You’ve probably heard it – and certainly seen it – more times than is good for your ears – and eyes: “There is no hurry in Africa”.
In fact, in Rwanda these days, with this exploding number of non-African visitors and workers, you only need to check these paved sidewalks that line all the roads in the country.
Six in ten of the fast-paced persons you see on them will be non-African. Three of the slow four will be Rwandan – or Burundian or Congolese!
Which is all very well, if these snail-paced Great-Lakers were involved in self-amusement business. Unfortunately, usually they will be ‘waltzing’ to a place where pressing work in the interest of the wider public is hours, if not days, overdue.
What is more bizarre for Rwanda, in particular, is that, while government workers have gathered pace in the last 17 years, their counterparts in private occupation seem to be grinding to a halt.
Visit some banks, all the insurance companies, some shops or restaurants and you’ll cry to high heaven for some quick service, to no avail.
It must be something to do with the Belgian colonial legacy. In Tanzania and Uganda, service is definitely quicker. Where it is not quick enough, at least they make up for it in courtesy.
But, in service delivery, Kenya beats her original counterparts in the East African Community, Tanzania and Uganda, hands down. Of course, the abrasiveness with which that service is delivered may hurt tender sensibilities, especially in the low-priced premises, but, at least, the service will have been quick.
I must say I admire the energy, seriousness and speed with which workers go about their business in Kenya. I remember when I used to frequent restaurants on streets bellow Moi Avenue, in Nairobi, and how a waiter could magically balance four plates of food on one arm.
Woe unto you if you were in the way, but I liked their no-nonsense way of tossing a plate your way when your answer was “Mimi!” (Me!) to a question like “Nani kuku? Nani mbuzi? Nani ng’ombe?”
Even in Kiswahili, the question sounded offensive because it seemed to ask who was a chicken, a goat or a cow, with you choosing your animal-likeness with your “Me!” However, it was innocent and simply sought to know which dish you had ordered for: chicken, goat meat or beef.
To an impatient customer, what matters most is the speed of that delivery. And the good news is that service in Kenya generally is now delivered much more courteously.
The sad thing, however, is that Africans have always been the first to eindorse the image of lacking respect for time. Why, for instance, should we in Rwanda be happy when an outsider compliments us for respecting time?
Leave alone the fact that that respect still leaves a lot to be desired, especially in private business.
When we observe time, speed, cleanliness, courtesy, order and general organisation, it’s because humanity is supposed to function like that. We are not being un-African.
So, Africans, let’s not be sub-human in the name of being exotic. For, there is no denying the fact that some of our countries are not in a hurry to be rid of that pipe-puffing, bare-footed villager; or that woman with hanging bare breasts; or that kid with a protruding tummy and running nose.
We’ve taken our citizens down to the level of wild game in conservation, in our worship of tourist lucre. To be an attractive tourist destination, we think we should be exotic.
And to us, as to our tourists, being exotic is being different from other continents. Being exotic is living haphazardly so as to compete with our wildlife. Our wildlife has order and sells its beauty, so we must sell our disorder.
To eschew this bizarre ‘competition’, Rwanda has said there is no pigmy on its soil.
Batwa, Batutsi and Bahutu are all Rwandans who share everything: language, culture, religious rites (before Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and whatever faith has come to settle on this land), etc.
That is why our self-seeking politicians of yore, and tourist-colonialists before that, saw it better to reconstruct this community into different ethnic groups and thus present them as different ‘species’.
That way, tourists could come and view long-horned cattle, thousand-hill landscape, cattle-keeper, cultivator and hunter-gatherer, giraffe and gorilla!
When this order was in place, the world of rights activism was happy and serene. Now that this order has been shattered, the activists are hopping mad. And their protests are shrill: “Oppression of the majority! Marginalisation of the minority!”
Which makes you wonder: These rights gurus, what’s their agenda for Africa? Are they in cahoots with the colonialist or our politician of yore and do they want to see a continent that is permanently “African”?
By “African”, remember, they mean “heart of darkness”. And if you think that’s sad, think further, for there is sadder.
Sadder being that, our Rwandan opposition politicians are playing in the hands of the architects of this “heart of darkness”. Listen to them and you’ll hear none pronounce a better policy that they propose to advance the lot of their compatriots.
Their refrain to the ears of the Western world will always invariably be: “Our people are being pushed into a hasty change. That’s oppression because there is no hurry in Africa!”
Surely, we Africans have had enough time to evolve.