Last week when I was jolted out of my ‘cleanliness reverie’ (my musings about outsiders’ admiration of our cleanliness) by a sharp retort, I sat up and thought. Indeed, how could we talk about cleanliness for our cities when they do not enjoy central sewage systems?
I know that plans to build them are in the works for all cities, starting with Kigali, but shouldn’t they have been our starting point? Since getting the whole country clean is a much bigger hurdle, why didn’t our government get this little obstacle out of the way first?
As Rwandans say, you can’t eat a cow and fail to eat its horns. But before I invite the wrath of animal-lovers on myself, I hasten to add: it’s only an adage. For a Rwandan adage is never taken at face value and since Rwandans jealously defended the rights of animals, especially tame, and hardly ever ate beef leave alone horns, it’s not meant as it’s said.
But to continue, when you carefully observe the turning points that delivered this country where she is today and how resolutely and slowly but surely they were effected, you realise that all in good time, all waste disposal systems will be in place.
Said turning points have set this country on a trajectory whose magnitude, significance and implications are yet to be fathomed even by many of us Rwandans, methinks.
But, what turning points?
The first turning point was the birth of the Rwanda Patriotic Front.
Itself an evolution, as it germinated and gradually developed in many minds from the time of the massacres and expulsions of a section of Rwandans of the 1950s/60s and manifested itself in many forms after that, the revolt against dictatorship crystallised into a liberation movement in December 1987, on foreign soil.
From an uncoordinated group of individuals to an elite one that was ill-prepared to attract popular membership, now it became a liberation movement.
This became a veritable turning point when masses of Rwandans, in and out of the country, joined up and gave it the confidence to launch an armed struggle. Even if, excruciatingly sad to recall, immediately after, the RPF/RPA as we’d just known it was almost wiped out.
But from ragtag survivors of that launch, an elusive guerrilla force that now you saw, emerged that became the second turning point.
Pitted against a whole government army that was supported by no less than a super power, without mentioning the power’s African minions and cover of diplomatic support from other super powers, the RPA did not only repulse this whole mishmash of mass murderers but was going to rout them when it was hit bang with another dimension of the government’s ugliness: an elimination campaign of part of the citizenry.
When the RPF/RPA stopped the Genocide and, instead of engaging in revenge killings, installed a government that embarked on bringing victim and perpetrator together in a process that later was coined ‘Ndi Umunyarwanda’ to solidly unite all Rwandans, to all intents and purposes an impossibility to any other society out of similar strife, that was a turning point to cap all turning points.
To some of us who had been watching all this with apprehension, knowing any RPF/RPA failure at any point would have meant the complete obliteration of this state, with the success of these efforts, the rest of this galloping growth and cleanliness in the whole management of this society were a fait accompli.
A society that has developed from this lost hope has many priorities all right but, ever so methodically, will see them all delivered whatever time it takes.
Rwanda’s attention may currently be consumed in the effort to boost investment, tourism, trade with the region and beyond, etc, so as to generate her own revenue and do away with dependence on handouts from donors. However, it will not be at the expense of any detail.
This cleanliness we see is the face of an effort to fundamentally transform this land, with no frills left unattended.
For, to come to the deeper meaning of the adage, your cow cannot grow into a beautiful animal if you don’t care for its horns as you care for it (the belief of then). Similarly, you cannot care about your cities when you have predicated them on the powder kegs of waste; a simple tremor will send them into the sinkhole of shame.
For the next turning point, then, I see discarding handouts from donors but wonder what else. Perhaps establishing a life with East African Community partners, to work together and render each self-sustaining?
It’s only through a partnership of equals that we can join hands on the continent and reach out to our will-be-former donors for a partnership of truly global equals and ‘eat’ our wealth in comfort!
Not if we can rid ourselves of the dirt of conflicts, corruption, lethargy, citizen-disempowerment, the unclean lot. But hoping, lest we forget, that our ‘will-be formers’ don’t scuttle everything, the Arab-World way. Or that we can ably face off with them!
Anyway, it’s possible to achieve all-round cleanliness not only for Rwanda but also for all EAC countries.