Today is Lovers' Day around the world-- so Rwandans are told. Apparently this good habit of expressing love one day a year is linked to mythology from far away lands, in genealogy foreign to us, with names unfamiliar; the prominent one being a young boy called Cupid, portrayed shooting a bow into a heart.
The love I have witnessed is of a different kind, a love between a man and his people. It's a love I have wanted to recount for a few years now, but only lately have felt an urge to do so. The catalytic moment appeared on top of the beautiful rolling hills of Gicumbi, Northern Rwanda on 2nd August 2010, but I decided I should keep it for better fitting times, when the tide is low and hearts attentive.
Then last month on January 23rd, 2011, on another set of Northern Mountains, the lush and majestic Burera Na Ruhondo, I felt the urge intensifying. Both places, in my mind, sealed an unusual encounter between a man and a people; bound by a common destiny. The first time was on the campaign trail, and the second on the occasion of a hospital's grand opening. Words fail me as I try to convey the magic of those moments, so strong was the instant, so real the chemistry, so blissful the faces. The people, young and old, and the man strong and gentle, expressed mutual affection, in a way only this phase of our History and the stunning heights of Rwanda can engender.
The difficulty for me, you see, is that Rwanda has only one common word, urukundo, for that very uncommon and versatile emotion known as love. In places where this day is more celebrated, there are so many kinds of love that it spins my head: there is romantic love, there is friendly love, there is brotherly love, there is pragmatic love, there is platonic love, there is parental love… And, as if that semantic barrage was not enough, the unique nature of this love cannot quit me. For the reality is that, against insurmountable odds, the man has showered the people with dignity, prosperity and ambition, and the people have responded with commitment and steadfast support.
And as in many love affairs, every now and then spoilers creep up, with the desperation of a suitor shunned by a bride too wise. Take the latest bunch--we call them The Jokers; they claim that Rwanda was better off under a different man, one who had no sense of love and lost his soul in the annihilation of a million people.
The Jokers are so blinded by their hate for the chosen suitor that the people’s resounding voices of contentment and the many international awards and acclaim pass them by, ever more threatening to their house of cards. Surely logic dictates that men who extol the virtues of a mass murderer should see nothing good in a good man. But that's a story for another day, let me not stray from the love affair and rather busy myself counting the gifts from the man to Rwanda: most secure, very stable, good governance, ingenious health care, highly improved education, best place to invest, first for women’s rights… For that an unending flow of superlatives, Rwanda loves you back, Mr. President!
The author is Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs.