I doubt that I know what Rwanda, and being Rwandan means

“If you know your history, then you would know where you are coming from”. These are the immortal lyrics of reggae god, Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley, in his, and the Wailers, legendary song ‘Buffalo Soldier’.  Rwanda is running, helter-skelter, into a brave, new future. It will be a future of futuristic skyscrapers, lightening quick Internet connectivity, swanky neighborhoods, export-based industry and world class entertainment if Vision2020 is to be believed. And having seen Rwanda, and Kigali in particular, grow in leaps and bounds, I must admit that I believe that the dream is within our grasp. As we march towards this future, I can’t help but look backwards. Not because I am revisionist and wish for the bad old days, but because I feel like there is something missing in my personal jigsaw. And that missing piece is my past, my history. My personal history, and who I am, is linked to where I, and my nation, came from. I am a 1994 returnee, a child of refugees and beneficiary of post-1994 development. These three facts form the core of my personality.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more and more curious about country’s history. I found it extremely sad that I could talk for days about the 1789 French Revolution but I couldn’t discuss anything about Mwami Rwabugiri’s reign yet he ruled in the late 1800’s. I’m a huge history buff but I cannot discuss my own pre-1994 history with any authority.  I’ve tried to do some research, but if you cannot read French or Kinyarwanda, forget about learning anything. All you can get is various histories, tinged in political theory. For example, the ancient kings were either the epitome of ethnic privilege and oppression or the symbol of national pride, power and unity. What you cannot get is simply historic fact. For example, no matter where you reside on the French political spectrum, you have to acknowledge the Reign of Terror, lead by the Jacobins and the extravagance of the French monarchy.  But when one tries to figure out Rwandan history, ones left with myths and legends. I think it is high time Rwandan history leaves the hallowed halls of our national museums and universities, and allowed to enter everyday life. Maybe Rwandan history should become a subject in secondary and primary school. When I sat my senior six exams, more than a decade ago, I remember being asked to discuss the history of the Swahili people and thinking, “how in the world will this information be useful to me”? I’m of the opinion that our students should be tested in their knowledge of their own history. But of course, a curriculum that is agreed by educational experts and historians must be formulated first. And that is the hard part. But moving away from just history, what about our culture? On Monday, this publication ran an article about a group of Japanese volunteers showcasing their culture in the Southern Province. Among the things they showed the awed crowd was Kendo, a form of martial arts. Karate and Kung-fu are popular pastimes here, but did you know that there was Rwandan martial arts called ‘Gucyinga ingabo’? I didn’t. But as soon as I did, I wished that I had had the chance to learn it.  If would have been amazing if there was an ‘Itorero’ camp, run like a North American summer camp, geared towards teenagers in, say Nyanza,  teaching traditional dance, songs, culture when I was younger. I would have certainly loved to have had the opportunity to join it. Because right now, all I am is a member of the Facebook generation, constantly being buffeted by the winds of popular culture. I have almost nothing rooting me in the rolling hills of ‘Urwa Gasabo’. And I know I’m certainly not the only one, it’s a generational issue.  And unless we want to have a bunch of ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ citizens, to paraphrase Franz Fanon, something must be done.


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