Most readers of this column are Christians given that over 90 per cent of Rwandans belong to the various denominations of the Christian faith. I wish all of you a merry Christmas and a fruitful new year. I know it is an expensive festive season but it is worth spending some disposable income on it.
It might surprise some that at may age (over half a century) there some guys who depend on my meager earnings for their trendy Sunday best fashions. I hope no one mistakes me for a mean, fashioned, selfish, bigoted mzee.
I subscribe to the Christian doctrine especially its teaching of love. Love of God presupposes that you love His people and to love His people, you have to love your neighbour the closest of whom is your family.
The act of giving without expecting reciprocity is an act of love that Jesus Christ in his short life on earth demonstrated in words and actions. Let’s as we celebrate Xmas, as Muslims do, care for the less privileged, for whatever we have is a gift from our creator, and as we flock to churches and cathedrals in our Sunday best, we should remember to pray for peace because His people can only enjoy the best of this world in an atmosphere of love, peace and respect for the sanctity of human life. In short do unto others what you would want them to do to you.
Recently my friend Frank who works in London, drew my attention to the Nigerian intellectual icon Chinua Achebe’s use `of Igbo proverbs to frame discourses of universal and all time relevance.In Rwanda, like in Achebe’s motherland Biafra, our worldviews envisage love of God and His people.
Some times I wonder whether the differences between peoples of this world are not exaggerated when you consider the similarity in beliefs systems world wide.
Let’s share Frank’s experience when he encountered Achebe live. Hed had an opportunity to meet Achebe in person during a public lecture at Cambridge in United Kingdom last month and was immensely impressed by the Nigerian sage. When he emailed me his appreciation of the pioneer African novelist most of whose literary work I have studied, I was struck by my friend’s sense of literary appreciation because what took him only a brief session to discern from the man what took me months of reading, lectures, academic seminars --- Achebe’s mastery of the English idiom and use of Igbo folklore to espouse the human condition. Consider the universality of the proverb of the birds and the tortoise from the novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ that Frank chose to mail me.
Birds were invited to a great feast in the sky and tortoise pleaded with them to take him along. At first they were skeptical because they how greedy and unreliable he was but he was able to convince some of them that he was a changed man and agreed to donate a feather each to make a pair of wings.
Tortoise told them it was customary to adopt new names of such occasions. The birds who had never heard of such a custom fell for his story and adopted fanciful names like Master of the Sky, Queen of the Earth, and Streak of lightning, the Daughter of the Rainbow. When tortoise chose the name You All, birds laughed at him and congratulated themselves on having such a funny man on their trips.
When the feast was set before them tortoise asked, “Whose is feast intended for? The hosts said “You All, of course”. The tortoise said “You heard them” to the birds “the feast is for me. My name is You All.
The birds took their revenge by repossessing their feathers and flew back on growling empty stomachs, leaving him stranded.
Frank’s interpretation from the narrative is: “We must not let an adversary, real, potential , assume a false name even in playfulness”. I add that it is important to be able to identify our adversary before we deal with them. Our worst adversary is ourselves. Reason – because we have failed to own the gift of love well articulated in the Gospel according Saint John, Jesus Christ’s favorite disciple.
A Kinyarwanda proverb Umuturanyi akurutira umuvandimwe uri kure or a neighbour is more useful than a relative who is far away, is self explanatory as it is your neighbour who responds to your distress call. So we should endeavour to love our neighbours in our villages, places of work and even between nations instead of creating unnecessary adversaries because when you hate your neighbours you hate community security, thus yourself.
Let us use “we” more often than “I” and shun the discourse of “us” versus “them” because it is causes unnecessary, it is against God’s will as expressed in the proverb, Abarikumwe Imana Irabasanga ( God is with those who are united. Eastern Province Governor Dr. Ephraim Kabayija during the recently conclude National Dialogue, though under stress to explain the controversial policy of Nyakatsi, was able to advance the discourse I am trying to promote here. He said when we lived in refugee camps in exile, there was no mention of whether one was a Muhutu, a Mutwa or a Mutitsi. We were all Rwandans.
During the Xmas celebrations let’s promote unity and love and pray that mankind heeds St John’s “love one another”.