Monday, April 20, 2015




It has been 21 years since Rwanda was befallen by the darkest angel of time. Before some of the Rwandans from the Tutsi tribe living in exile in Uganda decided to invade Rwanda claiming their alienate rights to come back to their homeland, Rwanda was considered to be the Little Switzerland of Africa La Petite Suisse de l'Afrique Centrale. For those who were children attending basic educational institutions on different hills of Rwanda, we can attest to this. I remember as a young boy in a primary school I could only pay less than Francs 100 as a school fees for the entire year. This gave me access to all teaching materials that our school could afford such as dust chalk, slates, reading books, and exercises books. More importantly, we were taught by motivated teachers who were called to impart us with their knowledge and unconditional love.


During those days, clinics had medicines and I never heard my mother looking for her healthcare membership card of “mutuelle” so that she could take me to hospital. We did not have to sell any livestock so that we become members of any national healthcare system in Rwanda. I remember clean and tapped water fountain in our school compound so that children could have access to clean water. Coffee, tea, and pyrethrum farmers were put in cooperatives and got incentives from their government so that the government theme of “Rwanya Nyakatsi” (Get rid of thatched houses) could materialize. Without being forced or threatened by the local defense or Intore (cadres) for the first time I saw my dad taking us to Trafipro where he bought us plastic shoes called Bata and on the same day on our way home each of his 6 children carried a roll of corrugated iron sheet called Amabati. I don’t remember how many of Mabati that each one carried but they were so many because but the time we got home in the evening our necks had bent. Despite heavy loads we were all smiles when we got home because we were all wearing plastic shoes and we were among few in the village. It did not take long before every family in our community had bought shoes to their children. In less than two months we were all allowed to come to school with shoes and the government did not need to force our parents to buy us shoes but they created an enabling environment for our parents to afford shoes for us and build modern housing for their families instead of being told not to visit the market wearing barefoot. All these changes took place in my rural home because Rwanda was the “Little Switzerland of Africa” and we did not need western media to tell us because we lived it.

However, all this changed when the country entered into war with herself. Those from Uganda came telling us that all was not well within our villages. They started from Umuganda (which means coming together in common purpose) and showed us how oppressive the activities were. They even told us that once they come to power they would pay us for participating in Umuganda. It did not take long before we rallied behind them who could not have done so hoping to earn an extra income from the public duty?

As the war continued they promised us free primary and secondary school education. Since man always wants more freebees we stretched our arms to welcome them home. Some of our dads even went to the extent of fundraising for them as long as they carried through their promises to remove us from the big ship that was moving slowly and take us into the small boat that was sailing swiftly. They had pressbriefings both regionally and internationally and reached us through Muhabura airwaves to explain to us that the small boat would take us faster from the “Little Switzerland of Africa” to the unknown Promised Land. We forgot a Rwandan saying says that ‘Uwambaye Ikirezi Atamenya ko Cyera’ (loosely translated that who owns a beautiful pearl does not know that it bling). It did not take so long before the small boat (Rwandan Patriotic Front RPF) started tossing some of her passengers into the waters for them to drown but we were too intoxicated by her heavenly promises of taking us to the promised land sooner that the ship nicknamed the Big Mama (National Revolutionary Movement for Development MRND) could have done. We blindly followed them despite that there were nerve breaking facts that the small boat was had thrown most of her passengers into the rivers that she sailed through. Some of our dads decided to ignore this and decided to take some of our footballer siblings to hold friendship matches with members of the small boat crew. Our dads couldn’t hold themselves from thinking about how things will be when the small boat reaches to the other banks of the river. They never ceased from dreaming how their lives will change once the small boat gets them to the Promised Land. They even told me that they were so disgusted by the speed of the Big Mama. They claimed that it could take us centuries for her to take us to the Promised Land. Our fathers connived and schemed about how to get rid of the Big Mama as soon as possible. They claimed the long they waited for the Small Boat to take us to the Promised Land the longer and harder the journey becomes.


When the Captain of the small boat heard of this was so excited and chanted: “If you will all rally behind me. Support me in every corners of this land and tell all your people that I am not after tossing anyone’s child into the big river. If you all stand by me and tell the world that it is not the Small Boat hammering the small heads of their children but the Big Mama who wants to cling on power, surely, I will make this Rwanda another Singapore, but not the small one in South Asia, but the big Singapore of Africa.” The captain continued. “I will know where the money will come from. My godfathers are whitemen. They don’t speak your language but mine. They also promised me that whoever follows me they will bless not only his coming in but also his coming out. The power they will bless. The mighty they will bless. The security they will bless. The paradise in Africa they will create. Only if you followed me.”

