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The nightmarish birth pangs of a state

By March 8, 2024March 11th, 2024No Comments

March 8, 2024

The other day I met this young member of our forces at his workstation and, after greetings, I was making to continue when he politely asked: “Muze……., pardon my bothering you. How long have you been here?” We usually exchange pleasantries and, so, nothing untoward here.

Now, where “here” is, suppress your curiosity. It killed the cat; you don’t want to court that risk. No, kidding……. You face no such threat! I, too, just want to ask you something. Have you noticed the singular politeness that marks our youths in the forces?

Please note that by “forces”, I restrict myself to the military and police.

Sure, there’s politeness among youths in other services but I haven’t seen any that can match that of those in said areas. Where am I going with this, you’ll wonder. Well, nowhere. I am only calling on all Rwandan youths – they populate all our institutions – to emulate that politeness.

But, as all old-timers are wont to, I digress….

The digression being, perhaps, because in this country looking back is like willingly pushing oneself into a prolonged night of nightmares…..

The youth’s question. I replied that I’ve been here since the time civil servants ‘earned rice’.

Yes, you heard right. There was a time civil servants’ salaries came in the form of meagre foods and beverages (rice, maize, weasel-infested beans, Nestle milk, etc.)! Those edibles, moreover, were not Government’s. They were handouts from foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to the government that’d just been installed.

After the Genocide against the Tutsi, the country was left as a void. The defeated government lifted everything that was movable and went with it, after destroying everything that was not. Every human they could take and everything that was money, machine, mattress, mat, say it, they moved. They only rested after crossing the border into the then-Zaïre, today’s D.R. Congo.

In Rwanda, I recall how NGOs used to run around in their opulence, handing out bits of food to the new, hungry government. As to citizens, they were made to look as if they were working for their dole-outs but actually were doing work worth zero. Rwandans and their land were stinky, disconsolate, desolate, dry, dusty, dead.

The NGOs, for their part, seemed oblivious to the stench of rotten flesh that enveloped the country. Only they seemed to find cheer in this hopelessness. They usually joined up with another celebratory lot, the UN peace-keepers (UNAMIR), whose duty had nothing to do with peacekeeping. Together, they caroused and philandered to high heaven…..(or hell?)

Still, UNAMIR never forgot their protection responsibility of the génocidaires (ex-FAR and Interahamwe) whom they had garrisoned up in internally displaced persons’ camps (IDPs). Protection from whom, you may ask. Well, from the new government! Even if at night it (UNAMIR) looked the other side as the génocidaires mounted fatal attacks against the population.

In a word, Rwanda was a country of many worlds. There was a world of ‘stayees’ (Rwandans who’d never gone into exile); that of returnees from Zaïre; that of others from Burundi; that of others from Uganda and that of others from other African countries.

There was a world of returnees from Europe; that of those from the Americas and that of those from Indo-Pacific Asia. Then there was a world for génocidaires in IDPs; one for UNAMIR and one for NGOs.    

Now, think of the herculean task of putting this new government in charge, to unify all these seemingly disparate Rwandans and give them security, while pulling them from UNAMIR’s and NGOs’ self-serving control that stunted the whole population. That, remember, included plucking back from Zaïre, Rwandans taken there by ex-FAR and Interahamwe and held hostage as human shields.

Was there any power in the world that could sort out this mess?

To answer that, we must go back to the beginning: 1990. A tiny ragtag group, RPF/A, set out to singlehandedly liberate a Rwanda that was hurtling down a snake hole. When all pleas for a dialogue with the then-Rwandan government failed, the tinier Rwanda Patriotic Army (armed wing), stepped forward to prod it into bending. It was as if the whole sky came down on them!

This meant the then-Rwandan government that was aided by superpower France and its retinue of Francophone African minions, led by Zaïre. The whole monstrous group was loosed upon the trifling group of young men/women, with near-nil everything: no arms, food, clothes; no base, nothing.

Wrap your mind around that! However, the RPF/A had positive qualities in abundance: a cause, discipline, commitment, resourcefulness, caution, resilience, honesty, forgiveness, patience, interpersonal kindness, servant leadership, intercommunication, on-n-on.

For those qualities, minuscule RPF/A triumphed. Not with any triumphalism, though; it breeds complacency. With strict observance of politeness, humility, truthfulness, above-said attributes. The youth of today have inherited these attributes.

And a scatter-brained neighbour says he can shoot President Kagame out of Kigali, while another says he can cause a youth-led coup-d’état to remove him? Hah! Happy hunting!

A Ugandan compares Rwanda to Switzerland and a Tanzanian says she doesn’t have the littlest litter. No, Rwanda is uniquely Rwanda and, yes, any form of litter is an insult to her.

Polite young member of the forces, I’ve been here since the rebirth of this Rwandan state.

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