This year is Rwanda’s Golden Jubilee of independence. The country should be abuzz with the excitement of so many things to celebrate. We should be seeing feverish activity by government officials, the private sector and even ordinary citizens preparing for the big event on July 1st. And all these should not be happening only now. They should have started early in the year.
Celebration certainly there will be. And preparations are underway. But we are not in a golden jubilee mood yet. And perhaps won’t be because there is precious little to be excited about and not much to celebrate except the event itself fifty years ago.
Even that is not remarkable in terms of the meaning and spirit of independence.
I have not met anyone who has a vivid memory of the lowering of the colonial standard and the raising and unfurling of the new Rwandan flag, and the roar of pride that greeted it. No person has told of the collective rapture of that moment of liberation. Is it because there was no such freedom?
None has recorded the outpouring of national emotion in poetry, song, story or art. Perhaps the event and its circumstances were so barren that nothing of creative imagination could sprout from it?
I have not heard about how Rwandans came together as one to savour the freedom they had regained on that momentous day fifty years ago. At least here is some truth: no one, no matter how inventive, can pass off the divisions that were the foundations of the new country as the pillars of national unity.
I have not seen any monuments that have been erected, or national symbols of the struggle for liberty that have been created, to keep alive and present the memory of that period.
Instead, the enduring memory of independence is the story of fratricide on a massive scale, directed by strangers with a twisted sense of values.
For thirty two years that memory is that of governments that sustained themselves on anger and hatred against their own. These emotions feed on, and breed, more anger and hatred and produce only destruction. Little wonder then that there are no lasting tributes to this period of our history. Vicious emotions cannot inspire creativity, even in celebration of destructiveness.
Some might say to all this: It is not true. Look, we were so inventive we created a myth about rights to this fair land and went on to govern on that basis, and kept out of the country our own people we had decreed had less rights.
I hear other voices. No, that’s not true. It is more correct to say that others created that myth and those who claim its invention only latched on to it to serve a crooked sense of identity.
What about this one? We were so creative we changed the meaning of ordinary words and made discrimination respectable and acceptable. Remember what was called equilibrium?
We educated only a few – those that could be absorbed in public employment. In any case it is dangerous to have a lot of educated people. You see they become independent and big-headed and disgruntled and ask too many questions. Better to keep the people in a blissful state of not knowing.
Rwandans were also the most contented people in this region. They did not worry about taxes, budgets and deficits and all sorts of imbalances. They had benefactors to take care of these unpleasant things provided they agreed to remain ignorant and pliant.
Our people did not have to know what took place outside the country. They did not need to travel. The rulers took care of that end of things.
I hear protests. That’s existence sans agaciro. It’s no life.
To this the response is: but back then we didn’t know about agaciro.
Which is the reason there is something to mark this golden jubilee – the return of agaciro to Rwanda and her citizens. And this came after a miracle. As a nation, we died and resurrected and in our new life have steadily marched forward, sometimes at a trot; other times galloping, to make up for the lost 32 years.
Any resurrection – whether it is that of Lazarus or more significantly of the man who raised him – is remarkable. But even more remarkable is what follows it.
In the case of the man who raised Lazarus from the dead, his resurrection has spawned a world-wide community that cuts across cultures, boundaries and time.
In our case, rebirth has created a society with so much self-belief that we have been able to grow fast, roll back poverty, check disease and nurture an educated population.
Of course we pay taxes and suffer other inconveniencies of development. But we are doing this on our terms – even when we get a helping hand from outside.
All this should have happened more than twenty years ago. We certainly did not have to die first. We did not need a miracle. A more ordinary way should have sufficed. And we would be talking about creating more wealth, not slowing poverty; about modern housing, not just eradicating nyakatsi; about ground-breaking inventions, not simply control of malaria.
And yes, come July First, there will be a party – at least for finally recognising the possibilities of independence.