Refugees demonstrating over reduced hand-outs? My heart bled when recently I saw Congolese refugees in Kiziba camp, here in Rwanda, violently demonstrating over these alms.
In our long and roaming runs as refugees (1959–1994), anybody entertaining such an idea would’ve been laughed out of the…er…refugee camp! It was common with refugees from other countries like Sudan but taboo for Rwandan refugees.
Which, paradoxically, put us on a collision course with host countries and Western do-gooders.
This meant that there was a possibility of being hewn down by our hosts, with endorsement of do-gooders, if we’d so much as attacked anybody over rations. But, in any case, our elders considered dependence on hand-outs grossly dishonourable.
For that, the refugee camps that Rwanda’s neighbouring countries put us in turned out to be death-traps that few of our people survived.
If we were not battling cholera and similar diseases that were ready to summarily do away with our loathed lives, a raft of killer beasts in those forest reserves were in waiting, to receive us as their delicious manna from heaven.
Yet we bore it all stoically and not once did any refugee raise a voice.
Those of you who survived those deathly camps remember the worst of them: Oruchinga and Kinyara in Uganda; Mushiha in Burundi; Mwese in Tanzania. Then the hardly habitable jungles of what’s today’s D.R. Congo, where no one gave a hoot whether you lived or died.
However, the worst of the worst was the tsetse-infested camp for internally displaced persons inside Rwanda, where the luxury of any hand-outs was unheard-of. And where, in the end, they perished in the ghastly Genocide against the Tutsi, with hardly a survivor.
Comrades all, pardon me for re-scorching your hearts but we must look back to those days that, as a society, we may take our re-united self-organisation as our enduringly protected treasure.
For today, to a single Rwandan, including those of us who deluded ourselves that it’d only be the fate of a few, we’ve suffered this hell.
Admittedly, though, back in our time at first (1960s) things were so bad that our elders could tolerate such hand-outs for the kids who could not withstand endless days of hunger. But, emphatically, not so for themselves; those who couldn’t somehow make it chose death rather than insult their ancestors by soiling their palates with them.
In any case, what did the hand-outs consist of?
Weevil-infested beans, American cow feed that comprised grains of sorghum and yellow maize, all of which claimed victims before our parents got round to knowing how to properly cook them.
One hand-out, however, our parents couldn’t touch with a mile-long pole: American salted fish, which was hard to tell whether it was more salt than fish, or vice versa!
The fish/salt itself was so big that, cut and spread out, it was the size of a small satellite dish. But the taste, only a few of us fiendish young rascals could find out after we’d been given a castaway saucepan (sufuria), which we took to a secluded forest-nook as our kitchen.
Villainous as we were, still we could not cook the fish/salt until after either of two processes: put it on the roof of a house for a week, to be ‘desalted’, if it was rainy season; take it to the water-well for a wash, which involved knocking it hard against a rock repeatedly after immersing it into water.
Even after all that pain, however, it proved to be wasted effort for some of us as that ‘indesaltablemakayabo’ left us with an unquenchable thirst that has followed us to this day!
Good riddance, therefore, for before six months were out, the donations-tap had been cut and it was every refugee for themselves.
Did we raise Cain? Nope, we said “Tis as well” and went back to fending for ourselves.
The way, many years later, the RPF/A fended for itself in the bush. And the way from 1994 the Rwandan nation-state has been working hard at fending for herself: from 100 per cent aid-dependence to a continually diminishing mere 17 per cent as we talk.
What a shame that fellow Africans can fight over hand-outs instead of campaigning to regain their identity, rights and dignity that their countries deny them!
These Congolese and various other fellow Africans, should anybody wonder that they seem unable and sans intention to organise themselves towards good governance and self-sustenance?
Of course, these riots over reduced hand-outs are a disguised hankering for that all-too-precious visa to America or anywhere in the West. For, like so many Africans of their ilk running to their deaths in oceans, they’ll do anything for a life in the West.
To the point of, on top of fighting their meal-doling masters, attacking the police of a Rwanda that accords them a peaceful atmosphere and everything else up to a university education.
Our dear guests, the sights of this host country you abuse are trained on lofty aspirations: to get the West, nay, the world, hankering to come to Africa as proud partners.
And with our hearts and hands together as Africans, we can bring that precious ‘paradise’ you fancy, to you!