After hearing this our fathers were filled with joy and excitement. One of our fathers who had defected from the Big Mama stood up and said: “My lord, may these walls of this hall also hear this. From now on don’t beg us to follow you instead show us the way and you lead we shall follow. Don’t ask us to jump again because what we will ask is how high you want us to jump my lord. Henceforth we will follow you wherever you go as the biblical story of Ruth and her mother in law my lord. We no longer mind how many of our sons and daughters you toss into the deep waters, how big the territory you occupy, and how many our siblings’ heads will be smashed against the wars or will be driven into exile. No matter what we will follow you my lord.

Before the dawn settled on the ridges of the Thousand Hills, the Small Boat had been welcomed into our courtyards. We were never bothered a lot because our fathers had said and we had obeyed. We thought this would reduce the numbers of our siblings tossed into the deep waters, not at all. The Big Mama had been pushed to the walls and the peace we knew as children was now things of the past. Our faces started reading only one ink that of despair but we held on our hopes because our fathers were singing peace and the coming of Singapore to Africa in unison. Now the Small Boat and the Big Mama were roaming into our backyards, the oxygen was running out of reach and each one of us was trying to grasp some fresh air. Our fathers had left us and went into the streets singing and chanting “Gisunzu Navaho impundu zizavuga” as they were predicting the departure of Habyarima. They hoped that his departure will mark the end of their sufferings and pave the way for the Singapore of Africa. But little did they know that they were myopic to the real problems of Rwanda and their solutions.

It did not take long before we as their children we joined them on the streets of Kigali. We danced, chanted, shouted, and schemed. I could see that the mob psychology was guiding us to the point that we could no longer see the motives and intentions of the captain of the Small Boat. He graciously sat on the hill of the hills and glanced at in the streets and he just laughed mocking us. As some of us were blindly pointing their fingers to the north others to the south as the origins of their miseries, the captain of the Small Boat was busy dispatching his crew to the different areas of the capital. Before we could know it the first son of the Big Mama had already sunk into the deep sea. He held the passcode to the maneuvering of the Big Mama. We all sunk with him those who survived went into exile. What amazed me most is that some of our fathers who had served the Small Boat in all kinds of manners hoping to bring us the Big Singapore of Africa followed us into exile after tossing most of their kids into the big river. They came and found us wandering in foreign land. They found us with new identity. We were no longer Rwandans but refugees. When I saw them I couldn’t hold back I had to inquire from them what is chasing them. “Dad’ and ‘Uncle”, I called. “How come you are here with us, did you miss the border?” I asked. “Son, all those old promises were empty. We were fooled and followed but now the waters have turned,” he replied. Although I was still young to understand what he meant when he said that the waters had turned, few months in exile had made me grow older and wiser. I knew my ‘father’ had seen the light when it was too late. We were now in exile called names by the host families. Although I felt humiliated I liked it when Congolese called us hopeless and homeless refugees in my ‘father’s’ presence. He was a man full of ego I couldn’t help but to smile as I saw him being reminded that our country is Rwanda not Zaire.

Another day we went together with my ‘dad’ and my ‘uncle’ to the Red Cross site to get our weekly ratio. Since he joined us in the refugee camp late after his family that included myself and my four siblings had already registered and gotten a ‘food ratio card’, he registered as lonely man and his ratio was only 25ml of cooking oil, 25gm of salt, 1500gms of corn floor, and 700gm of beans. When they called his name and handed him what he deserves, he felt agitated and started reminding those present who he was befall the Fall of the Plane. Although he was my ‘dad’ I couldn’t stand there and look on while his hurting the feelings of the public who previously had put all their trust in him so that he can join hands with the captain of the Small Boat and ferry us to the new found land called the Singapore of Africa. I turned and looked at him straight into the face and said: “Dad’ here people are no longer interested in the long stories of the ‘quand j’etais.’ Welcome to the new Singapore of Africa Daddy,” I said to him. For the first time my dad had seen me staring straight into his eyeballs mercilessly. That is when he realized we had crossed the border into Zaire and things were no longer at ease, because the Plane Had Fallen.

