A story goes that a young man recently got a photo of what’s dubbed Kigali’s budding financial district, Car Free Zone area, and asked his elderly relative to see what Kigali looks like today.
On taking one look, the woman sneered: “Son, you’ve been had, too! Those inyenzi tricksters take a photo of Dubai and call it Kigali and you idiotically swallow the fib hook, line and sinker!”
The old lady in question? Self-exiled Mrs. Agatha Habyarimana, widow to long-time president of genocidal pre-1994 Rwanda.
Of course Kigali is nowhere near looking like Dubai. And, hopefully, it has no intention of becoming a concrete jungle, anyway.
But whatever the case, it would be understandable for the old woman to imagine something like Dubai on seeing the cluster of near-skyscrapers in the area captured in the photo: Ubumwe Hotel, Grand Pension Plaza, M Peace Plaza, Bank of Kigali headquarters and City Hall, among others.
After all, the last time she was there, the tallest buildings the area boasted were a three-storey Foreign Affairs ministry and a two-storey Post Office. To say nothing of these being in the company of only unsanitary rukarakara (mud-and-wattle) shops, it’d be an understatement to say the state of the buildings was a shame to humanity; imagine something worse.
If you visited those two ‘wonder buildings’ of the time before 1994, you remember that their ‘bathrooms’ used to send forth a permanently foul odour that wafted towards the nearby “Présidence”, whose occupant never ‘smelt’ anything wrong.
How could he, when his office itself had its own heavy cloud of none-too-perfumed smells?
It consisted of a set of dried-brick-and-iron-roof buildings, some of which were slimy torture chambers, as testified by a friend I routinely walk with, who was once hosted there.
So, if the occupant of that ‘august office’ were to see today’s Kigali Convention Centre’s cloakrooms, wouldn’t he take them for the eighth wonder? As Rwandans say, those departed were too hasty (abapfuye....)!
More than all the aforesaid, however, what blew me away was the old woman’s reported reaction when shown a you-tube video of what Kigali is projected to look like in 2050.
She let out a long, sarcastic laugh: these inyenzi (cockroaches), intelligent as they supposedly are, delude themselves that they can live beyond the normal human life-span? (A contradiction, but well...).
In short, to her, her husband, their cronies and hoard of followers, planning ahead was not for the black-skinned. In their humble station as by God’s design, the gift of complex thought was not granted them. So, why waste time imagining what was beyond them?
Imagination was for the superior races and theirs, as black-skins, was to follow commands on what to do and how to behave and await, beaks open like chicks in a bird’s nest, hand-outs from the God-anointed races, generation after generation ad infinitum.
So, the elite competed for favours in sharing that ‘handout manna’ from the West and the rest of the populace languished in poverty, ignorance, hunger, disease, say it.
The result was a citizenry consumed in despondency, bewilderment and anger, which latter they vented on their kith over imaginary differences, as directed by their leaders......
But we digress. We were talking about the incredulity of a self-exiled old lady.
This fast-modernising Kigali apart, what’ll be her reaction when shown a picture of the latest of the model villages that are mushrooming around the country, with an ultra-modern hospital adjacent to it: “Fils, ça c’est mo touer touruoi fouwoi”?
That, remember, is her way of pronouncing “....me tuer trois fois”, meaning that telling her the bitter truth is like killing her three times. And the utterance will be in reference to the model village of Kizirankara and the new Shyira Hospital, both in Nyabihu District, Northern Province.
For info, President Paul Kagame unveiled them last week.
The model village consists of 108 modern houses built in two months flat and handed to vulnerable villagers, free. Those houses, with electricity, running water and furnished to rival slick city residences of Kigali, form a village that’s one model of villages that have been and continue to be built in all the 30 districts of the country.
That village is one of the catalysts that continue to fire the imagination of citizens with means.
But the bitterest truth to the leadership of yesteryears that centred its politics on regionalism: these latest developments are in what used to be their stronghold, being home to most of them, like the lady mentioned.
It was a stronghold where the ‘privileged’ citizens lived in houses that at night were lit by a noxious sooty flame issuing from a kerosene-tin-and-wick contraption known as agatadoba.
And where sighting iron-sheet roofs was only on visiting the area’s health-hazardous dispensary.
Naysayers, “rapid-growth-but-dictatorship” wishful thinkers and those of your ilk, wake up and smell Rwanda; she is happening. “Dictatorship”? A Kizirankara villager will laugh in your face!
But on a soberer note, at the rate initiatives like these and others are rising, with government using departments like the RDF Reserve Force and other stakeholders to slash implementation duration and to cut cost to rock-bottom, soon the country will be dotted with minor and major satellite cities of the capital, Kigali, freeing more land for more creatively productive activity.
That, citizens of this land, is quoting only one possibility on the vista of possibilities that stretches before us, if we make an informed choice come August 3/4.
Indeed, that’s the meaning of liberation: ushering in freedom, which, as someone said, “means the opportunity to be what we never thought we would be.”