On Monday we are celebrating our 17th Liberation Day, the day that the yoke of genocidal government was finally removed from the necks of all well-meaning Rwandans. The reason I write ‘well-meaning Rwandans’ is that, even to this day, there hordes of my fellow countrymen and women, who are plotting a return to a pre-1994 Rwanda, one which was characterized by sectarianism and discrimination.
The theme of this year’s annual celebration is ‘Shaping our destiny’. I think that that sentiment is extremely timely. In a world where very often we, the small guys, are buffeted from side to side like a canoe in a category 4 hurricane by events that we absolutely have no power over such as for example, the price of a barrel of petrol or the whims and politics of a donor country, its essential that we take as much control as we possibly can.
Before we talk of shaping our destiny, we must understand and articulate what we want our destiny to be. I’ve read the literature and I’ve watched the videos, so I kind of know where Rwanda’s leadership sees the country in the coming years. But it’s not enough for just the leadership to understand and implement the vision. It must be shared with the end users-the ‘baturage’ in the deepest, darkest villages. Because if this doesn’t happen, then forget about the visions of Rwanda being a middle-income country in less than a decade.
The late, great Bob Marley once sang, “emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. ‘Redemption Song’, my favorite reggae song, is one long cry for self-determination and human dignity. When Mr. Marley talks about mental slavery, I believe he’s talking about the habits and cultures that keep us entrenched in the miserable state we are in. There are so many things that I find absolutely wonderful about this culture of mine. But I feel that there are so many things in this same culture that will keep us away from our intended goal as a nation and people.
An example of this dangerous societal mindset is our love of having children. We are taught that children are blessings, gifts from God, proof of a healthy marriage and, truth be told, a free workforce. That is all true. However, we must understand that these tenets of our culture were formed in pre-colonial Rwanda when a horribly high rate child mortality was a given and average life expectancy was in the early 30’s. What all that early death meant was that population pressure on the limited territory of Rwanda wasn’t really an issue. If you travel to the National Museum in Butare you will see photos taken in 1950 showing swathes of unpopulated and pristine hills all over the country. Visits those hills now, they’re probably close to bursting with human activity.
I read somewhere that unless rural and URBAN women stop bearing an average of six children we might have a population of 40 million people in a few decades. That is crazy. Our gross domestic product of 7% a year simply cannot feed all these mouths. But even with these statistics, I’m still bothered by every older person I meet, asking me why I haven’t gotten married and had children. Societal pressure should move from pressuring me, to pressuring those getting married too young.
Recently, a Swedish friend of mine doing her doctoral thesis on rural Rwanda and the effects of development, asked my opinion on Mamdani’s book on Rwanda “When victims become killers’. I told her that I had heard of it but I hadn’t had the time to read it. And neither did I want to. I can barely understand the intricacies of being Rwandan and what made people turn on their neighbors in 1994. So, if I can’t really understand it all, and I’ve lived here since 1994, how can someone who’s barely been here do so? Honestly, I don’t really care what they have to say, I have better things to do with my time.