The Promise of the New Singapore of Africa and the Fall of the Plane

Mr. Captain of a Small Boat allow me to question some things if not everything about your promises. When you were in Kagitumba and Kinihira you called all the elders of our land so that you could lay out the Small Boat’s strategies that could see us crossing the big river in the shortest time possible. Indeed you said this:
·        Mr. Captain when the plane fell the heavens and the skies fell on us too. You had promised us peace but you broke us into pieces. When the plane fell the cloud of darkness fell on those who loved you and those who loathed you. When the plane fall the worst came down with it and the ridges of the Thousand Hills were bathed with blood instead of milk and honey you promised us in Kinihira. When the plane fell millions of Rwandans fell with it since the gods of Rwanda had deserted us. Mr. Captain of the Small Boat when the Plane fell……!!!
·        I remember that you told us that when you come to power you will not force us to go to Umuganda and if we went you would compensate us for the time wasted and energy spent. However, 21 years on if I don’t attend your Umuganda it would be a different story of my life. If your men in the uniform don’t make me disappear from the face of the universe I will certainly rot in Mabuso but if I am lucky you will send me to 1930 and accuse me Kugandisha.

·        Mr. Captain, when our dads met you in Kinihira during the famous friendship soccer match you promised them that you will unite north and south. You will bring east and west together so that we are all called Kanyarwanda and abolish la zizanie and divisionism enthroned by the Big Mama. However when you came things got worse. You called us different names from Abasope, Abasajja, Abajepe, and Abadubai without adding Ibipinga because they are synonymous to Interahamwe. Mr. Captain before you came in the Small Boat we used to intermarry and it was not a big deal but with my Big Nose it no longer matters whether I am an MD or CEO in any company here in Kigali once I enter your courtyard members of the right tribe will give me Red even before the start of the game. You didn’t tell me whether you would feel happy if you’re English favorite team Arsenal was shown the door before the game? That is how we feel about discrimination in Rwanda 20 years into your leadership.
·        Mr. Captain, since the day when the plane fell things have never been the same. Not only you divided us further but you alienated some of us by depriving us our identity. You lied to us that being a Hutu or a Tutsi is a social construct element which sparked the ignoble Rwandan genocide. You might be right in some ways but you never stood up and tell all Rwandans who brought that plane down. You might think that because it has been 21 years on you have fooled Rwandans enough to forget the beginning of all this not at all. I hope you still have Blaise Compaore’s cellphone number. He can recount for you how many years it had been since the assassination of Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara. After all this is not what you promised Rwandans in the valleys of Kinihira or Mulindi.
·        Mr. Captain, you had promised us equality in all government apparatuses. You told us that the Big Mama had given all opportunities to those residing in the North but after 20 years I realized it was all lies and propaganda. The truth is that there has been no equality in any area in Rwanda if you think I am attacking you personally let me put things plain. Last year I finished my postgraduate studies at Nairobi University. My mother had sold her piece of land in Nyaruguru. This is after finishing with first class at the University of Rwanda in economics but I was never employed for 5 good years. Out of frustration my mother decided to sell her land so that I could go to Kenya to acquire more degree hoping that your system will concentrate more on my academic achievement rather than my big nose. However, by the time I arrived back in Kigali I was told that all the jobs had been filled by my classmates among them: Kayitesi, Kayirebwa, Kayitale, Kamuzinzi, Kayinamura, Kayiranga, Karutesi, Kayinamura, Karurangwa, Kamutuzo, and Kabano among others. After hearing that I pulled my transcripts out and asked them why not Nsabimana, Nsanzumuremyi, Nsabagasani, Nsanzurwimo, Nsabiyera, Nsanzumukiza, or Nsabiyera. They told me that it was an order from above but when I insisted to know who the above was, I was given a mirror and told to look at myself. Mr. President, after I looked at myself in the mirror I questioned no more and decided to head back to Nyaruguru.
·        Mr. President, 21 years on into your leadership there is a lot to be desired than admired. Your godfathers praise you for halting the genocide and you to have subscribed to this. However, I always wonder whether you promised us country filled with cemeteries and mausoleums. There are more than 3 million tombs around the country but no clear details about the dead. Could you let Rwandans identify their dead and mark their graves so that we don’t continue living in a limbo of these killed those and yet we Rwandans all know that we killed each other at the same rate if not as much?
·        Mr. President 20 years ago you promised to transform this little Rwanda into a little Singapore of Africa. You promised us that you will raise all Rwandans from the ashes to the greatness. You promised good life for all Rwandans but things have been different all along. If you were not aware let help you to understand that you Singapore dream remains a mirage to most Rwandans but a comic reality to the western media because that is their nature and the true picture they have about Africa. Before you came in a small boat we could only count on our fingers those individuals infested with jiggers but the last decades many communities around the country have experienced a boom in jiggers. I wonder whether the people in highlands stopped farming pyrethrum so that we can produce our own insecticide to help us fight this menace. I hope it is cheaper to import insecticide than buying the plastic Bata shoes to all Rwandans. Mr. President I don’t know whether you watched a news segment on TV1 that highlighted the flight of survivors in Gasabo. A family of a survivor with 4 children sleeping in a common pit latrine. Yes a pit latrine that is where they spent weeks before a well-wisher could come to their rescue. This shows you how ill this country is Mr. President. If a Tutsi survivor of genocide is going through that you can only imagine what a poor Hutu is going through in this country with a genocidaire mark hanging on his forehead Mr. President. Mr. President do you remember that you promised equality and a country that is governed by law? Yes you did so some 20 years ago but look now. In a country with 1 million orphans and 200,000 prisoners with 3 million tombs, 500,000 survivors, and one million refugees, where is justice for us Mr. President? In a country with only 11 million people with a GDP of US$464 per capita only you bought yourself 2 flits of jets while millions of Rwandans are starving to death. You took our brothers to Iwawa Island to hide them from the reality of life in Rwanda and mislead international community that you have no street children and your country is few miles away from achieving the Little Singapore of Africa. If my brother was not held at Iwawa Island now he would be dating and getting ready to marry but according to you because he is a Hutu he deserves no chance to grow up like any teen boy, date girls, go out with them, buy them flowers, cheat and get cheated by them, love and fall in love, break up with them and be dumped by them, just a natural way of growing up. Instead you have cast them away in a foreign land where they won’t feel family love at all. All in the name of building the Little Singapore of Africa. Mr. President, as I conclude this letter to you after a good 21 years of your leadership I want to let you know that I am not just a critique to your leadership just a reminder of how we Rwandans feel about you and your little boat that brought anguish and shame to our country. Your little boat ignited hatred, sparked a fire that consumed both living and nonliving ones.

