Towards RwandaIn both Rwanda and Burundi, one drives on the right side of the road. It took some getting used to this new way of driving especially at traffic circles. As I drove towards Kigali, I kept thinking of my long association with the Rwandese people. It elated me. Rwanda was a fascinating country: its history, politics, culture as well as the beauty of its female species. It was rumoured that Rwandese and Ethiopian women were the most stunning in the world. But that aside, the Rwandese people unbeknown to me were involved in my life from my child days.
Rwandese according to historical accounts shares the same ancestry with the Banyankole of Uganda. In fact, as a child, I often thought of them as Banyankole. In the Eastern part of Uganda, we thought they were the best cattle herders. Being cattle keepers ourselves, it was a common practice to hire a mulalo (acronym for Rwandese) to herd our cattle. They were mostly paid in kind at the end of the year by giving them a heifer animal or more depending on the size of the herd. My grandfather Ananias who lived to a ripe old age of 120, and had fought for the British in the Great Wars had several of them tending his herds. I was completely oblivious of the fact that they were actually refugees.
In my little mind, I never knew that they had such a horrid history that led to the genocide of 1994. Unavoidably, the genocide is a spectacle that continues to appall me. I lived in a war ridden Uganda of the 70s and 80s and had seen people die for various reasons. But still I cannot fathom a country of two people — tribes butchering one another because one of them suffers from a superiority complex. I know this is simplistic but just suppose by way of comparison, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica, Tanzania has 120 tribes, Uganda has 47 and no one knows how many there are in the Democratic Republic of Congo since some of its jungles are yet to be discovered. Imagine what would happen if Tanzanians turned against each other?
I had seen the bodies on television; I had read the stories in news papers. I had discussed the matter with Peter my roommate (at Makerere University), who was a Rwandese. It was rumoured that Rwandese had constituted the bulk of Museveni’s fighting force during the struggle to oust Obote and those who succeeded him. And now I was riding on the roads of this beautiful country whose story had captured the imagination of the world. We all remember too well that the UN had stood by as these people butchered each other. Every category of people seem to have participated in some way or another in the genocide including priests and nuns of the Catholic Church. They had turned against each other or participated by denouncing any one who was not of their kind.
I remember being very frightened of these events and feeling hopeless and helpless. I remember crying while watching hundreds of bodies bloated and floating on Lake Victoria. Holocaust or genocide, it was simply terrible that rational humans could savagely turn against each other and do unspeakable things.
I was deep in thought and paid little attention to my surrounding as I drove towards Kigali. I was here to pay homage to all those who had lost their lives fifteen years after the event. In my culture, paying homage to a dead one never ends. I remember that 15 years after my maternal grandfather passed on, relatives from one of his wives came to pay homage. It was huge function.
Sad as the story of Rwanda might be, I had also come here for another very special reason— a matter of the heart. I was going to meet a beautiful Rwandese, Esperance with whom I had been communicating for a while. It was a secret I had guarded closely. At the border, I telephoned her to say I was an hour away from Kigali. I arranged with the brother to meet at the city centre. I was partly here at the invitation of the family.
One thing which gripped my attention as I headed towards the interior was the cleanliness of the country. There was no dumping anywhere, a common feature of most places I traversed. But even more remarkable was the absence of plastics: bottles or bags. Who does not know about the curse of plastics? A documentary on National Geographical Channel had revealed that this menace had even registered its presence in the seas of the South Pole where it was wrecking environmental havoc. You need not look far, but in the water gutters and channels to see the stamp of this cancer. The curse of plastics!
As I rode, I looked around for evidence of the genocide; there was none. The ordinary folks of Rwanda went about their chores. If you had arrived from another planet and had never heard of the genocide, there was no apparent suggestion that 15 years ago neighbours had slaughtered each other.
Mr Muhire, Esperance’s brother met me about 3:30pm Rwandese time. He was a handsome young man just after his mid 20s. He had recently completed his law degree and spoke fluent English. You will recollect that Rwanda was French speaking but was in the process of becoming ‘Anglophone’. He took me home to his cottage where I had bath. Later that evening, we went to his elder brother’s home where among others I met Esperance. In her photo, she was an absolute stunner, which explains why I had satisfied myself with contemplating her ‘diagram’ (Idi Amin’s soldiers’ language), a permanent residence of my wallet I whip out and espied at the slightest opportunity.
The family had received me warmly. As we dinned, I had delighted them with the tales of my odyssey. They were so enchanted and entertained that they wanted to hear more. But I was simply so tired that I had to beg them to allow me retire for the night.
As we walked home, I had confided in Muhire that I was happy he was putting school above everything else. I said to him that with Education, he would never go wrong. And that although it was a costly investment, and sometimes the returns were long in coming, it was a good investment. We had spoken long into the night during which I drifted off into a deep slumber. Even the mosquitoes, of which there were plentiful, failed to upset my sleep.