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“Who the hell is this ‘muzungu’?”

By June 20, 2011June 7th, 2023No Comments

I must apologise to you, esteemed readers, for that racist utterance, but I beg you to note that I am quoting somebody. Ordinarily, the mention of ‘umuzungu’ would not have caught my attention, knowing the way it is used playfully, and harmlessly, by Rwandan children at the sight of a person who is not black like them.

To them, all are ‘abazungu’ who are not black: be they British, Indian, French, Chinese, Canadian, Peruvian, Spaniard or American!

In making that utterance, I am quoting Mr. Gary Dimmock, an editor for a respected Canadian newspaper, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’, who was based here in Kigali some time ago, “as a visiting editor/reporter at ‘Newsline’, Rwanda’s only independent newspaper,” to quote him again on his web-blog. He was wondering as to what Rwandans would make of him, upon reading his wild assertions.

Luckily, his contract with ‘Newsline’ expired before he could do too much damage to our budding journalism, which is what he was doing instead of doing the job that brought him, which was helping in building capacity. Still, by the time he left, Dimmock had succeeded in inflicting great harm to the image of our country and the capacity of our journalism by lending credence to abusive, gossip tabloids that are allowed to regularly churn out gloom-predicting messages in the name of media freedom.

Government needs to urgently institute media laws that impose stiff penalties on false reports whose sole aim is to abuse our leaders and ridicule our efforts at self-reinvigoration. Our collective honour as Rwandans must be recognised and, capacity or no capacity, we must shun racist chauvinism in our effort to find partners who can work with us to build our country.

We know of course that locally no one takes him seriously, because we know that, for a man who left his respected newspaper in Canada to come and help in the capacity building of our local journalism industry, Dimmock only succeeds in embarrassing the good countrymen and women of Canada. Apart from posting blatant lies on his blog about the state of the press in Rwanda, the man’s write-ups are laced with such raw racism as would embarrass a 19th century slave owner!

What cheek can lead a man to say that he could stand up for Brian Mulroney, Stephen Harper, Pierre Trudeau, all Canadian prime ministers at different times, but found it hard affording the Rwandan president equal respect? Would you expect such bizarre pronouncements from a respected reporter of good, Canadian upbringing?

That we could afford to host Dimmock in our country for as long as we did shows how superior we are in social etiquette, but maybe we should rethink our hospitality lest we are taken for fools, to be abused at will! Moreover, his being here has been of ‘no-added-value’ to us, just as it has been of ‘no-added-value’ to him.

He leaves Rwanda without knowing the difference between street children and newspaper vendors, and unaware of the way the newspaper vendors in Africa aggressively hawk their newspapers to passing pedestrians and motorists. Having met no Rwandan journalist, he takes back to Canada only a souvenir of one street swashbuckler in the names of Charles Kabonero!

However, so much for the ‘departed’ Canadian. … Another self-confessed “aspiring political scientist and Afro-optimist” to define Rwanda for us, after a three-week long stay in the country, is the American Jennifer Brea of the ‘Afrobeat’ web-blog.

Sure, Ms Brea acknowledges the facts: Rwanda has crafted a concrete vision and is pursuing it; has set hard targets for reducing poverty and increasing literacy; is determined to be a hi-tech service hub and is unequivocally enthusiastic about her future.

She acknowledges also that in many other countries, leaders don’t lead: “they use their office to rape their country, enrich themselves and their cronies and hold on to power at all costs for as long as possible”.

She wouldn’t be an “Afro-optimist”, however, if she did not find fault with Rwanda! And this she does in what she terms Rwanda’s “follower culture”. Anyone would have expected an “aspiring political scientist” to find context in contrasting the Rwanda of the years before 1994 and that of today, which has seen 13 years of concerted effort in encouraging Rwandans to assert themselves.

From 1994, the leadership in Rwanda has spared no effort in working to remove that “follower culture”, knowing that it was mainly to blame for the genocide that decimated in excess of 1 million innocent lives. To find out these, of course, one needs not only extensive investigation, which a mere three weeks can hardly permit, but also an open mind.

In removing the Hutu-Tutsi-Twa compartmentalisation of Rwandans, for instance, the leadership sought to make Rwandans question the then popular dogma that they could not enjoy equal rights. The leadership in Rwanda has since been at the forefront of showing Rwandans that their rights are sacrosanct, and that they (Rwandans) have no one to thank for them.

To take advantage of these rights, Rwandans need to be aware of them and to know that no one has the right to deny them to them. In Rwanda, this has meant a massive drive to provide education (primary, secondary and tertiary) to all, in a country where a section of the population was not allowed such ‘luxury’.

The setting up and strengthening of institutions has meant that decision-making is not centred on individuals, and protection of peoples’ rights has been institutionalised. Especially, decentralisation of administration has disengaged the power from the top and vested it in the hands of the masses, so that people serve their interests and not those of the powers that be.

When people are thus empowered, no one single person will have the power to exploit any “follower culture” to mobilise them to commit the atrocities that Ms Brea is alluding to. Ms Jennifer Brea is aware of the positive deeds effected by the Rwandan leadership and says them but, unfortunately, she turns around and has to apologize to an aid worker for not saying anything negative!

So, she asserts, the Rwandan leadership governs well but the country is not democratic. Yet, Ms Brea herself candidly admits that democracy is not a “one-size-fits-all solution”. She definitely knows that she cannot contest the fact that Rwanda is on top when it comes to giving a voice to the voiceless and the vulnerable. From that premise alone, Rwandans have reason to see a bright future where gloom is predicted.

Rwandans can question and criticise when there is need, and to say they cannot have democracy because they “have no experience or concept of it” is to wallow in the kind of racism that Gary Dimmock spews on his blog pages. Interestingly, it goes against the grain of what Jennifer says a few lines after: that “societies have a way of developing or selecting political systems that work for them…”

So, if you know that, why do you come with preconceived yardsticks against which to measure the Rwandan democracy? Why don’t you sit down and take notes, like a good student, so that in the end you can see what the people have “developed and selected”?

And for Brea’s information, the “One Rwanda” song is neither a rhetoric nor a policy: it is a fact. When President Paul Kagame talks about Rwandans being one, he is articulating a fact that every Rwandan knew but was not allowed to appreciate until the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) came on the scene.

It is in this context that Rwandans of all shades are burying their past (of course, not without drawing lessons from it), and taking up the gauntlet to acquire and fortify the necessary skills to build their country and haul it out of the shame of division and poverty. To talk of a Rwandan dominating another is to reduce Rwandans to nincompoops who take pleasure in cutting the branch that they are sitting on!

And so I say: who the hell are these ‘Bazungu’? Why don’t these Western free dispensers of negative advice leave Rwanda alone and take their advice to countries that need it? There are many sick nations, and not only in Africa.

Even then, they might need William Easterly’s wise counsel: “In truth, Africans are and will be escaping poverty (and strife) the same way everybody else did: through the efforts of resourceful entrepreneurs, democratic reformers and ordinary citizens at home, not through PR extravaganzas (and advice) of ill-informed outsiders.”

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