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Life Reflections

God forbid but suppose October 1, 1990, did not happen!

By October 7, 2022June 6th, 2023No Comments

October 6, 2022

“Bienvenu au Rwanda”, “Welcome in Rwanda”, “Ikaze mu Rwanda”. These were the welcoming three-language messages emblazoned on conspicuously large and high-hoisted posters at every entry point into Rwanda before 1994. How “Welcome in Rwanda” and not “….to Rwanda” for all that time never appeared odd to anybody, search me.

But then again, maybe it did not matter to the powers that were. They were too busy ruminating over how to craft the order of those welcoming languages to heed any advice. And too arrogant to plead ignorance. As for the order, it had to follow the importance of the native language speaker so that if you were French, you were most important, if not master of all Rwandans!

Next, if English or Anglophone and not ‘empty-pocketed’, you came second in importance. But if Rwandan, it depended on whether that welcome message was relevant to you.

A reason for Rwandans to ponder and panic with worry. Looking back, suppose, powers of the universe forbid, October 1 which was commemorated last Saturday did not happen. Where would Rwandans be today?

Strangers to the recent Rwandan history, the day recalls the launch of the struggle to liberate this land: October 1, 1990. Liberation from what, you may ask.

For one, why were there Rwandans for whom that welcome message was irrelevant? Well, examples abound.

If the two post-independence regimes had confined you as a community to a life of hunting and gathering permanently, for example, what connection would you have with a recognised entry point? During those regimes, your sighting of the then country’s president was only once when he vowed to offer you corrugated iron sheets for your grass hovel, a vow he never honoured.

Anyhow, in your forest, you could illegally crisscross borders with neighbouring countries, all right. But for how long before the forests were cultivated out of existence to spell your demise?

There was worse. These regimes had disowned another category of their own citizens. Which meant casting them to foreign lands, there to roam and live by their wits or perish by lack thereof. You were an undesired “ethnic group” and therefore prohibited, as vermin, to see an entry point into your country. 

So was any in your community who cheated their way into staying in the country. They were banished to ‘Siberias’ and many fell to sleeping sickness, the place having been heavily infested with tsetse flies. Those who survived became fodder for crude citizens’ killing implements, if not government’s modern weaponry. Others hidden among compatriots were smoked out and made examples of in humiliating, fatal punishments.

That was not all. You could belong to the wrong region, depending on which regime was in power. If you were lucky you were allowed to strictly stick to your area. But if not, you were picked off like a bothersome fly and dispatched to your maker. It was the same for those who paid allegiance to political parties that did not toe government’s slow-killer line.

And so was it if you professed to the wrong religion like Islam. You were totally ignored and cowed into staying in your Islamic confines. Any attempt to visit, say, Mecca, was met with a cock and bull story of there being no passports written in Arabic. So, you were told, go yodel at your mosque every morning and evening and be happy.

If you grumbled, friends and relatives got news of your mysterious disappearance, in a few days. That “mystery” was generally known for the hardly-covert reality it was.

In a word, that Kinyarwanda welcoming message was only for the political elite and their socially rich cronies. Only they enjoyed the honour of travelling abroad and only they could enjoy the honour of possessing that all-too-precious travel document: laissez-passer for the not-so-rich, passport for the political class and the truly well-to-do

If unknown to this group and you wanted to travel, you had to have deep pockets because you’d have to dig a considerably sizeable hole in them.

Of course, travel categorisation is only an analogy to how, more seriously, the successive regimes had rendered some Rwandans totally insignificant. But maybe “insignificant” is not strong enough. Many people were so easily disposable that vermin seemed to be more valuable. Which made it easy for the regimes to set some groups against others, for all the time they were in power.

As for general national development, it was to whom it may concern. Alas, none was there!

In this country, a creeping genocide started with the advent of colonialism and was definite to consume all Rwandans, without exception. Including those big shots of succeeding regimes, because they were eventually going to turn against one another.

Rwanda was going to be forced into falling on her spear.

Luckily, a group of patriots were watching all this and, instead of burying their heads in their hands, they put their energies and minds together and made a resolution. The long, dignified history of Rwanda that so many gallants had defended with their blood had to be rescued.

The patriots gathered, put their wits and lives on the line and, bang! October 1, 1990, happened. And so here we are, among respected nations of the world.

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