The last couple of years have, sadly, made me the archetypal Rwandan ‘muturage’. I’ve been cocooned in my little world that was composed of Kigali, Butare and a couple other environs of the picturesque land of ‘a thousand hills’.
I’ve been in this country so long that I’d forgotten that there was a world out there that didn’t involve the things I was familiar with. Sometimes I think that some of the challenges that we face as a nation are a result of this self-imposed isolation.
I mean, who’d have time to start having genocidal thoughts when he/she has an outlook that isn’t claustrophobically national but rather regional and international?
I, personally, never even bothered to get a passport for the last ten years; reason being that I didn’t have a border to cross. The only border that I was crossing was that which divided Kigali City and the Southern Province.
Last weekend, thank goodness, I plucked up the courage [have heard, and read, about the death traps that were Jaguar buses] and headed north; destination Uganda.
The last time that I’d been in our sister nation was back in 1999, so I couldn’t have been faulted for wondering what I was getting myself into.
As soon as I crossed the border at Gatuna, and entered Kigezi, the differences between the standards of living of our respective peoples came to the fore.
The contrast between the people living on the Rwandan side of the border and those living just opposite was large; it was obvious that the people living on the Ugandan side were wealthier [although it would be a stretch to actually call them rich], busier and far more entrepreneurial.
This spirit of entrepreneurship, that I admired so much, was obvious from right at the border at Katuna [as the Ugandans call their side of the border].
People came running up to me, tempting me with choice morsels of goat meat, maize and milk, all attempting to rid me of my hard-earned francs. Contrast that with our own Gatuna which was as quiet as a ghost town.
This hurly-burly go-getting spirit wasn’t only manifested at the border but along the entire route to Kampala. It was almost impossible to travel for more than five kilometers without seeing a vegetable stand, a small shop or some other income-generating activity.
Now when I got to Kampala things just got a lot more interesting. It was dirty, congested, loud and very confusing. People were buying roast banana’s right on the dusty streets; coming from Kigali, which prides itself on its cleanliness, this was shocking and rather funny!
No wonder Kampala has cholera outbreaks every rainy season. But despite my initial sense of wonderment at the total lack of any semblance of order, I slowly came around. You see, despite Kampala’s faults, and they are quite a few, the city was full of joie de vivre.
People were moving up and down, buying and selling and generally, living life to the full. Contrast that with Kigali; a beautiful city but not exactly full of people living to the fullest. Ugandans can teach us how to get off our lazy behinds and think outside the box.
I was particularly impressed by the laissez-faire attitude that the authorities took. Wealth generation, as our neighbours have shown, is a strictly private sector initiative and the state is just supposed help make sure that certain guidelines are followed.
Certainly, one cannot let wildcat capitalism reign, but we need to rethink this issue of wealth creation. That’s why I’ve become so pleased with our accession to the East African Community. We shall have to get out of our self-imposed cocoon and embrace the larger community beyond our borders.
This community isn’t what we are used to and we might suffer a few shocks here and there, but in the larger scheme of things I believe that it will all end well. We, in Rwanda, will learn to actually work and the larger community will learn a few things from us as well. This will be a perfect symbiotic relationship where everyone is happy. I’m excited.