A time to remember and a time to celebrate

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19 YEARS ago, this land lay engulfed in the smell of death. 1.25 million of our compatriots (not the inaccurate “less than a million”, the vague “over 800,000” or the genocide-denier estimate of “over 500,000”) stared unseeingly at a future snuffed out. Their hope was turned forlorn by fellow Rwandans who’d been consumed by greed and knew no longer what they were.

For the promise of mere earthly trinkets, Rwandans became killers.

This proud land today, of an erstwhile renowned people of integrity, who were known as indomitable warriors when provoked but unbending companions when befriended, was brought down on its knees. All the heroic accounts of women and men who’d fought to defend this land against foreign tribal invaders and enslavers were thrown to the dogs in a frenzy of killing that saw a Rwandan kill a fellow Rwandan; that saw shame thrown in the face of this land.

All are sad, who remember. All, not only in Rwanda but on the globe. Rwandans turned maniacal by colonialism lost all senses and set upon their kindred.  Let’s remember that era gone by, that none should ever forget to stand against the faintest whiff of a possibility of its recurrence. Let’s reclaim the integrity of our ancestors and forever defend it. And let it be known to all future generations that the moment they go against this pledge will be the moment they stop going against anything else. They’ll never go against anything – they’ll be erased.

But without seeming to engage in empty poetry, seriously who’d have imagined then that this country would be where she is today? At the rate of over a million people in a hundred days, how many days would it have taken to kill all 8 million, the estimated population at the time?

And make no mistake, after killing their perceived enemies, the killers would have turned against one another. At the very least, the architects of the slaughter would have turned against the pawns that they cheered on.  It’d have been survival of the fittest; who knows, maybe one ‘fittest’.

Remember, the tempo of killing rose with every killing registered, as did the number and variety of targeted victims. If at first the excuse was a perceived ethnicity and defence thereof, next it would be the difference among home regions. Suspicions would then grow among those who killed more and those who killed less. Next, those who saw others killing would be targeted; then those caught on camera would target those who were not. In the end, it would be short versus tall; dark complexion versus light; kinky hair versus straight; ad infinitum.

If anybody doubts that blood begets blood, they only need to listen to, or read, the news these days. In a country where there’d never been a report of a man killing another man or beating a wife, stories that have always been common in other communities, today you hear the odd story of a man beating his wife dead or a wife hacking her husband to death.

Save for the strict laws of the country and a vigilant police force that ensures their observance, we’d be seeing more. There is no doubt that the firm decorum of Rwandans has taken a severe bruising.

However, severe as the bruising may be, it has never succeeded in destroying that decorum. It may have been dented but the decorum is still there and it’s strong. It’s strong because it’s bonded by brother/sister-hood and shared values. The values of seeking a decent life together; defending common dignity, integrity, honour; together seeing respect from others as deserved and going ahead to claim it. Rwandans are in a necessarily symbiotic existence.

For, after everything is said and done, Rwandans know that they owe their lives but to themselves. As they say, ako hanze kaza imvura ihise (whoever volunteers to help comes after the rain). The true meaning: assistance from out, vital as it may be, never comes on time or in the desired form. An adage not to be taken for ingratitude; it applies to every society.

And so as some Rwandans revelled in killing their very own, others put their lives on the line in defence of their very own, victim and killer alike. Today, the victim and the killer of yesteryears are living side by side, equally engaged in the business of building a better tomorrow. As it happens here, so does it out in the Diaspora. Oppositionists and loyalists may throw harmless jibes at one another but it’ll be only the committed reactionary, wishing for a return to pre-1994, who will be totally shut out by kith.

That’s how ‘self-exilees’ and ‘home-reactionaries’ are trooping back in the fold. And, to boot, being received with open arms – and a juicy post here or there. If in doubt, ask a few honourables – or ask the “mother of all oppositionists”, Faustin Twagiramungu, when in June he makes his grand entrance. And you thought this was porcupine politics! Chuckle? You can bet, this time he’s going to laugh out loud (LOL)!

As they remember, then, Rwandans have innumerable reasons to cheer and chuckle.

By Ingina y’Igihanga

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