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Wheels were in spin; but the times, they were a-changing… 

By September 19, 2023No Comments

RPA soldiers in morale boosting session during the liberation war. File

RPA soldiers in morale boosting session during the liberation war. File

September 15, 2023

From behind his expansive mahogany-similitude of a desk, in an effusively ornate but shabby office, the big man watched the frail-looking young man confidently stride in. His short, stocky aid, sent to usher in the visitor, was by his side.

The big man clutched his ‘royalty-cane’ and rose to his full cologne-dripping height, a rod-straight tree-trunk of a man, resplendent in his à-bas cos attire recognisable the world over, complete with his world-renown leopard skin side-cap at its usual right angle.

He knew he was imposing to this young man who seemed to have borrowed what he considered run-of-the-mill wear for this encounter.

But if the big man thought his menacing presence was going to make an impression on, least of all send shivers into his guest, he was grossly mistaken. Even as the cologne stung his nose, the guest bent forward to respectfully shake the big man’s barely extended hand, after it had put aside the ‘royalty-cane’, and responded to the big man’s “Bonjour, Monsieur” with his own “Bonjour, Monsieur”.

The guest had had to apply a hard squeeze to the cologne-dripping banana fingers not so much to wake the big man up – which seemed to be the effect! – as to ensure that the clammy, thick hand did not slip from his bush-tennis-playing hardened grip.

Of course, according to the young man’s culture, courtesy demanded that you show respect to elders, whether, in your view, this courtesy was due or not. But fear? Nay!

Actually, did the big man sense a mockingly accented “Bonjour, Monsieur” reply? He couldn’t be sure but again also remembered the young man was Anglophone and let it ride, as he indicated a seat to him.

Dispensing with French and diplomatic niceties, the big man abruptly switched to his vernacular Lingala language. He boomed to Stocky Aid: “Tuna ye question awa: aza na besoin ya mbongo combien po a-stopper guerre contre ’Abiriyamana? Des millions ou des milliards de dollars?” And Stocky Aid dutifully translated into his smattering English: “Seuh, le Maréchal ask: ’Ow mohch mohniy you wohnt to stop wahr ’gainst ’Abiriyamana? Millions, billions of dollars?”

The guest, with all humility but with a barely discernible bemused smile playing on his lips, responded: “Please tell le Grand Maréchal that we express our profound appreciation but we cannot look a gift horse in the mouth [don’t let the double entente escape you!].

“If he is contributing to our liberation struggle, we leave it to him to determine the amount he is offering. We are extremely gratified to see that le Grand Maréchal is now with us in our effort to advance our cause. To remove the suffocating, murderous regime in Rwanda today and usher in a government of unity and equality for all Rwandans.”

Suddenly, the big man got a burning desire to pay attention to a blank sheet of paper and pen on the right side of his large desk. He pulled it nearer and started doodling as he spat out: “Merci et au revoir. Tu n’avanceras jamais même un centimetre contre ’Abiriyamana!” Bewildered, the guest muttered: “Au revoir, Grand Maréchal!” and left, his bemused smile still playing on his lips.

Reader, come out of your reverie! This is a situation created in the geriatric, over-the-hill mind of yours hammer-and-tongs, forcefully. At the risk of raising your deadly hackles, I thought I’d let my mind do what it does best – run away with me.

For sure, you’ve seen this photo that’s for some time been doing the rounds of many social media platforms. A young guerrilla leader, Paul Kagame, is shaking hands with the towering figure of Citoyen Mobutu Sese Seko Wa Zabanga, etc., etc. The photo was of March 29, 1991, and all we know about it is that the big man offered the guerrilla leader billions of US dollars to stop what he called “the war against ’Abiriyamana”, which the guerrilla leader politely declined.

Who wouldn’t pay an arm and a leg – and whatever else they have in addition! – to know the exact conversation that went on between the two? I know the photo was re-unearthed and commented on by someone in one of our East African countries. He was in complete awe of the subsequent developments following that meeting of our ‘Guerrilla David’ and the ‘Zaïrean Goliath’.

Because in a mere three years, that “centimetre” didn’t only mean seeing the RPF run rings around the whole of Rwanda and bundle out her killer regime but also, soon after, around the whole of Zaïre (DR Congo) and its own dictatorship.

Today, we are in 2023, not many years after 1991, in the life of a country. Tell me, if Kinani Cyananiye Abanzi n’Abagugunnyi (Habyarimana) and his friend, le Grand Maréchal Wa Zabanga, etc., were to come back and behold this Land of a Thousand Hills, wouldn’t the former wish the earth could open and swallow him and the latter choke on whatever is left of those billions of dollars, before retiring to his station?

Those billions of dollars, whatever number, what would they mean in the face of the great transformation of this country? And yet the times, they are still a-changin’.

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