In the past ten years, certain words have gained currency among Rwandans. It’s not that they are new or rare. They are actually in common use. But they have gained more significance because they now define who Rwandans are, their attitudes and collective outlook.
The words are ownership (kugira ibintu ibyawe) and dignity (agaciro). The two have become synonymous with the search for practical solutions to challenges and a source of national pride.
Now, Rwandans have always owned everything. They own the whole world because as they say Rwanda is the world and the world is Rwanda. This is not a question of physical ownership. It is more the expression of a concept of a world view where Rwandanness is not defined by physical boundaries but by their citizenship of the world.
This view must have been behind the attitude of those of us who lived in other countries as refugees when we took over ownership of the places where we lived – at least conceptually. Rwandans referred to the nationals of those countries as foreigners (abanyamahanga). They were not being arrogant or ungrateful. It is simply the way they saw the world.
This view of the universe from a Rwanda-centric viewpoint extends to religious matters as well. Rwandans even own God. To my knowledge, they are one of only two people who have appropriated God as their own. He is even domiciled in Rwanda.
I don’t intend to wade into Rwandan metaphysics or theology. I only want to relate how the idea of ownership lies behind Rwanda’s current state of development.
In today’s sense, ownership means taking possession of one’s circumstances wherever one is and turning them to advantage. It means taking responsibility for oneself and doing everything to make them work best for you. Ownership means that you alone are responsible for yourself and what you become. You don’t owe it to anyone else. Nor can you expect anyone to pick up that responsibility for you.
In simple terms, ownership of anything is at the root of a “fix it” mentality.
That’s why Rwandans even own their problems and challenges. It is the beginning of solving them.
The other word is agaciro. It draws wild cheers when it is uttered. The word has become the answer and explanation to practically everything Rwandans face. If a Rwandan does something extra-ordinary, it is because of agaciro. If anything is done to demean Rwandans, you are warned not to play with their agaciro. Rwanda’s economic growth is both cause and effect of agaciro, as well as its expression. The frequency with which agaciro is used, even in conversation in English; I would not be surprised if it becomes part of English vocabulary before long.
Like the concept of ownership, the idea of agaciro is part of how Rwandans define themselves.. It is part of their world view. Because they own the universe, they also feel responsible for its well-being, and can only ensure that if they are dignified – wherever in the world they may be.
More significantly, the word is at the centre of what they want to become, how they want to get there and the means of surmounting challenges.
Rwandans know they could not have fixed their political problems – from liberation to ending the genocide and dealing with its aftermath – if they did not own them or felt that their dignity was sufficiently affronted to warrant action.
Looking at ongoing problems in our region, one wishes other people shared Rwandans’ worldview, especially the determination to solve them. Rwanda’s Congolese neighbours particularly need to make ownership part of their everyday vocabulary, and more importantly, part of a problem-solving kit. That way they would not have to run around the world pleading for help to put their own house in order. They would not put their faith in the hands of foreigners with questionable interests. They would not surrender responsibility over their country, and worse, their sovereignty as they have now done.
That they have done all this betrays a lack of agaciro. Yet they only have to look across the border to see the impact of that short word. They can even borrow it and it will be given to them gratis. I am sure there is a high price for the foreign support they are so eager to get.
Unfortunately, these particular neighbours of Rwanda do not seem to have a world view in which they have an active part to play. And what’s worse, they won’t permit some among their own people with a “fix it” mentality to help. And that’s a pity.