REFLECTIONS : Outsourcing and Offshoring for the Next Rwandan ‘Umusilimu’?

First of all, I must apologise to anybody, especially the esteemed women-folk of this world, who may have taken offence at my ‘Amazons’ article of last Sunday. Ms Villa Magome, I can assure you that I am not a victim of “amazons-phobia”. Rather, I was picking the light side of a legend to strictly project a moment of relaxation.

First of all, I must apologise to anybody, especially the esteemed women-folk of this world, who may have taken offence at my ‘Amazons’ article of last Sunday.

Ms Villa Magome, I can assure you that I am not a victim of “amazons-phobia”. Rather, I was picking the light side of a legend to strictly project a moment of relaxation.

If my attempt was in bad taste, blame my unschooled upbringing. Otherwise, I am a strong proponent of “mutual respect and comradeship” between men and women.

That apart, today I’ll talk about “Uko Nagiye i Bugande” (How I Went to ‘Bugande’). This is the title of a song by Nkurunziza François, who was recounting a true experience of Rwandans who used to go in search of employment in Uganda.

The singer talks about ‘Bugande’ as Rwandans of the time used to call Uganda, but he could as well have been talking about Buganda District.

Many of these Rwandans used to work in the coffee and banana plantations of Buganda.

However, in most cases Rwandans were shipped to other neighbouring countries by Belgian colonialists as ‘buffalo soldiers’ who handled manual labour most effectively. Rwandans were thus air-freighted to Katanga mines in Belgian Congo and carted to the tea plantations of Kericho and Muranga in Kenya.

As these were distant regions, only those in Uganda could come back. From Uganda, they returned with hardly any earning, but that didn’t stop them from recounting exciting adventures of heroism and ‘civilisation’ that they had encountered in the process.

In turn, those accounts created irresistible allure in their listeners, and many a Munyarwanda undertook the journey into what they took to be ‘goldmines’. Unfortunately, they proved to be journeys into hell as all cried “Kiramujanye!” (It has taken him) every time wild animals picked a man for their lunch or supper till none was left.

Of course, these death traps apart, it is a sad commentary on the colonialism of Rwanda by Belgians that they encouraged Rwandans to develop other countries instead of their own. Still, this had its own positive side effect, even if unintended.

Rwandans came with lit kerosene lanterns during the day, speaking broken Luganda and broker than they went as the only difference, yes, but at least most of them had become Abasilimu! Abasilimu were a class of Rwandans who were more civilised than their lowly counterparts who’d never ventured out of Rwanda.

Civilisation in their context, however, meant nothing beyond wearing sandals, cooking chapatti, mandazi and samosa, apart from carrying that trademark lit lantern during the day. But, in the first place, why the name Abasilimu?

As you might have guessed, the name is a crude translation of the word ‘Muslim’. To a Munyarwanda, ‘Muslim’ sounded like Umusilimu, the plural form of which is Abasilimu.

Since the Muslim communities seemed to have many innovations, our Banyarwanda thought their name referred to their higher level of civilisation and thus adapted it for anybody more worldly.

However, Abasilimu were not a preserve of Rwanda, even if others came later. According to a book I’m reading, in India Abasilimu emerged with the problem of what was known as the threat of the ‘millennium bug’, Y2K.

If you remember, Y2K was the threat that was supposed to push computers back to 1900, because their internal clock had been programmed to see years in two digits. After 1999, where computers had been writing 99, in 2000 they were going to read 00, thus translating the year into 1900.

This was a gargantuan challenge to USA which had a massive number of computers for reprogramming. However, on the flip side of the globe was an equally huge reservoir of computer technicians who could lick the job at minimal cost. So, USA shipped in Indians who did a sterling job fixing the problem.

Even when these Indians went back after the job, other similar American technical jobs could be done in India, thanks to the combination of computers, internet and fibre-optic cables.

That, I am told, is called “outsourcing” and it has created a whole new Umusilimu who is transforming not only India but USA as well.

That has seen unprecedented co-operation between the two countries and ICT companies depending on those low-cost Indian engineers. That’s not all, however. There is also what is called “offshoring”, where manufacturing companies ‘place’ their departments in other countries to manufacture some parts there.

Is this marvellous co-operation possible for Rwanda? As the American photographer, Ansel Adams, said, “Luck is what befalls a prepared mind”.

These chances have befallen India, China and other emerging economies because they invested heavily in massive education for their people.

So, when you see Rwandan leadership putting all its energy in mass science education and in embracing all nationalities, it’s not by accident.

No prizes for guessing who thought up all this a long time ago.

“Mutual respect and comradeship” are my devotion! 

ingina2@yahoo.co.uk

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