Today’s few remnants of gloaters at the misfortunes of this country must have laughed their scornful heads off a few days ago, on hearing this call: “We should resolve to set a deadline…[when we]…will no longer be waiting for what others hand out to us.”
But so did a murderous cabal of compatriots and their foreign backers twenty-six years ago, when they heard a call to this effect: “Tutakomboa nchi yetu. Inatubidi tu tuwe na uamuzi na nidhamu.” Roughly translated, with determination and discipline, we shall liberate our country.
Such a call made in 1990 was ever so much more hollow, of course, considering it was made to a tiny guerrilla group trying to get a foothold on the surface of a homeland they’d long been denied.
With a world that was totally indifferent to their plight from the 1950s-60s, they’d been left to roam the earth, mocked and ridiculed wherever they went.
When theirs had always been a thin line of survival then, how could they dare talk about liberation?
After over 30 years of this borderline survival, however, they were determined to claim their rightful place in the future of their country, knowing their compatriots within it were not faring any better, either.
All of which meant that the struggle’s intent was to coalesce Rwandans around a common cause that could see them reclaim their destiny.
Alas, having resorted to forceful self-repatriation after all other options had failed, the group was repulsed with such force that they was almost wiped out.
Their determination could not match the countering force mounted by practically all African Francophone armies, led from the front by France, all backing the regime of the time. It was all the group could do, to pull themselves together again.
Still, they had survived the overwhelming lashing and could live to fight another day.
And, indeed, the Rwanda Patriotic Front and its fighting guerrilla wing (RPF/A) did not only survive but was growing into an ordered, strong organization that was quickly earning diplomatic clout, as it took over more territory, when again the shock hit them bang in the face.
They were ‘punished’ with the hitherto unfathomed apocalyptic horror of horrors, the Genocide against the Tutsi, even as success was in their sights.
How the ruling clique could punish what it called ‘foreigners’ by eliminating a section of its own people, right inside the country, no one among the regime’s supporters and in the wider world cared to ponder.
For the RPF/A, it was a stack reminder, if any was needed, that no one cared for Rwandans but Rwandans themselves, unless maybe it was in internecine annihilation. And that gave them the burst of energy to rise and halt the horror.
From there, the RPF went on to remove the whole genocidal machinery from the surface and system of this land to post an epic feat of survival.
Discipline, determination and right had triumphed over arrogance, greed and might.
Nevertheless, a nation does not live on battleground success alone, however sterling.
The new RPF government, saddled with a devastated economy and the herculean task of uniting their people, had a whole population to sustain. It had no alternative, therefore, but to swallow its hard-earned pride and turn to donors and foreign NGOs.
Talk about handouts! Donors and their NGOs came out in droves to dole out ‘gifts’ and made sure to make the fact abundantly clear.
So, everything was emblazoned with the name of every Santa Clause bearing a gift in wide, glossy letters. “Gift of the US”, complete with that ‘multiracial’ handshake. “Don de la Belgique”, with its country’s royal court of arms – but no mention of its perennially shaky government!......
The gifts came in form of a motor vehicle for a government official here; sacks of rice, maize meal, beans, etc, there; tins of cooking oil; discarded jerry-cans for fetching water; name it.
I even remember seeing tin-cups, used to pick rations from those sacks, which were marked “Regalo dell’Italia” or “δώρο της Ελλάδα”. Come to think of it, shouldn’t Rwanda think reciprocity today, seeing the economic doldrums of Italy and Greece?
That, however, is for the birds. What’s for real, the government was fed up with this donor and NGO ‘magnanimity’ and booted out most of the NGOs, even before a year was out.
Now, from total dependency to about 30% donor assistance today, isn’t it a feat among feats?
But 1995 isn’t where it all began. It was the end of one lap and beginning of another, in a succession of laps of a journey that will end when, finally, Rwandans can sit among prosperous societies as equals. That’s the meaning of that sworn “ukombozi”, liberation.
A pipedream? To pick one sentence from Habyarimana Joseph’s lengthy delivery: “Haki ya Mungu, with our leadership that’s the envy of the region, as my neighbours never tire to tell me, there is no height we cannot scale!”
Joseph is a villager in the remotest village of remote Rusizi District, at the border with D.R. Congo. He was speaking at Umushyikirano 2016, in the ultra modern Kigali Convention Centre.
Methinks the story of this land is being written in the village. Indeed, the transformative power of good leadership should not be underestimated. This journey so far is testimony.
May 2017 be the harbinger to beckoning aid-less days to come!