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Life Reflections

It’s true: Rwanda is the universe

By June 15, 2016June 6th, 2023No Comments

June 15th 2016

Pray, where did “baton” go? Senior citizens will remember it as a rhythmic gymnastic sport that they may have enjoyed before the 1970s. But everybody else knows it as “baton twirling”, a common and interesting sport in many countries of the world.

Alas, today “baton” is a literal unknown in this country. When “baton” was introduced to Rwanda by colonialism, Rwandans took to it with high gusto. And for seemingly taking it over and fashioning it on the Intore dance, they quickly made it their own and identified with it.

Soon, if Rwandans were not referred to as “Those Intore people”, they were, as “Those ‘baton’ people”!

I first saw “baton” in exile in Uganda in the 1960s. It was a gymnastic sport that involved the manipulation of a stick, in place of a rod that’s used in other countries of the world.

However, the rod-lookalike went so beautifully with the manipulation of the body that it fused into a rhythm that was a marvel to behold. It combined dance, agility, coordination and flexibility to present a maze of figures skipping up and aside in quick succession and sequence.

Seniors in refugee camps in Uganda those days will also recall Mr. Bwankoko. Bwankoko was a “baton” instructor to beat all instructors. When in his deep baritone he belted out his commands, the valley of Nshungerezi reverberated with the echo: “Un, deux, trois……!”

Ugandans loved Rwandans for it, as they loved them for Intore. There was never a big occasion anywhere near the refugee camps, like when receiving the Ugandan president, where our twirlers and dancers were not invited to entertain.

The big fuss I am making about “baton” is that it should be reintroduced in schools.

And if I place everything in Uganda, it’s because that’s where I lived. That’s why I make everything and everyone there representative of others in other places where Rwandans lived.

Both Intore and baton made a name for Rwandan refugees of the time. But combined with many other sports and school subjects taught by fellow Rwandans, they developed the youth and shaped them into an embryo for a future Rwanda.

That’s why “baton” here is used as one seed that combined with others to form a bigger entity.

For instance, when in the mid-1990s the government encouraged the citizenry to take cleanliness as seriously as they had earlier in their tradition, hardly anybody paid attention.

We all knew that cleanliness had been vulgarised by the preceding governments. But now that it has been taken to heart again, see where it has put Rwanda; perhaps the cleanest country in Africa.

Rwanda’s beauty, however, is not simply skin-deep. She is a humble country whose beauty is cleanliness, unity, security, health, education, growth and many such small cells forming a body that’s moving slowly towards middle-income.

But “baton”, a little cell, is where it all begins.

“Baton” was a cell or, otherwise said, a subject among many minor and major subjects, like Mathematics, that were taught by volunteers like Bwankoko. Bwankoko or, otherwise said, a refugee cell-teacher teaching their refugee cell-children. One volunteer among many Rwandan refugee volunteer-teachers.

And Kyandere School, where Bwankoko volunteered as a teacher, was only one cell. It was one school out of many in the Nshungerezi-Nyakivara refugee camps of Uganda’s Ankole District.

But there were other camps in Toro District, as there were others in Bunyoro District. All of them together formed what you could call a branch, à la the naming of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), in its formative years.

All these were replicated in many other countries and in Rwanda.

There were other refugee camps in Burundi, like Mushiha, and there were many other schools, like the superior and more famous St. Albert in Bujumbura city. This was true of Tanzania, too, where there were refugee camps like Mwese and schools like Muyenzi School. Inside Rwanda, there was Bugesera for internally displaced Rwandans, also with its own schools, like Ecole de Maranyundo.

All the schools were taught by volunteer teachers or, if at all they were paid, the pay was minimal. In other countries where Rwandan refugees were not in defined camps, there were many volunteer teachers, too, who taught young Rwandans in one way or another.

All these teachers are unsung heroes, a few of whom we are lucky to have amongst us today.

For, in all the camps and other areas there were branches that formed regions whose youth congregated into the congress that launched the 1990 armed struggle. And during the duration of the struggle, the vast majority inside dictatorial Rwanda who had not yet fused with the ex-refugees all coalesced onto this new Rwanda; it became “Rwanda inside Rwanda”, as one journalist put it.

As vulgarised, dictatorial Rwanda grew into a decaying shell, a new Rwanda rose inside it and so, here we are.

The dead vulgarised shell is symbolised by the pieces of the plane lying in the compound of the chief genocide architect, ex-President Habyarimana. Indeed, when the government decreed that there be a museum called The Presidential Palace Museum, it knew what it was doing.

Now, when you think of all those cells that make her what she is, isn’t Rwanda truly the universe? And isn’t it amazing how our ancestors saw all this, when they declared: “Rwanda is the universe”!

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