John, an on-and-off friend that I’ve known since childhood, is known for his interesting anecdotes that can sometimes be exaggerated. So, when he told me about his conversation with a new acquaintance on a Rwandair flight bound for Kigali from Nairobi, through Bujumbura, I made sure we talked to the gentleman on phone to confirm his story. Sure, the man was alive and well.
The story. After John had taken his chair, a gentleman entered the plane and took a seat next to his. When they were airborne, the man briefly examined him and then simply asked: “Are you Rwandan?” And John countered with: “Guilty!” They got a hearty laugh out of that and that way broke the ice.
Now, I don’t know exactly if it is uniquely Rwandan and Burundian or if it is the case in all of Francophone Africa, but in these two countries it is not odd for a total stranger to open a conversation without introducing themselves. Two individuals will freely converse and only remember the introductions when they are parting. So it was with John and his new acquaintance.
After John’s plea of guilty, the gentleman proceeded with: “You know, you Banyagwanda (in Kirundi) will never cease to amaze me!” Banyarwanda refugees used to live in Burundi, he said, and he’d made a number of friends among them. However, he’d never succeeded in convincing any of them who qualified to take up citizenship.
They were not happy to carry the tag of refugee, but still they’d never hear of being called Barundi. Only a few young refugees took up citizenship, but even then it was to get a national scholarship if they’d failed to secure it from elsewhere. Still, they stuck to their fellow Banyarwanda and obstinately refused to integrate into the Burundian population.
However, he was even more surprised when the closest of his friends among them decided one night and vanished, without so much as a slight hint. They had lived as close friends for upwards of thirty-five years and then the next thing he knew, they were gone! It’s only when he learnt that it was the case for these refugees in all countries that he learnt of their fanaticism over their country.
And he’s beginning to see why. These days, he continued, you can tell a Murundi who has been to Rwanda. His friend, a fellow Murundi, worked briefly in Rwanda four years ago and yet up to today speaks Kinyarwanda, pretending he completely forgot his Kirundi language.
He was used to seeing Barundi who’d been to Europe pretending to have forgotten their mother tongue, yes. So, he wondered, what similarity did Rwanda share with European countries that it should likewise affect a Murundi?
“For instance,” said he, extending a hand that was clutching a hundred-dollar bill to a puzzled John, “take this and I’ll show you. Hold the bill and I’ll explain when we land for this flight’s stopover in Bujumbura.” Meanwhile, he talked about how Rwandan communities live as if they are in Rwanda, even when they are in foreign lands.
On landing at Bujumbura airport, he asked John to watch all the White passengers and tell him if any of them alighted. When none did, he stood up and extended his hand: “Sorry, buddy, you’ve lost the bet!” he said, accepting back his dollar bill. “I’ll keep it until I come to Rwanda so that we can share a drink. What draws everybody to that country? My name’s Barthelemew, Bart for short. What’s yours?” John gave his name and they exchanged their phone numbers and bid each other farewell.
Sure, I authenticated the veracity of this anecdote. Bart told me he will even tell me more when soon he visits. However, what does that mean for Rwandans? At this time when Africa is yearning for exemplary leadership, what does it mean if Rwanda were to suddenly be laid to waste by young computer geeks who are armed with the power of facebook and twitter?
Your answer, of course, will be that Rwandans have no such luck. That they should instead worry about equipping their youth technologically. That if Tunisia, Egypt, their Arab neighbours and now Great Britain are to teach anybody anything, it’s that Rwanda is lucky to be backward.
On the contrary, however, those events involving the youth are evidence that Rwanda, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, is closer to these countries than we think. The events serve to show that the peoples of the world have the same desires and they, young and old, want to enjoy the resources and liberties of their countries equitably.
So, the way most of sub-Saharan Africa is looking up to Rwanda, she cannot afford to disappoint. Luckily for these countries, they’ll not be disappointed.
The youth of Rwanda, more than anybody else, cannot revolt against their leadership simply because they are the leadership. In Rwanda, it is not unusual to find technology-savvy government officials and captains of industry who are in their late twenties.
It may be an accident of recent history, Rwanda having lost most of her older government and business cadres. It may be that all democratic institutions are now in place. Whatever the case, youthful Rwanda takes seriously her obligation not to disappoint.