Our policemen continue to do things that baffle other East Africans. They routinely refuse free gifts. Whoever heard of a cop supposedly on starvation pay rejecting a donation of $40,000 – enough money to pay his salary for fifty years? He could take the present from an anonymous giver and retire.
But no, our cops refuse free manna. It is really the height of ingratitude.
Imagine what would happened to us (if you are a believer) if the Israelites had done the same all those years ago – if, as they walked for years in the burning sands of the Sinai, parched dry with thirst and nearly dropping dead from hunger and fatigue, they had picked up the manna dropped from above and tossed it back to whoever had dropped it, imagining it had accidentally slipped from his hands. It would have been the height of folly and they were wise not to commit it. You will recall that the manna was a response to a riot by God’s people.
But here are our policemen committing serial folly. First it was a certain constable Frank Bizimungu who sought out a generous benefactor and literally told him he was stupid to drop manna in the form of $40,000. And for behaving like the biblical swine that paid scant regard to precious stones, he was rewarded with a few stripes on his shoulder, murmurs of praise and loud gasps of disbelief.
Barely two weeks later, another cop, Willy Bizimana, not to be outdone in ingratitude, did the same unforgivable thing. Over $19,000 was dropped in his path. And like the fools these cops are, he had the money returned to its owner.
It is not clear whether Willy will be rewarded for his idiocy. May be he will get one and a half stripes seeing as he rejected half of what Bizimungu returned.
What the two cops did is completely un-East African. Which is why Tanzanian businessman, Rajab Furaj Juma, owner of the $19,000, was prompted to say both in admiration and incredulity: “It doesn’t happen like this where I come from…”
True East Africans do not spurn generous offers – whether the generosity is intended or is a result of some lapse in attention of the “giver”. They would pray fervently for more forgetfulness. The real fast ones would not even wait for that, but would dip their hands into pockets and bags on the slightest suspicion that the owner is distracted.
But perhaps I exaggerate. Not all East Africans are on the lookout for dropped manna to grab and run off with. Nor are their hands itching to cut into the next bag. The Rwandan cops are proof of that. Perhaps the proof that proves the rule? And why do they behave differently?
Of course Rwandans are, well, Rwandan. They do things their own way regardless of what others think or how they behave. They insist on a different level of moral and ethical standards.
Again, this unaccustomed level of conduct so touched the Tanzanian businessman that he was gushing with praise for the Rwandan police. Said he: “The Rwandan police are admirable, trustworthy, honest and friendly to the people.” Say that again, please.
All that Rajab said is, of course, true. The Rwandan police, while no saints, are on the whole trustworthy. True they get the occasional bashing, sometimes for doing the right thing, other times from ignorance. But often they get it right. In any case they are subject to the same, if not higher, moral standards as the rest of us.
And they know a little Biblical injunction, too. They are subjected daily to a test in the wilderness – literally and metaphorically. Many have learnt to rebuke: get thee behind me Satan. Man shall not live on dollar bills alone. They are other things that give one satisfaction and meaning to life – things like integrity, self-esteem, common decency and the knowledge that what one is doing is the right thing. These have no price tag in any currency.
You might say this is the Rwandan way – the meaning of agaciro, individual and collective self-worth. And while many will jealously guard and even flaunt their many assets, Rwandans, not famous for being exhibitionist, remain true to form and quietly take pride in the sense of selflessness that the two cops showed. It does not matter that doing so sets them apart from other East Africans. They think it is even a basis for greater achievements.
Obviously not everyone thinks so. Believers in manna dropping at airports or somehow getting into public coffers will vehemently disagree and might even question the sanity of cops who build their reputations on rejecting such manna.
I suspect, though, that some police forces in the region wish they had a few cops like Bizimungu and Bizimana to redeem their badly battered image. And come to think of it, it might be a useful export – a few saintly cops. As you know, saints are not known for being worldly-wise. Often, in fact, they spurn worldly comforts for purity of soul. A useful export, that. Over to you RNP and RDB.