The just concluded Cabinet retreat on a very critical issue of our national identity Ndi Umunyarwanda (I am Rwandan) could not have had a better timing. Better in the sense that, the recent Cabinet retreat follows an extended Unity Club (an association of present and past Cabinet ministers and their spouses) held in Gabiro, both of which discussed this critical issue that is seemingly inconsequential to a third party to Rwandan national fabric, but yet a very centre piece of erstwhile rich culture that was killed and literally buried with or by our abnormal past.
Ours is a country that has had the most divisive politics of any post-independence Africa, so divisive that genocide resultant cost us one million of our comrades who were not considered Rwandans by leadership regimes of our post-colonial Rwanda. Our history is too treacherous that one can only wish to forget it, and move on with our life, hoping that tomorrow will resurrect our Rwandanness (Ndi Umunyarwanda) with passage of time. But this would simply be national utopia, for such an attitude will only serve to postpone a serious problem, and one that could stifle our identity and nationhood downstream our future.
We lost our identity and indeed humaneness as a people when anything Rwandan was synonymous with genocide, until recently. Ndi Umunyarwanda was even a taboo in the past, for this was taken to be Ndi genocidaire by third parties. Rwandans went as low as that.
Now, this is where visionary leadership makes all the difference, and one that will make a difference for tomorrow Rwanda, if only we Rwandans appreciate that we have with us a rare breed of leadership, and one that have dubbed un-African by many foreign friends and stakeholders, a leadership we can honestly hold on to for even more delivery of public good.
That our exemplary leadership under President Paul Kagame, and First Lady Jeannette Kagame (who chaired Gabiro retreat) did see the issue worth discussing and, by extension, resolving as a nation, and a people, shows the highest degree of discernment of our leadership, and one that we owe more than a national debt. Come to think of it, Ndi Umunyarwanda is really central to our nationhood, and with it, development of our country with the zest and nationalism crucial for our tomorrow as a viable a nation state.
If one ponders on the above issue, and indeed take a deep examination of conscious, the problem becomes elephant. But not with we Rwandans. We have the capacity, will and are willing to overcome any seemingly humanly impossible obstacles/calamities that befall us, and they have been many.
As a country, our past disastrous leadership left an indelible mark on our national conscious that we can neither negate/minimise, or even ignore, for doing so does not cleanse our abnormal national conscious we, as a people, have had, kept close to our hearts which is mainly a result of the Genocide of 1994, that not only cost 1 million of our own, but also took with them Rwandanness among us, without which our identity and indeed unity of purpose are mere figments of the same. Such feeds back into the national fabric and undermines the well intended efforts of nation building, the scale of which cannot even be guessed.
And although we keep explaining our situation from the extreme divisive politics of Belgian colonisers, people who are even more divisive of any European nation today, a bizarre situation in this modern times, but nevertheless one that exists in Belgium to the extent that, divisions (between Wallons and Flemish communities) go to the extreme of living without a central government, an unusual situation indeed.
Now, these divisions were exported to us in raw form, and we bought the same at the highest bidding possible resulting in serious social fractures in our society whose maxima was genocide. As of now, the problem is no longer this colonial legacy, but rather why anyone in this millennium can allow an archaic colonial legacy to define their present/future with all consequences attendant, and they are priceless.
Thus, we cannot, as a people, accept to be held hostage by our past, nor be prisoners of bizarre divisions exported to us by Belgian colonialists. Rather, like we have managed as a country to over-come unimaginable calamities including stopping genocide by own verve and vivacity informed by our national spirit of resilience which is also reinforced by the fact that, no one, no one else, will ever resolve our intricate social fractures except ourselves.
We and we alone, can cleanse this country the ghosts of our past so as to restore our Ndi Umunyarwanda spirit, absence of which contradicts our national philosophy – Agaciro. We owe this to ourselves, and to the future generations.
However, Ndi Umunyarwanda programme is not meant to pass judgment to either actual or passive perpetrators of the Genocide, but rather to provide a platform through which these can give testimonies of what our elite and others either knew, did, or omitted to do. To tell the truth, truth that sets the individual free, and, by extension, sets the nation free.
Telling the truth may ‘hurt’ those that do so, but hiding it from a people that know the very truth ‘hidden’ in the hearts of many a Rwandan, whether in ordinary life, or in polity, is more hurting to those that mask the truth, much more so to those that know the very masked truth. Living a pretentious life as a society is not only dangerous for in the extreme will compromise the entire reconciliation process, and with it the essence of our nationhood.
And although this is yet another homegrown solution to our abnormal Rwanda, it is aimed at making this Rwanda of ours normal, by healing both hearts. Victim and perpetrators alike. For literally every Rwandan was affected by the Genocide directly or, at the very least, indirectly, which is why Ndi Umunyarwanda is aimed at building confidence bridge to bring about national cohesion and unity of purpose void of suspicion /pretence.
What is ironic in my opinion is that, it was much more easier for ordinary Rwandan folks at the Gacaca level to tell the truth, all truth, and give unheard testimonies of what happened during the Genocide than is the case with our elite. Sitting in the sessions of Ndi Umunyarwanda programme, one gets the feeling that, some of our elite pray games with the memories of those of other leaders that certainly are in the know of what these comrades knew, did, or omitted to do during the Genocide.
But this smacks leadership virtues we need to have among our polity if we are to help our ordinary rural brothers and sisters to total healing by telling it all. In fact, our rural folks and of late, our youth, have put the blame ball in the court of the elite, and rightly so. And although quite a number have taken courage to look into the face of their heinous past, a few have not.
We cannot build our country on suspicions nor on pretence that truth will die with time. It does not and will not. Rather we need to break from our past for us to build a future. A future where all of us can be proud to say: Ndi Umunyarwanda, turi Abanyarwanda. Not a Hutu, not a Tutsi, not a Twa, not a victim, nor a perpetrator, but Ndi Umunywarnda.
But this process called for real leadership, a leadership that has had moral latitude/audacity to convince both parties (victims and perpetrators by action or omission) that for us to build a strong Rwanda, Ndi Umunyarwanda is necessary, now than before, for time heals and allows the heart to face the past heart, and hold the same accountable for its past.
Those who attended the two retreats whether in Gabiro (where the First Lady Jeannette Kagame ably chaired the retreat) or last week where President Kagame chaired the Cabinet retreat on the same, exemplifies the exemplariness of the first family in pursuit of a national interest with immense implications to Rwanda, today and tomorrow.
The guidance given by the President and the First Lady in this programme makes them heroes in their own right, a right that is now their trademark. Such heroic actions should be applauded, and more so supported by all Rwandans from different walks of life, for they are the best means of rebranding our abnormal Rwanda, to normal: Ndi Umunyarwanda.
The writer is an economist and financial expert.