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Life Reflections

Kigali today: a fascinating far cry from its old self

By October 9, 2021June 6th, 2023No Comments

October 8, 2021

Maybe you’ve never been turned back at the exit from the busy Kigali Special Economic Zone in evenings on your hurried way home after some physical exercise. It’s an all-too-frequent case due to blockages by long-distance hauler-lories jostling to exit at the same time.

If it ever happens to you, you’ll have to go right back through the upper exit. Which’ll be all very well if you’re headed for Kimironko, Remera or beyond: it might prove a shorter route. However, woe betide thee if your destination is Nyarugunga, Rusororo, Masaka or beyond. You’ll go, alright, but not without uttering a dejected curse under your breath because it’ll mean making a detour of none-too-few kilometres to reach the same exit point before proceeding.

Whatever the case, you may not know it but you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise!

Forced to detour as you may be, if you’re the kind that likes to compare past and present, you’ll swallow your curse on realising it was a blessing in disguise. At the roundabout after the exit, you’ll come face to face with the perfect definition of “transformation”.

Stop and throw a glance up the hill at the brightly lit high-end estate. Then turn around to behold the expanse of a kaleidoscope of colours stretching from the north-western to the southern and north-eastern parts of Kigali. In an ocean of dots and splashes of white lights, you’ll see long ‘umber snakes’ that ‘worm’ through other lights: they light the streets of Kigali.

Meanwhile, neon lights of motley colours will be in their ‘hop-jump-and-skid’ intore-dance nimbleness display, to celebrate the evening light.

Now reflect and remember. Many Kigali residents still call the whole hill around you “Kwa Nayinzira” today.

It’s in reference to the late Jean Nipomcène Nayinzira who reportedly rose in the ranks to attain high government positions till he founded a political party. On the ticket of which latter nondescript party, he earned himself the post of government minister in the government of national unity formed after the liberation of the country.

Before that, he’d acquired the whole unpopulated hill, bought a fleet of commercial bicycle-taxis and a sizeable herd of goats. He topped them all with inviting his kith and kin and made this his clan hill. An entrepreneur par excellence?

Problem is, no electricity could stretch so far from the city centre back then. So, your guess is as good as anybody’s, how his family moved about at night. Doubtless, by kerosene lamp-light.

Our Nipo was small fry, however, compared to the head honcho of all the top cats of the time.

Kinani, then-president of Rwanda, had also picked a distant secluded hill – but one that made Nipo’s look like an anthill! – and turned it into his own tribal hill.

For animals, he allegedly populated the hill with…er…not “herd” but…a drift of pigs. His tribe populated the environs of the Grégoire Kayibanda airport as, like their head, they relished the ear-splitting noise of aeroplanes flying overhead and screeching to a stop or taxing to take off!

He’d got a narrow road, an electricity line and a water pipe to his castle – a luxury beyond his tribe. All were under flying planes but not to worry, there was a python by the swimming pool to guarantee family and tribe divine…er…juju protection.

Well, in the end, Python seems to have napped too long and ‘his’ master, having lacked ‘his’ magical juju job, came down in a fiery ball to land within centimetres of ‘his’ lucky head!

In your reflections, however, you were ruing over the Kigali of yore, not individuals. The two serve only as illustration of how past leadership was about cutthroat combat for ‘self-enrichment’ and nothing but. It was “me-only-me-and-mine” and to hell with anybody else.

But on second thought, an individual example. The story is told of a delegation from newly liberated Rwanda visiting Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. In between bilateral meetings, the delegates were now alone and shooting the breeze. The head of delegation, looking around the building they were in, mused: “It’s a shame in Kigali we don’t have a building even as simple as this.”

One of the delegates, a cabinet minister picked from the opposition of the former government, looked at him in mild amusement: “But, Sir, how? This is the land of white men; they can afford this extravagance. What would you use such a building for? Too big for any family!”

The head of delegation looked up at the ceiling and whistled a tune none knew.

Today, Kigali is replete with bigger and better buildings than the said building!

The above rigmarole of tales, what does it tell us?

Curse the time we – yes, all of us – languished in egotistic parochialism. Let’s all strive to purge ourselves of the littlest of it still afflicting us; to embrace the common good; to drive ourselves through a mindset wringer to see the bright light in ours as one people.

Kigali lights are crooning it: let’s think national, regional and even international. Our unity in equality is king. It makes us equal to the best.

The mind that conceived this truism; gave us the gift of imbibing it. Hail to thee!

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