The RPF covenant with Musanze

'Abanya musanze dusanzwe dufitanye igihango,' started the RPF candidate, President Paul Kagame, during his stop in Musanze district while on the campaign trail last week. 'Uri Inshuti yacu, uri inshuti yacu,' the record crowd of more than 300,000 chanted back in unison as though to affirm the covenant - igihango - that seems to run deep between them and the RPF, if not with its flagbearer Mr. Kagame. It’s a complex, but not complicated, relationship. Here’s why.

“Abanya musanze dusanzwe dufitanye igihango,” started the RPF candidate, President Paul Kagame, during his stop in Musanze district while on the campaign trail last week.

“Uri Inshuti yacu, uri inshuti yacu,” the record crowd of more than 300,000 chanted back in unison as though to affirm the covenant – igihango – that seems to run deep between them and the RPF, if not with its flagbearer Mr. Kagame. It’s a complex, but not complicated, relationship. Here’s why.

 

Like any serious relationship, there are trials and tribulations. For starters, the two met in challenging times. He came into her life to stop a deadly fire in which the hands of her kin were far too visible; she thought he would avenge their death on her.

 

Instead, he offered a hand of friendship and words of assurance that he would neither go after her nor her relatives, who had by then fled the crime scene to the neighbours, and even encouraged her to tell them to come home.

 

He began a courtship. She resisted. Even the relatives would say that her life was in danger, that they would soon come to rescue her. They would even come in the dark to provoke hostility from him so that they could prove to her once and for all that he was a bad man; they sought no friendship with him nor would they entertain familial ties: they’d swear to never allow their daughter to marry him.

He’d hear the smear in the streets. He courted, still. There was something special about her, he’d tell those encouraging him to give up on her and to go after her relatives in a show of vengeful machismo.

She liked that he was consistent – in words and deed. After five years of courtship, she said to hell with the relatives; he proposed and she said yes. They promised each other some things – what to do with the relatives being one of them – in order to live happily ever after.

‘It required a lot of effort,’ he would say after, when asked how he managed to win her over despite facing such hostile circumstances. However, like any intimate relationship, winning over a lover is the easy part; the hard work is in maintaining a relationship of trust, loyalty, and reciprocity: the covenant.

Promises kept

It is a relationship that started from nothing. What is today known as Musanze was a ghost town, with no visible symbols of progress to speak of: rundown shanties, huts, dirt roads, etc.

Today, Musanze is the largest city after Kigali; it boasts of an economy based on the comparative advantage of agriculture and tourism; its roads are wide and clean, with an imposing physical infrastructure that includes the recently built modern market that the residents have given the moniker ‘Musanze Convention Centre,’ according to a resident who spoke at the rally – cue the $400 million plus Kigali Convention Centre.

She also said that Musanze is the place the president thinks of when he wants businessmen and women to accompany him overseas to Europe and America – some had never left the country before 1994.

This area is also an intellectual hub of sorts. In this regard, what is well-known is the university that specializes in agriculture in Busogo, where the rally was held.

However, it is also host to two African centres of excellence in peace and security: the Rwanda Peace Academy of the RDF and the National Police College of the RNP.

Think about this: the RPF took the schools of peace and security in the area of fiercest resistance, something that one resident testified was a way to show that people can come from afar to learn about peace from them.

Affirming the covenant

And so, the record crowd had gathered to affirm a covenant. They had come, they said, to celebrate; to renew their marriage vowels – promises kept. It was a display of what is possible in a serious relationship of mutual respect, reciprocity, and reassurance.

It was a PDA (public display of affection) to other suitors to keep off.

Rwandan culture expects an offspring from a serious relationship. Kagame is not campaigning for himself. He even says so. He says the outcome is already known and that this is a celebration.

However, he must campaign for the RPF in order to secure the base in the interest of the sustainability of the party.

The tricky part will be to extend this spirit of mutual destiny from himself to the party. Which is why he speaks so little of himself during these campaigns; instead, he underscores the relationship the RPF has with the people on the campaign trail, reminding them that the covenant they have is not only with him, but with the party.

A covenant borne of struggle means that Musanze understands this more than any other part of the country. If Rwanda is a body, the mind is Kigali and the heart and soul are Musanze. Once you take away the soul, the body becomes a shell.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that system challengers who have sought to destabilize the country – even through terrorism – have sought to use Musanze as an entry point. In other words, they understand the potential domino effect that Musanze is. 

But time and again they fail. Why? Because they underestimate the power of the covenant. In Rwandan culture, the worst offense one can do to another is to violate a covenant.

This is why the symbolic power behind all this may be missed by a casual observer. It’s a serious display of tradition.

And so, when people of this region sing “nda ndambara yandera ubwoba” and he responds, “turi kumwe nanjye nta yantera ubwoba” the two parties are affirming a covenant through coded language.

Here’s the code: Ntawe uzatatira igihango.

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