“We don’t need no independence”

Any reader with a little love for classic rock may recognise the title as a half-hearted play on the words of the chorus of Pink Floyd’s “Brick in a wall”.This Friday is the 49th anniversary of Independence and as usual more qualified commentators than myself will get into whether we have done enough to justify the title ‘independent nation’ or whether our people are better off now than they were under colonialism.

Any reader with a little love for classic rock may recognise the title as a half-hearted play on the words of the chorus of Pink Floyd’s “Brick in a wall”.

This Friday is the 49th anniversary of Independence and as usual more qualified commentators than myself will get into whether we have done enough to justify the title ‘independent nation’ or whether our people are better off now than they were under colonialism.

The annual soul-searching that we all love to engage in every time Independence Day comes round. We do the same thing on a micro-scale for our own birthdays.

You see, Rwanda’s first President and his PARMEHUTU party believed that their independence had been won, with the help of their colonial masters [yes, you read that correctly], by killing or chasing of the Tutsi from their homes into exile, internal or external.

They were apparently fine with continuing to live under Belgian rule. Independence when it came was something that was forced upon the Belgian overlords by the UN who in turn passed on the news to Kayibanda and friends.

On 1st of July 1962, with little preparation and certainly no struggle for it, Rwanda declared itself an independent state. Curiously absent was any sense of euphoria as the citizens realised that nothing was really changing.

Not even pretence at soaring rhetoric of African brotherhood and solidarity was made by the politicians of the day.

They were still pre-occupied with keeping sections of Rwandans out of the country while making sure that their relatives within lived the life of 2nd class and frequently brutalised citizens.

While newly born African nations were talking of pan-africanism, Kayibanda spoke of an exclusively Hutu Republic.

Thirty-two years later, Rwanda reaped the harvest of its home-grown form of Apartheid just as the country that coined the term, South Africa, held its first all-inclusive elections.

Independence was a gift squandered by the leaders of the time who used it to further their policies of repression and exclusion.

That is why Independence Day will be a quiet affair for awhile. Perhaps in a few decades from now when the country’s goals have been achieved, the next generation may find kinder associations for Rwanda’s Independence Day.

However, if a recent conversation with a friend of mine at the university is anything to go by, I would not hold my breath. 

“Isn’t independence day some day in the middle of August?” he asked. No, it’s not. That’s some catholic holiday, the one where Mary took an elevator to heaven. Pink Floyd sang that they did not need any education, this recently educated Rwandan seemed to be saying that perhaps we don’t need an independence day

While it’s all ambivalence and mixed feelings about 1st of July in Rwanda, Southern Sudan will witness the end of decades – some may say centuries, if you include the depredations of the Egyptians and the Arab slavers – of neglect, violent conflict, exploitation and overt racism against its people by successive regimes in Khartoum.

Juba faces challenges that few states in Africa face both in the depth of the work required and its scale but for at least one day, 9th July, South Sudan will celebrate an independence that has come at such a high cost and that promises to throw up difficulties from the very beginning.

The contrast with our own apathy towards Independence Day cannot be starker. We save that kind of emotion for the aptly named “Liberation” day on 4th of July.

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