Of names, power and optimism

Rwandans are very optimistic about their future and that of their country. Shh! don’t say that. There is a crowd that does not like to hear that sort of thing. They trade in pessimism, you see. Strange breed. Vampire sorts.

Rwandans are very optimistic about their future and that of their country. Shh! don’t say that. There is a crowd that does not like to hear that sort of thing. They trade in pessimism, you see. Strange breed. Vampire sorts.

You might say this is the beginning of an imaginary conversation. The subject, however, is real. It is true that Rwandans are optimistic about their future. It is also true that there are people to whom that news causes rage and pain, and sets them scrambling for anything that will puncture the spirit of good feeling among Rwandans – it must be said without much success. But they will keep trying.

Early this year opinion polls said Rwandans’ optimism about their future was high – 62%. These findings did not receive much coverage outside Rwanda. You see, it was good news and was bound to cause more anguish to our self-declared guardian angels who have sworn to protect us from the dangerous thought of aspiring for greater and better things.

Another survey earlier this year showed that the majority of Rwandans – more than 80% -- are satisfied with the Government of Rwanda’s provision of services to them.

Again, results from this survey did not get any coverage, no doubt because they were positive and did not fit into the hellhole categorisation of Rwanda. You see, admitting this level of satisfaction would drive the merchants of doom and despair out of business and cause irreparable harm to their reputation.

The guardian angels must show that they are still relevant. And so other “findings” that prove that this country is fast mired in untold misery are quickly put together and given extensive publicity. That should put these upstarts, who dare to hope in their place, they smack their lips and rub their hands with glee in a collective feeling of satisfaction.

But the upstarts continue to chalk up more successes and their optimism grows. Transparency International continually places Rwanda high on the least of the least corrupt countries.  The country’s improvement in the TI anti-corruption index is in leaps and bounds, literally.

Rwanda’s score in doing business keeps going up. Child and maternal mortality is down and hurtling downhill towards zero. Reduction in incidence of malaria and famine is nothing short of miraculous.

Rwanda is a leader in peace-keeping. It is a model in gender issues, the most recent accolades coming from exemplary initiatives in dealing with gender-based violence.
So, what to do with such an impressive score card?  These are indisputable facts. They cannot be wished away or erased. The guardian angels grudgingly admit that indeed successes have been registered. But admission does not mean acceptance. 

They still find ways to punch holes in the achievements and optimism of Rwandans. Yes, they have done so much, but at the expense of freedom and all sorts of rights. They enlist some Rwandans to help them make the point. People prepared to sell their birthright and others with an abnormally large appetite for self-gratification are quickly hired.

That is how greed-driven people like Kayumba Nyamwasa and the other members of the gang of four, Victoire Ingabire, Paul Rusesabagina and a motley collection of other discredited characters find themselves in an unlikely, but understandable alliance.

The sense of hope and confidence in the future among Rwandans has, however, grown deep. It is now expressed in ways that many might find difficult to alter. Take for instance, Rwandan names. They have undergone a transformation that is a result of a changed worldview.

In the past, Rwandans were not sure of their survival (so the experts tell us). So they had many children to improve the probability of survival. A similar kind of fatalism was expressed in the naming of their children in which responsibility for their upbringing and survival was surrendered to God. Thus you had names like Habyarimana (it is God who gives children), Harelimana (it is God who brings up children), Kubwimana (by the will of God), Nahimana (God’s wish) and similar others.

Such names were not given because of an overwhelming religious sense or faith. They were rather an admission of helplessness and resignation to fate.

Names also spoke about social relations – again in fatalistic terms, for instance blaming neighbours or fate for all manner of misfortunes. Names such as Ndimubanzi, Ntahontuye (both suggest living among enemies) and Rushigajiki (death has nothing left to take) fall in this category.

In the last decade or so, this sort of fatalistic naming has reduced. Parents now give their children names which reflect the prevailing circumstances and the people’s attitudes. The names are a reasonable measure of the level of satisfaction and confidence in the future. There is now a preponderance of names like Mahoro (peace), Munezero (joy), Mbabazi (mercy) and Ingabire (gift or grace).

I know many young people who have rejected the names given by their parents because of their negative, pessimistic connotation and opted for “cool” names that have positive associations.

If statistics cannot be trusted or can be countered by other data, Rwandan naming now suggests a sense of permanence of optimism. The optimism reflects and is fed by success, which in turn leads to further success and, therefore, growing confidence in the future.  Achievement and a feeling of well-being give people a sense of power which also fuels optimism. No one is about to take that away.



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