The Christmas, Hew Year season is traditionally a period associated with peace and goodwill. It is also a time of family reunion and celebration. In parts of East Africa, there is a sort of reverse urban-rural exodus at this time as people flock back to their native places to share what they have made in the towns with their rural relatives and often to show off their wealth and status. Friends visit each and exchange gifts.
This season has not been different. There have been numerous family reunions across the country. The rush to the villages has gone on as usual. Feasting and other excesses have been the same as in previous years. It would not be Christmas if this were not so.
In the wider region, we have experienced no unusual calamities. So, the season’s message of peace and goodwill has largely held. Of course, there are the usual areas of turmoil, but even here, nothing extra-ordinary has happened.
Somalia remains what it has been for the last twenty years – unstable, volatile and dangerous. The situation there did not escalate during the festive season.
Fear of a new conflagration in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) triggered by the mad action of an old man with a sixties political mentality have mercifully been unfounded (for the moment, anyway). Old man Etienne Tshisekedi has illusions of grandeur, no doubt the result of wrong advice and aging.
Burundi, too, has largely been quiet.
The best news of the season came from Rwanda and Uganda. The two First Families spent the Christmas holiday together at President Yoweri Museveni’s country home in Rwakitura. You might say, and it would be no exaggeration, that Rwandans and Ugandans received a Christmas gift of growing closeness between their leaders and their families.
This was, of course, a private visit. So we don’t know much of what happened there. But some things never change. President Museveni must have shown off his cattle to his visitor. They must have sat down to meals of African food. Museveni’s mug cannot have been far from his side. And, of course, they talked.
Even when they are on a private visit, presidents do not leave matters of state behind. That is a necessary burden of the office. Inevitably, therefore, they will discuss matters of state.
Presidents Kagame and Museveni must have talked about Rwanda and Uganda p- about the way to prosperity and impediments on this road. They must have made frank assessments of regional issues and matters to do with the wider world.
We can assume that advice was candidly given and hopefully taken.
The two First Ladies must have spoken about their respective families – perhaps about the challenges of raising young children in the pressures of state affairs, or maybe how to live with new-found celebrity status. They could not have passed an opportunity to compare notes on their work on HIV/AIDS, the youth and other work they are involved in.
In all the conversations, Mrs Janet Museveni must have found time to drop bits on God – a prayer here, verses from the bible there, perhaps to illustrate a point or to underline that their growing cosiness must be God’s work.
The children must have added their own to the atmosphere. Their presence contributed a level of freedom, informality and tenderness you normally don’t associate with gatherings involving heads of state. They could have reminded the two heads of state of their responsibility to posterity.
This was altogether a typical family Christmas gathering, only, of course, that it involved presidents of two countries and their families.
President Kagame and his family’s visit to Rwakitura is a continuation of what started in Muhazi a few months ago When the Musevenis visited. Indications then were of a warm relationship redeveloping between the two presidents. That relationship is now even warmer.
We cannot forget that the ongoing visit started in Gatuna (or Katuna, depending on which side of the border you are on) at the launch of works to upgrade the Mbarara-Gatuna-Kigali road. This road is significant to both countries in many ways as a social and commercial link over centuries. The symbolic and real importance of the road in closer ties could not be stronger.
On a broader scale, the growing warmth between the leaders of Rwanda and Uganda could well spell a significant diplomatic realignment in the region. The season’s goodwill certainly helps.
We can only hope that the goodwill and warmth it generates will extend to the rest of Rwandan and Ugandan leaders and people, and indeed to other East Africans. Then perhaps Jesus Christ’s birth will not have been in vain and that message delivered to shepherds more than two thousand years ago could still ring true today.
And on that hopeful note, a Happy 2012 to you all.