If I waxed poetic about my journey to the north last week, it’s because some areas of this country never cease to amaze me, however long and often I’ve been seeing them. There are some interesting features of this land that our tourism promoters seem to overlook.
Yes, an eye-to-eye encounter with the mountain gorilla, a Nyungwe canopy walk, a rush of apprehension at an Akagera lion roar, a laze around Kivu waters and other such tourist delights are an experience to treasure.
However, they cannot beat the pleasure of standing atop a high point in any part of Rwanda to take in the panorama of varying sights before your eyes.
Even then, though, I have a curiosity about the people of this land that’s always itching to be satisfied, before all the above. There is an intriguing nature to them that I seem unable to explore exhaustively, even after my long years of reconnection to them all, together.
I think the high point of tourist attractions is the Rwandan, as a human being. Rwandans have some uniqueness to them whose close observation should be encouraged.
For instance, on that journey, I witnessed a spectacle that I was not used to. Yet how I derided myself that, for the umpteen times I’ve visited that area, I knew everything about it.
The camaraderie the people showed my group and I, from Kigali; the stories of old they willingly and happily shared; the excitement in taking group photos; all these were new to me.
What’s the big deal about old memories and what’s Old Geezer on about, you’ll ask. Well, I am on about memories of the days of 1995, when the northern area was still in the grip of insurgency, even if fast weakening, compared to that recent visit.
Perhaps a recount of what happened in 1995 will explain my bewilderment.
New from exile, when a few of us dared to venture into that area, we were puzzled to see no old person around. Then, as we stood there, a lone old man emerged from a house to greet us.
When we recognised him as our neighbour of the years before 1959, year of our exile, we all took rounds to excitedly hug him but we could see that he was guarded in whatever he said or did.
To our question, he quickly pointed out our pieces of land of those days and then, inexplicably, immediately bid us bye and shuffled away.
Back in Kigali, the following morning we were shocked to learn that the old man had been killed.
Three of us at once rushed there but we were met by a menacing group of mostly old men who seemed ready for war. We called out to a soldier nearby who shot in the air but this did not deter them. However, when one of us made to take a photo, surprisingly they all vanished.
A few days later, the killers were apprehended and punished but, to this day, I am at a loss to understand how a camera could scare them, where the risk of being shot couldn’t!
Was their conduct due to the hatred they bore for us? Were they just afraid of losing the land they had appropriated to themselves? In not fearing guns, was it because they knew that the new RPF government and its army could not target civilians, even where these were ready to kill? And in cameras, did they fear being identified?
Surely, in all the above instances these villagers would still have felt too ashamed to show such warmth, even if belatedly.
I could not comprehend this delayed happiness, nay, excitement, at a reunion, knowing their hostility of the past. It could not be due simply to the fact that politics of division is long past. Nor that the emotive land question has been cleared, with every citizen now having a UPI number to identify their piece of land.
On the contrary, the bond in Rwandans seems so strong that wrong politics cannot break it. However hard one group may hurt the other, however hard one may be bruised, they’ll find it in themselves to repent or to forgive and reunite.
Because, make no mistake, that camaraderie is not unique to any particular area; you’ll find it everywhere. In reconnecting after an ‘own-inflicted’ calamity, it seems ‘impossible n’est pas rwandais’!
That’s how you find that, despite over fifty years of a concerted effort to divide them, driven by colonialism with help of the Catholic Church, in addition to over thirty-four years of the Kayibanda-Habyarimana divisive and oppressive regimes, Rwandans can still live as one.
That’s how you find Rwandans who were for over thirty years torn from one another now living together as if that long hiatus never happened. That’s how you find genocide survivors who have not only pardoned confessed génocidaires but have also gone ahead to marry them.
My guess is that that bond perforce unites Rwandans, with or without their knowledge; wanting it or not, they are destined to be one.
If it can, that should be packaged as a tourist allure!