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December 16, 2022

The New Times

Call me a blasted sadist or whatever you will, but I do. I like it when people gripe because the national water utility company, Water and Sanitation Corporation Ltd (WASAC), announces, like it did last week, that for ten days, some areas of Kigali wouldn’t receive water because of ongoing upgrades.

Now, don’t come for my throat! I am not commending those WASAC employees who engage in shoddy work or graft, no.

For some organisations always being slotted on the short list of lackadaisical and thieving in this country that’s a stickler for cleanliness and transparency, their workers who are the cause of these organisations finding themselves thus slotted must be condemned in the strongest terms.

Who wouldn’t wish them a lock-up in jail, with the key post-haste thrown away for good?

In my opening ‘sadism’, I am imagining the other day. “The other day” because when you’ve hit the wrong side of a century, 28 years ago looks like just the other day.

Imagine 1994 and a few years after. You are sitting in your self-appropriated (remember ‘kubuhoza’?) rusting bathtub for your youthful and sturdy memsahib to bring you a basinful of water. In your idle mischief while waiting, if you happened to twist the water tap and saw water running, you’d jump out and on to the street, shrieking “Eureka!”

You’d be in Adam’s suit without that ‘hooding leaf’ but who cared when they saw Archimedes exactly in that state, after understanding his reason? Nobody knew about what was to be known as Archimedes’ Principle – hoping that you do!

It was the same in Kigali. Nobody knew that running water came out when you opened a tap.

But “the other day” is full of many other weirdly funny but sometimes painful memories.

Take hydroelectric power light. When it was daylight, you could do all you wanted. As soon as it was dark, however, it was pitch darkness and all activity came to a standstill.

Save for a few individuals who’d again self-appropriated houses that had generators, all else depended on firewood/charcoal firelight. Therefore, nights were times of shooting stars: spots of light flashes were touch-and-go.

And roads? Every day was car-free day! Motorised traffic did not exist. The network of disorderly dust roads in Kigali saw only a handful of rickety jalopies that mechanics had managed to put back together, as everything functional had been taken away by the ousted government.

Now, take the dust, multiply by sweaty bodies, add hilly and dusty Kigali and give me the sum total of filth. Other sources of filth, let’s not go there!

Then there was the infamous “pause”. Maybe you needed to fit yourself up with new clothing so you could discard your sweat-dust-caked outfit and walk-worn shoes.

You’ve practically walked your shoes sole-less from Kacyiru and at exactly midday you are at the ‘City Centre’ shopkeeper’s door. You meet him/her there, ready to lock up, and your pleas to at least let you buy a shirt d fall on deaf ears.  12-14hrs were “pause” hours, un point un trait.

It was worse for government offices, of course, because workers used to remove their ‘impuzu’ (clothes) and enjoy a sound sleep till their lunchtime tipple had worn off!

Next, unintended faux pas or malicious knife-twist in the wound?

The Government of National Unity had been formed and all officials were to be on the same page and speak the same language. Yet, a highly-placed official in the top leadership could dare wonder how the whole community of grieving Rwandans could still be mourning over the Genocide against the Tutsi “four whole months” after the ghastly incident!

Evil humans, there haven’t been worse.   

Contrary to whom, the second in command of the same leadership was seriousness personified. When he was given a scheduled meeting, say, at 14hrs, it was that.  At one time when he arrived on the appointed time sharp, there was not a single official to receive him.

He gave an allowance of 30min and only then did he see three groggy officials pant their way in, rubbing their puffy eyes and murmuring their apologies. Despite spirited beseeching by his aides to wait and at least let a small crowd gather, he ordered the doors shut and addressed his speech to the three present, after which he promptly left.

Alas, he was alone. The government had discussed and agreed that citizens must begin to live in decent housing. The consensus was that a system of model villages that’d have access to all amenities be initiated immediately. Only for the topmost kahuna of government, when he came to launch the initiative, to turn up with a hoe.

His idea of model villages? The same rukarakara (mud brick) shacks that were crumbling around every citizen in Kigali and the countryside any time there was so much as a drizzle!

Fortunately, seriousness turned out to be the all-round winner and all others were left on the wayside and so, here we are. Those mountains and mountains of obstacles overcome and now at galloping progress. Who would have believed? Now, Nda ndambara………!

A reconnection with the past helps to ground Rwandans in the reality of this leadership’s history of resilience.

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