Your little boat left corpses wherever it sailed through both inside and outside Rwanda. We all carry your scars. I can’t ignore that there are those who call you their messiah because you gave them a country they needed so much. You improved their lives, took them to school, put them into international map, got them housing, got them education, money, jobs, life, and identity. They now worship you but it is a small portion of Rwandans. To most of Rwandans myself included, the last 25 years of your existence in Rwanda has been nothing but hell on earth. You first took parents at younger age and left me to fend for myself. Your small boat ate anything that brought me happiness from my uncles and aunties, father and mother, grandparents and relatives, neighbors and their children we liked playing football together and friends. You did not only take life but also the things. You didn’t pollute our beautiful rivers with corpses of young men and women, but also took away the names of our hills from Kigali Ngari to Bugesera and Kigali became Gasabo;  Byumba into Gatsibo and Nyagatare, from Ruhengeri into Musanze and Gakenke; from Butare to Huye and Gisagara, Gitarama to Kamonyi and Muhanga, from Gikongor we all loved to Nyamagabe. You did not stop there because you went ahead and turned Kibuye into Karongi whereas the beautiful Gisenyi became Nyabihu and Ngororero whereas the beautiful Cyangugu became Nyamasheke and Rusizi all this in the name of building a New Singapore of Africa. However, Mr. President there is one common thing I saw in all these regions. They all share one common denominator of grief. They all grief for their beloved ones that your small boat tossed into the big waters and they never came back. Some mourn on yearly basis because you gave them right but others grieve on daily basis because you denied them their alienate rights to mourn for their dead. You can only change the names of regions and roads. You can change the name of rivers and lakes but you cannot change south and north. You cannot run from the facts that Rwanda has achieved only one thing. That is to become not the Little Singapore of Africa as you had promised us earlier, but the Little Singacorpses of Africa where graveyards are exhibited like shopping stalls.

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