In this modern Rwanda we have a common culture but diversity among Rwandans both born here and those who returned from the Diaspora. We all live in harmony but every now and again the question arises as to how Rwandan you are.
When I arrived in Rwanda I felt more at home as never before; however as soon as I opened my mouth, it was pure comedy.
I admit that my Kinya-rwanda was bad when I arrived and I would often mix the present participle and the future participle; for example I’ll call you - “Nza guhamagara.” I was actually saying I will call him but in the distant future and this was enough to send the whole bus to Umutara laughing for half the trip.
I still mix up those two “Nda” and “Nza” and still cause a stir; I wish I spoke Kinya-rwanda perfectly but I am making an effort.
I would even argue that my Kinya-rwanda is quite good because I rarely mix in French words to make myself sound intelligent.
Modern Kinya-rwanda is a Creole with French-derived words making up 40% of our vocabulary depending on the level of education of the speaker.
I remember how English had infiltrated Kinya-rwanda in Uganda. I remember as a child in Uganda being told to “go back to Rwanda” and I desperately wanted to but for the circumstances, as much as Rwandans tried to blend into Ugandan society we could never fit because of our name “Banyarwanda” meaning “those from Rwanda” and we could never fully integrate.
“You Rwandans should go home, but leave your women” was a common saying in Uganda at the time. I wondered if we would ever have a nation to call our own.
So, cut back to the modern Rwanda- we are all living side by side but our backgrounds vary. So to my original question; what does it mean to be Rwandan? Is it genetic? Is it cultural? Is it birth?
The answer is all of the above but there seems to be a hierarchy of Rwandan-ness; those native-born feel superior to those born outside.
Those who speak Kinya-rwanda perfectly sit smugly judging those without perfect diction; tiny nuances mark out a Rwandan raised outside from a native-born, a missed inflection, a lack of emphasis is enough to be ridiculed.
My mother laughs at me when I ask for a “valley of tea” gikombe’ and ‘gikombe” are differentiated by a slight inflection meaning a valley instead of a cup. I wonder if one day Rwanda will be so successful that people will die just to get here, like they do trying to get into America.
Is everyone born on Rwandan soil a Rwandan? I met an American couple who have a son born in Rwanda called Kwizera, a little boy with the bluest eyes and blondest hair but a Rwandan name.
Is Kwizera a Rwandan boy? His mother said to me “He’ll never be President of America because he wasn’t born there; I guess he’ll just have to be President of Rwanda.”
Every mother hopes their child will be President one day and I hope that we’ll have a President Kwizera because that will mean that we are all accepted regardless of background.
Imagine if a blue-eyed boy spoke perfect Kinya-rwanda and knew our culture so well that we could vote for him. It will be as big a day as Obama being elected in America. Why can’t we have citizenship similar to the USA?
Where everyone born there or naturalised there has deep loyalty to the nation and never questions anyone’s nationality; where we encourage those with skills to come here and adopt nationality regardless of their background.
We are all immigrants to Rwanda. When I was getting my ID card, I was surprised to see several nationalities all claiming to be Rwandans; there were Somalis, Kenyans, Arabs, Indians, even Whites were proud to be Rwandans.
We should encourage that because the countries that encourage immigration tend to be successful, obviously we cannot absorb masses of rural immigrants but educated urban professionals are needed in Rwanda. If you are still alive in 2045, then vote for President Kwizera.