us were disowned by a daft leadership.
We were seated in the dark, ready to be treated to one of those mobile movie shows that regularly went around Rwanda, though a first for our region.
As the music struck up, the ‘screen’ – white wall of a house – flickered on and we saw a lion lying down, facing us. Then, tilting its head, it bared its fangs and, ever so slowly, opened its mouth. Then – horror of horrors! – its roar shook the region. Pandemonium broke out!
We all scampered for cover, adults trampling us little ones. But the colonial ‘master’ showing that miracle of cinema called us back. The ‘lion’ had no reason to attack, he assured us.
You know the mascot for the Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Well, it was a live lion to us!
That realm of the imaginary, however, taught us what a lion looked like and why it could be harmless.
Thus, as stateless wonderers sans abode after that, it was not as if lions were strangers to us during our long and arduous treks in the then Belgian Congo jungles.
They became our companions, sometimes protecting us from the fickle hyenas.
But we knew it was ill-advised to court their anger; they could be ferocious. We saw that manifestation when ahead of us a buffalo angered a lion stalking it. A whole pride of lions set upon it, tearing it to shreds.
Once one sank its fangs in the neck, it was the end for the buffalo. Just as it could have been for even the biggest of the animals.
Still, much later, despite that acquired familiarity, one gave me quite a scare!
December 1990, coming from the city lights of Nairobi, I went visiting my old people in the then Zaïre, D.R. Congo today. Near Ishasha border from Kihihi in Uganda, I moved a distance into the Queen Elizabeth Park’s brown, drying grass, leaving friends in our little Suzuki car, to answer the call of nature. As I stood there, ‘busy’, I saw a tuft of ‘grass’ slowly rise.
It was the mane of a lion, as I saw when he turned his head to lock eyes with mine!
I stayed calm and, disinterested, he turned to resume his nap. Still, I knew better than to try his patience and tiptoed backwards to the car and we went our way.
Second, what could have been one of President Kagame’s figurative meanings? To which I also can attest, although not always witness during its manifestations.
As is well documented now, in October 1990 a peaceable band of the disowned and otherwise marginalised sons and daughters of Rwanda were at the gate of their country, begging the regime in power to allow them in so they could live with their compatriots in dignified unity.
They were answered with firepower that scattered them into the forest nooks of the border area. It was a while before they could regroup and organise to respond.
But when they responded, the regime scampered for cover and yelped for help. In the help, it had the confidence of having a father-figure that could galvanise the forces of all its many minions, whom it’d confidently lead to swift victory.
At stake for the father-figure was its reputation, influence, pride and language. But with its superior power, plentiful resources and diplomatic clout in the mighty first world and many underlings at its beck and call, not even a whole continent could stand in its way.
Or so the giant thought!
When the small group was stung, the entire medley of monstrous murderers didn’t know what hit it! In their humiliated defeat and flight, they horridly trampled dead more than a million of innocent citizens, a dreadfulness we’ll always live with.
But another attempt? Not to this pacific little lion!
The small group of then: members of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), whose coat of arms included a lion, among others, and its armed wing, RPA.
Today, the ruling RPF party has all Rwandans behind it, who have at their command a time-tested disciplined army, the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), which many are loath to offend.
So, Rwanda may be a tiny partnership-seeking lion but, when push comes to shove, to somewhat alter Mark Twain’s quote, it’s not the size of the lion that matters in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the lion.
Tiny twerps in forest war games, large Angels of Darkness scheming in capitals, tingle this lion at your own peril!
The views expressed in this article are of the author.