On Monday I felt like huge sense of loss. Not only because it was a time to remember and reflect on those we had so cruelly lost, like my maternal grandmother who was killed in Butare, but also because I was far, far away from my community. Over here in Beijing, no one understood why I was sad, why I didn’t go to class (instead spending the day oscillating between Radio Rwanda and Rwanda Television depending on the Internet speeds) and why I simply couldn’t remove the veil of sorrow that enveloped me. And even if I had told someone why I was so down in the dumps, they still wouldn’t have been able to understand the depths of my despair. I was in mourning and for the first time in more than a decade, I was not home. I was not surrounded by a community that felt my pain. I was not able to hug someone who felt more pain than I. I felt lost.
But as I watched/listened to the commemoration ceremonies, I felt my heart lighten and the dark depression that surrounded me lift. The cries that rang out throughout the ceremony made my heart sick but the strong testimonies reinforced it. The President’s speech was a salve. It was a strong, heartfelt piece of oratory that spoke a language that my soul understood. I went from despair, to hope, from anger to resolve. The part that spoke to me the most was when he said “We ask that you engage Rwanda and Africa with an open mind, accepting that our efforts are carried out in good faith for the benefit of all of us”. No truer words have been spoken.
As a columnist for more than half a decade, I’ve spent countless hours reading books, reports and articles (and responding to them) that have been unfair, unwarranted and simply too harsh. As the president said, Rwanda could have ended up either being a permanent UN protectorate, a nation split or suffering from round upon round of tit for tat civil war. However it didn’t. The problem is, those pointing fingers have taken what we’ve all sacrificed for and built for granted. They nitpick, they complain, they want things to be better, faster. And that is okay. We all know that we don’t live in a veritable Garden of Eden. We know that we have a lot of progress to make. However, we progress at a rate that we choose due to our special circumstances.
Yes. ‘Special circumstances’. I am loathe to pull out the genocide ‘card’ BUT that is the prism in which we operate. I had a conversation a month or so back with an American friend of mine. We were talking about critical thinking, politics, the youth and education in Rwanda. While she tried her best to understand the situation, it was evident to me that she couldn’t simply grasp the situation. And honestly, I respected that because she understood that while she wanted things to become better, she understood that it would be a process that Rwandans were comfortable with. Because only they could understand where they came from.
Lets look at the things that critics complain about. A ‘censored’ press, no ‘opposition’, ‘authoritarian’ leadership, ‘forced’ reconciliation and a ‘militaristic’ foreign policy. But there is little discussion why Rwanda had been forced to censor the press, why opposition politics works the way it does, why strong leadership is needed and why our foreign policy is so militant.
These critics refuse to think that these various policies and governance decisions are in good faith. They refuse to believe that we are fighting for the very life of the Rwandan nation. They refuse to believe that while they seem draconian, they are simply part of the rebuilding process. A rebuilding process that will take generations; we cannot snap our fingers and fix everything. But we are trying so hard. Give us a break.