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“Innocent tourists” who sought to stain Rwanda but hit a miss

By October 23, 2023No Comments

October 20, 2023

Ms. Bridget Hilton-Barber and Mr. Hugh Fraser in Rwanda in June,2023.

Ms. Bridget Hilton-Barber and Mr. Hugh Fraser in Rwanda in June,2023.

Joyless Rwanda? It beats me how you’d find a country joyless! Because you are talking hills, their trees, grass; valleys, their trees, grass, marshes; rivers, their waters running over rocks or flowing calmly; lakes, their waters shimmering at the surface. All of them, even if they had expressions, these would be hard to decipher!

Yet which of us does not find cheer in simply watching these wonders of nature just as they are, let alone when they are habitat to a diversity of animals? If they can spread cheer, hills, valleys, rivers, lakes and their guests are definitely far from joyless. 

In which case, what’s being said of a country is in truth being directed at her people. So, are Rwandans joyless? My submission: well, Rwandans are not exactly rowdy in the sense of shouting excitedly when in conversation, as I’ve seen with other societies. But then again, whether that raucousness equals joy is another matter. Calm joy would do, for me.

For info, I am talking in reference to an opinion piece penned by a pair of South African “innocent tourists”, Ms. Bridget Hilton-Barber and Mr. Hugh Fraser, early last week, in their local newspaper, The Daily Maverick. Writing on behalf of the duo, Hilton-Barber titles her article thus: “Ghosts of genocide haunt beautiful, clean and joyless Rwanda”.

The pair had self-catered, camped and “relentlessly” and single-mindedly driven through Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Burundi to breeze into Rwanda and observe, not the country but, the people of this land.

Six countries and no observation, to reserve all for Rwanda.  And the verdict? We of this beautiful and clean land (their words) are joyless.

Could they maybe have come to this country with what psychologists call a confirmation bias? They seem to have come with heads full of baggage for confirmation.

They had entered and exited all those countries without drama, says Hilton-Barber, but, behold! When they reached the Burundi-Rwanda border of Akanyaru, their car was “strip-searched by Rwandan border officials” and everything was taken out “and inspected closely. The tent, the food boxes, the luggage. Then they came across our drone, which caused a great deal of excitement, albeit not the excitement we were after.”

If they sailed through the other borders without a single check, doesn’t it say something to Hilton-Barber and Fraser? At all entry points into countries, including their own country’s entry ports, we all expect to be checked and searched, don’t we?

Certainly, the two are selling a lie. But who’d buy such a cheap one?

And what a fickle pair! See, “the official Rwandan tourism website does actually warn people not to bring drones…[unless you have]…an operator’s certificate from the Rwandan Civil Aviation Authority”. There then, our South African friends had it. Still, they brought a drone without this necessary prerequisite.

And haggled that they were “innocent tourists looking to take mind-blowing footage of [this] beautiful country”. Anybody else would have been flattered out of enforcing official cross-border procedures but our officials, true to their conduct, “gave no quarter whatsoever”.

The “innocent tourists”, on their way back through Rusumo border between Rwanda and Tanzania some days later, found their drone waiting for them. And were surprised, Mother Nature knows why. Was it against their hope, perhaps, because they’d hoped to get the “excitement” of accusing our officials of stealing their drone? Too bad there, too, they hit a miss!

That was on their way back home, however. Before that, Ms Hilton-Barber couches her ill intentions in true facts, perhaps knowing they are known by all. Kigali is impressive, has modern buildings, restaurants, shops, beautiful green spaces, city parks, a sophisticated central business district, the hills present great views, roads are good, traffic is orderly, traffic cameras ensure speed limits are obeyed.

Remember, we were told Rwandans are joyless. Is it because of all that modernity, beauty, green, order, efficiency or what?

But the good lady is going on. Who knows, we might discern a reason!

“Kigali is the cleanest city in Africa”, no rubbish, no litter, no plastic, no leaking drains, no sewage spilling, no collapsed road verges, no jaywalking – uhm? “It’s an unfamiliar and wonderful sensation being in such a clean space. It felt calm and caring; it felt proud.”

After that, bingo! Ms Hilton-Barber has nailed the source of our joylessness! “But it didn’t feel joyous”, she concludes. Why? “….the faraway looks in older people, their body language, their eerie obedience.” And from these and titbits of ‘observation’, she concludes: “There is no doubt that Rwanda is a benevolent dictatorship and the society is highly controlled.”

So, all along that’s the message the “innocent tourists” were seeking to unearth? Those “faraway looks”, “sad-eyed and silent” demeanours, “still haunted” incredulities, why didn’t they traverse the whole country for a bigger number of samples? Or do they think Kigali is bigger than Rwanda?

“Dictatorship”, “citizen control” and “sad-eyed” due to order and efficiency? Give me another!

Mr. Kelvin Jakachira, it’s true. If The Daily Maverick’s reporting on Rwanda seeks to please its Western backers, the effort has fallen flat on its nose.

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