Rwandans, Belgians are inseparable

I like Deutsche Welle, the German radio, for its daily morning programmes. They seem to visit every area of the globe for any titbits of information. And so I was thus occupied, listening, late last Tuesday morning when I heard this song that I liked, although I couldn’t determine the language: “Huteh, papa, huteh?” It sounded as if it was Kiswahili, where ‘papa’ means a shark.

I like Deutsche Welle, the German radio, for its daily morning programmes. They seem to visit every area of the globe for any titbits of information. And so I was thus occupied, listening, late last Tuesday morning when I heard this song that I liked, although I couldn’t determine the language: “Huteh, papa, huteh?” It sounded as if it was Kiswahili, where ‘papa’ means a shark.

Imagine my shock and shame when the presenter explained that the song was in French! The way I pride myself on knowing some French, I laughed myself out of bed! What a disgrace I am to ‘L’Academie Française’!

As it sounded, however, I wasn’t entirely at fault. The song is called “Papaoutais”, slang for ‘papa, où t’es?’, itself slang for ‘papa, où es-tu?’ Now, can you pick that street language from the class? Put me on the spot about my invention of an ‘H’, maybe, but first listen to the song. Who knows, you too might embarrass Voltaire!

Still, though, what swept me off my feet — rather, out of bed! — was the singer, more than the song, when the presenter explained his origin. The singer is Stomae – anybody know his other name? – a Rwando-Belgian living in Belgium with his Belgian mother. His Rwandan father was killed by génocidaires in 1994, which may explain the song’s title, ‘Dad, where are you?’ 

And that goes a long way in pointing to the strength of the link connecting the two countries.

There may be no diplomatic love lost between Belgium and Rwanda, the latter having been an abused colony of the former, but the people are inextricably linked and they love it. The intermarriages evident in their offspring in both countries say it all. In addition, the countries are rainbow colours, owing to these mixtures and citizens who opted to belong to this or that country, rather than that of their origin.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Belgium hosts a big number of diaspora Rwandans, even without counting the genocide suspects sheltering there. Equally, Rwanda is home to many Belgians who will readily swear on their ‘indangamuntu’ (Rwandan ID) that they are as Rwandan as Kanyarwanda. Belgium may have been greatly responsible for the now-fading misery visited on Rwanda but the two peoples have forged a lasting bond that’s so solid as to be unbreakable.

On a personal level, I came face to face with the reality of this bond a few years ago.

We were sitting in our usual evening haunt — my hole where I usually briefly put on my thinking cap. On my way back from answering the call of nature, this gentleman beckons to me with “Niko!” It’s the Kinyarwanda equivalent of what in our formative years we called “I say!”

When I approached him he entreated: “Please, stop abusing Kinyarwanda! You and your friends may speak your English, French, Lingala, Luganda, Kaswahili, any. But don’t insult our noble tongue by mixing it with those lingos!”

Instead of an answer, I beseeched him to join us and then asked him if he could kindly repeat his request, which he willingly did. On hearing his request in his accented Kinyarwanda, everyone burst out laughing — the stranger was as white as King Philippe of Belgium! 

From then on, Kanyeshyamba, for that was his name, became our bosom buddy and that’s when we learnt that his name was in fact more familiar, at least to Kigali residents, than those of the rest of us. Later a friend of similar origin also joined our group of friends. His name is Senyanzobe mwene Kabiligi, umusore w’imbavu ndende – beat that for a Rwandan name! Originally, he was Willy Fabre.

So, Kanyeshayamba, aka Jacques Van Der Loo, may God preserve your soul. Unfortunately, I’m sad to announce, a few weeks ago late Kanyeshyamba was assaulted with acid by a domestic worker. After a few days in hospital, he succumbed to his wounds. The worker is in prison but whatever his punishment, nothing will bring back our Kanyeshyamba.

He was born in the then Belgian Congo in the early 1930s and came to Rwanda with his parents as a young man, in 1952. From then until he passed away, he and his family have been as Rwandan as they come.

Such women and men, they who have issued out of the extensive relations between Rwanda and Belgium, the two countries owe it to them to deepen their connection. For them, the two countries must forever bury the hatchet that among these honourable people, none should ask: “Huteh, papa, huteh?” 

To them, and to all their peoples, let their refrain be: “Papa, c’est le Rwanda! Maman, c’est la Belgique!” Et vice versa, as they all gladly welcome two erstwhile foes turned bosom buddies!

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