In a way, Rwanda was prepared for COVID-19!

Denizens of this land are not yet out of the woods with this virus; far from it. With more people testing COVID-19-positive, it’s been necessary to extend the lockdown. But alone that no soul has been lost to this epidemic is worth celebrating.

It’s not by accident that those who were found positive are today in stable condition. Not by some divine hand that earlier cases are set to be discharged.

 

Certainly, this pandemic is new territory. And pandemics are unpredictable things. It’s therefore decidedly delusional for anyone to think of being equal to this one.

 

Nevertheless, there is reason to be optimistic; there will be no wreckage.

 

As someone has said, the solutions to it are not in medicine. They are in governance.

That’s why, in a manner of speaking, Rwanda has for long been prepared for this plague.

For a long time, this governance has been mobilizing citizens to take charge of their every business and be ever ready for any adversity, in partnership with the government.

After the abysmal 1994 tragedy that so polarised the population, there was no other way of re-uniting.

No other way citizens could armour themselves against a repeat of any similar or new calamity.

How are they in charge of their affairs and how are they alert to any impending catastrophe?

Their societal structure is how.

Before the structure, however, there must be trust. The structure can only function because the citizens have trust in their leadership.

They must have seen the leadership deliver before they could be confident enough to bank on its proposals having gone through thorough study.

Citizens have therefore weighed its promises and advice against outcomes and ‘voted remain’. So have residents of this country. Thus, netizens all are in concord with government on this.

At the grassroots is Umudugudu, village, and now, Isibo, ‘sub-village’. From here is Akagari, cell, Umurenge, sector, Akarere, district, Intara, province, up to the central government.

How did this structure come to be?

As the world knows by now, it was sired by the horrendous 1994 disaster.

The year Gacaca was born, a system of community courts that did a sterling job of trying genocide perpetrators and performed the unfathomable of reconciling and uniting victim and génocidaire.

Gacaca drew its success from being a platform of interaction and information-sharing for voluntary people-chosen ‘judges’ and fellow citizens.

From Gacaca, then, sprang the said-structure, which hosts programmes like today’s umuganda, community work and social interaction, that’s being emulated by many countries.

There are other perhaps less known ones like abunzi, community conciliators to iron out disagreements; ubudehe, stratification of citizens according to levels of income; we could go on.

Today’s technological advances have come in to make a thus oiled machine even smoother.

With this structure and its platforms of interaction in place, all a top government official needs is to cry: “Distress is upon us! We are all hit by a pandemic called coronavirus (COVID19)!”

Within no time the alarm will be echoing around the ridges of this land. Some villagers may call it “Koroneri (Col!) Birusi”, others “Korana Varisi” (‘valise’, French for ‘suitcase’!), others “Kuvida” – COVID19 – (‘vider’, French for ‘to empty’) but all will appreciate its deadliness.

However much some may distort its name, they galvanise to act to government advice and welcome the strict guardians of their health, deployed to enforce the requirements.

This, because they’ve known government guidelines to stand the test of time as life-improvers.

Constant hand-washing and sanitisation, masks, gloves, social distancing, stay home, no non-essential business, no travel between cities or districts? No sweat! Denizens without access to masks or gloves know that sticking to the rest of the practices can keep the pestilence at bay.

Meanwhile, government is busy. Whoever rings the widely-circulated toll-free phone number to report the smallest symptom is immediately ‘invaded’ with blaring sirens and whisked away, with everybody they interacted with. In their quarantines, maybe you’ve seen a YouTube of how one ‘patient’ is happily and energetically ‘dancing his isolation away’!

The intensive care unit wards wait in desolation, not a single visitor so far.

Screening, testing, quarantine, daily briefings of positive cases and the ‘patients’’ progress as well as reminders of the precautions as internalised by the denizens are a lockdown constant.

That’s why denizens of this land are amused when they hear the world exclaiming that government is going door-to-door with supplies of food and other essential goods. Through said societal structure, all vulnerable families were mapped long ago.

After all, save for those who’ve been on short-time wage-earnings, all the needy have been on a government assistance programme. As for food, every district possesses food reserves for exactly such an emergency. Interestingly, the reserves are this far lying cosy, untouched.

All in all, then, denizens of this country understand it when government enforces tough public measures, even if seemingly unfair. For an unpredictable plague like this, it’s in order.

For being one with government, they understand that livelihoods have to be disrupted. That they should be prepared to live with the consequences of this pandemic for a long time to come.

I am confident Rwanda shall soon conquer this virus.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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