The UN’s delayed reaction syndrome

Last week, Ms Gay J. McDougall was in town. She was here as an envoy of the United Nations Organisation (UN). That august body had sent her to Rwanda as a UN expert on minorities to bear out allegations that the government of Rwanda was discriminating against a minority group of Rwandans – to the extent of not allowing them their proper ethnic identity, as Batwa!

Last week, Ms Gay J. McDougall was in town. She was here as an envoy of the United Nations Organisation (UN).

That august body had sent her to Rwanda as a UN expert on minorities to bear out allegations that the government of Rwanda was discriminating against a minority group of Rwandans – to the extent of not allowing them their proper ethnic identity, as Batwa!

Ms McDougall was in Kigali but also visited different regions of the country. She met community members; workers in the field of minority issues, promotion of equality and non-discrimination; representatives of non-governmental organisations; and government officials.

Wherever she went, whomever she met, the answer to her questions was the same: in today’s Rwanda, Rwandans are just that.

Whether the ethnicities of Batwa, Bahutu and Batutsi exist or not, that’s the business of whoever wants to believe one theory or the other. Otherwise, all Rwandans are equal before the law. As a Rwandan, you have the right to call yourself whatever you want, as long as you don’t use that right to the detriment of anybody.

She was impressed. And she said it: “Rwanda has many lessons to teach the world, no longer just about the horrors of genocide, but now also about the capacity and courage of the people to recover.”  She continued: “Furthermore, [Rwanda has shown] the power of truth and justice and the ability of divided societies to overcome their differences.”

Until the UN headquarters twists her final report (which is as certain as tomorrow following today!), we Rwandans are happy. Happy that somebody has ‘discovered’ our truth! But think again. Isn’t it sad that we should be happy to please the UN, as if we live for them or any other organisation/person?

Surely, for our lives, we are answerable to ourselves, and nobody but ourselves.
Good soul, of course, Ms McDougall cannot be blamed; it’s the UN. What good can that visit serve the people of Rwanda?

It came following accusations by some people that ‘Bye Bye Nyakatsi’, the government programme for eradicating grass-thatched houses, is actually a tool to marginalise a section of Rwandans. An effort to provide durable and hygienic settlement is thrown to the UN as a torture tool and the UN swallows it hook, line and sinker – just because it concerns Rwanda.

When Government is searching for funds to provide iron- or clay-roofing to its disadvantaged citizens, the least the UN could do would be to chip in with its own contribution. Instead of wasting a good lady’s time and energy, why don’t you pick the money for her contingency allowances and transport costs and throw it into the kitty of that government?

You’d be surprised what those few dollars can do to assist a person in those despicable conditions.
The UN has good programmes that have done a sterling job assisting the needy. They should stick to those and stop looking for discrimination in wrong places. Rwandans have lived discrimination and know best how to deal with it. The UN cannot “help Government as it confronts [such] challenges” (UN’s words), when it is not ready to work with Government.

When there was discrimination, the UN preferred to look the other way, as one lady recalls. Agathe remembers that in her school, under the Habyarimana regime, her teacher was required to carry out daily ‘censuses’ of students belonging to different ethnic groups.

The agony, says Agathe, was beyond words. Whenever the teacher called “Hutu students, show your hands!” the Hutu students used to cheerfully lift their hands “until they almost touched the ceiling”, as Agathe describes it! But a call of “Tutsi students, lift your hands!” used to send hears racing and turn hands into cement blocks that were impossible to lift.

Even I now can imagine the measured steps of their teacher, a Catholic nun, as she approached every student who had not lifted their hand. If you’ve watched any of the Harry Porter films, you get the drift. The difference being that this was reality show, not some creative fiction for entertainment.

“There now, cockroach brat, lift that hand!” growled the shrouded woman, cane held threateningly on her side. Closing their eyes and summoning all in their power, the students used to lift their hands no higher than the ear, which used to send other students into fits of laughter.

And that was not all. Note that there is no mention of ‘Twa students’: this is because, whereas today primary school enrolment is compulsory for all Rwandan children, enrolment for Twa children was all but unheard of. In fact, even some Hutu children did not get access to full education, especially if they did not hail from the northern and north-western regions of this bruised land. 

Yes, Ms McDougall, today you “find a different Rwanda” from the one you saw in 1994, the first and last time you’d visited, as you say. And yes, “Rwanda has become a country of peace and increasing opportunity.”

That was not always the case. But when Rwanda was bleeding and screaming for help, the UN didn’t want to look!

pbutam@yahoo.com

 

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