I’ve heard the above statement uttered before but I’d never thought of it in connection with Rwanda. I could well imagine it being pronounced by an aspiring president of a super power like USA about his country but not by a third world leader about their country, especially one on the African continent.
I don’t see how today’s Rwandans can be the ones that Rwanda has been waiting for. In any case, waiting for what and since when?
Before the advent of colonialism, Rwanda was a vast expanse covering today’s Rwanda and large swaths of Eastern D.R. Congo, Southern Uganda and North-Western Tanzania. Rwandans were known as the indomitable warrior tribe of the central African highlands that no one dared offend. They were known for being a formidable force that fiercely defended their own.
Their invincibility was known in areas as distant as the Indian Ocean coast. For this reason, no Arab slave trader ventured into any area that was under the control of a Rwandan king, or what were called his kinglets (ibihinza, who controlled small kingdoms that paid homage to him).
This factor helped in fending off Arab slave-traders. While those Arabs could easily pick slaves from other areas by offering trinkets to local chiefs or scaring them with guns, they never dared penetrate into Rwanda. No Rwandan could be scared into losing another Rwandan. No Rwandan could consider selling another Rwandan.
As Rwandans survived by defending one another, everyone was an asset to the community and to one another.
Having picked those stories on their way into central Africa, the German colonialists offered friendship and partnership so as to cleverly warm their way into the hearts of Rwandans. The partnership was in the form of fighting alongside them to conquer more areas from neighbouring tribes. Of course, we now know that this was around 1894 and Rwanda’s fate had already been sealed by the Berlin Conference of 1884/5.
Rwanda had been portioned off to Congo for the Belgians, Uganda for the English and Tanzania for the Germans. The surviving core territory of Rwanda that was given to Germany was practically negligible. When Belgium took over control of this revised Rwanda with the defeat of Germany in WW I, Belgians knew they had to shred up this strongly united community or lose grip of it.
They could not have had any problem in that, of course. They had their own community to draw lessons from, a community that has never had a stable government in its fractured life. By the time they left, they had done such a ‘good’ job of fracturing our own community that our fellow Rwandans were ready to send us into a long dark night that all but consumed Rwanda as a country.
So, can the Rwandans of today be the ones that Rwanda has been waiting for to return her to her lost glory?
For, what that involves is not only reconstruction of the strong bond that glued Rwandans together. It goes beyond to include recovering their ‘lost counties’ and peoples, an idea that is too wacky to be fathomable. It is true that communities have been able to secede from forced parenthood in our own history but it has been too costly for the peoples of the communities to encourage such a venture. Eritrea, Somaliland and South Sudan immediately come to mind.
Yet for Rwanda, I see a possibility.
It is evident now that Rwandans have gone through a healing process that has led to levels of reconciliations unimaginable a few years ago. The fact alone that they themselves crafted that healing machine and that it has registered success is reason to be optimistic. Rwandans cannot allow that machine to be derailed, knowing the cost of what they paid to put its engine in motion. Soon, save for a few black sheep, Rwandans will be one again.
As to regaining their “lost counties” and peoples, the answer lies at that core belief of Rwandans: that whatever territory a Rwandan occupies becomes their Rwanda. As I heard the headline quote of this article evoked at the meeting President Kagame had with Rwandans and friends in Chicago last June 11th 2011, so did I hear the evocation of that ‘core belief’ at the same venue.
All of which goes to show that Rwandans are not bounded by frontiers. Rwandans are Rwandans wherever they are and whatever nationality they hold.
When President Kagame evokes this totality of the values that Rwandans hold so dear, outsiders should not be surprised when their countries are emptied of all with a connection to Rwanda who flock to meet him. It’s the same as when young and old in Rwandan empty their homes to converge on a meeting rendezvous with him.
Rwandans have been waiting to be one again. And they’ve been waiting from the time colonialism tore them apart.
Yes, Rwandans, “We are the change that we seek.” (Courtesy, President Obama).