In any other country a soldier being disciplined would never make the news or even register in the public conscious but for Rwanda it seems to make every global newsreel.
It is perhaps due to an outdated image of soldiers walking around with an air of impunity, seemingly untouchable. We have seen different faces at the top in the last few months but it also goes much deeper than that.
Before we had a working system we relied on individuals; some had innate talents that few others had and therefore what seemed like minor or major infringements were tolerated.
However, in time a system emerged and the individual parts mattered less than the whole- that is not to say that those parts were never useful. It becomes like a car, you can remove any part, be it the shock absorber or indicator and replace them and the car will run perfectly.
In the past soldiers were like celebrities. We followed their public and private lives with avid fascination. Today, however, most our soldiers are just professionals- few drink alcohol, or womanise publicly or are involved in scandals.
We can even call them boring, and that is good. We need soldiers who do their job, not ones who provide a lurid soap opera.
So, why the fuss about a defection here or an arrest there? It is perhaps reassuring to know the strengths and weaknesses of our soldiers but that is dangerous because we cannot put our faith in mere men alone, the system has to work. We cannot keep the same faces then worry when one or two faces change.
That would mean our system doesn’t work. I remember a sign that things had changed, three years ago - when a young Major was taking his son out for a meal a drunkard insulted him for stepping on his foot.
The Major backed down and apologised profusely despite the insults. An ‘old school’ soldier would have beaten that drunkard to sobriety.
We cannot have a modern professional army with outdated unprofessional soldiers. Our fighters during the war of liberation were valued for their tenacity above all else but our modern soldiers are valued for their discipline and clarity of thought and are rightly rated among the best in Africa.
I was looking at the Daily Nation from Kenya and the changing of the chief of staff merely warranted a four-line mini-column. That is because Kenyans do not place their faith in individual soldiers; in fact, few can even name the Army Commander or Naval Admiral.
I will leave you with a story about my encounter with one ‘old school’ solider. We have a modest plot in Umutara left by my grandfather where he was buried. One day a soldier came and started measuring the land and surveying it.
We watched helplessly as he pointed where his house was going to be placed. Imagine begging for your grandfather’s grave to be spared, then being told that a grave is only untouchable for 6 years then it can be destroyed. We lived in fear that he would return to claim what he had given himself.
That soldier was our, then, Ambassador to India. I was warned never to even think of challenging him in any way as I would fail. I much prefer the new guard personally. They don’t have an overrated sense of their own importance.
Rama Isibo is a social commentator