As we celebrate Good Friday, let us not forget that sixteen years ago today our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons lay under siege waiting for the axe hanging over their heads to fall. And, as sure as day follows night, the axe fell within six days and, for the next agonising 90 days, this fair land was awash with blood.
In these civilised times, human beings were hewn down on every centimetre of these hills and valleys. And people were watching in what in today’s technologically advanced lingo they call ‘real-time’. People were watching it live, as we do, football. Of course, those who were concerned and did not avert their eyes in utter disgust or, simply, in lenitive lassitude.
Individuals in this global community who had the time watched as children were pounded in mortars, women were raped and logs inserted into their genitalia after, men were machete-cut en masse, old women and men were buried alive. Yet, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the litany of other cynics say the law against genocide ideology is a repression tool!
It galls your inside. They were watching and, as Martin Kimathi and Vincent Browne say, so was Cardinal Joseph Alois Ratzinger, currently totting the papal title of Pope Benedict XVI. Defenceless Rwandans who had been persecuted and abused for more than 90 years were put to the most horrendous death in churches and everywhere in the country as everybody watched.
In the first place, these Rwandans had borne the brunt of paedophilia from white missionaries since the arrival of the latter on the Rwandan soil. As if that was not enough, a section of them saw themselves being burgeoned and grenade-bombed out of existence in literally all the churches. Pray, who deserves apology more urgently and more earnestly?
From the early 1900s when colonialists were subjecting Rwandans to hard labour and using every means in the ethnic-division book, where were these human rights activists? When in 1959 the colonialists ganged up with late Grégoire Kayibanda to murder and maim, burn and banish, where were they?
And when late Juvenal Habyarimana took up the tempo and led Rwandans into genocide of their fellow Rwandans? Paradoxical, it may sound, but that is the enigma that Rwanda is. In any case, what is more paradoxical than saying the government is “Tutsi-dominated” when the supposedly “ethnic group” referred to is not the majority in any area of leadership? Next, it will be “Nyarwanda-dominated”!
Did any of these vocal court jesters of today raise a finger? Nary a one. As Rwandans say, amarira y’umugabo atemba ajya mu nda. Literally, “the tears of a man flow into the inside”. In reality, it means that the sorrow of a gentleman does not show; it is felt but not betrayed. Rwandans have friends galore and cherish them, let them ignore these pursuers of no cause.
Even with that past, however, Rwandans know that they will define history, but will not be defined by it. It is on that premise that they are building hope. And I was witness to one of the manifestations of that hope last week on 25th March 2010. On that day, the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) held its 8th graduation ceremony.
KIST sits on a sprawling hill of manicured plants and flowers that are interspersed with paved roads and paths. These lead to four 6-storeyed structures and separate administration blocks, a guest building for visiting lecturers and a number of workshops. The campus is home to 2,963 students but also accepts part-time students. The students are taught by close to 400 lecturers.
A university like any other, you may say, but only if unfamiliar with the recent history of this country. In July 1994, the KIST hill was dotted with hut-like dwellings that formed what had been a fortified military barracks but was now deserted. The hill was enveloped in a chocking stench of rotten genocide corpses. Bullet holes marked where 10 Belgian soldiers were executed.
In 1997, the Ministry of Defence, under then Vice-President and Minister of Defence Paul Kagame, decided it needed brain-machines rather than death-machines and gave up the land. From there, the government of Rwanda mobilised funds and set up KIST, with an initial intake of 209 students. It was the first public technological institute of higher learning in Rwanda.
Put this against the background of a country in 1994 that counted an enrolment of a mere 942,729 pupils for primary education, 50,100 for secondary and 3,518 students for higher education. Today, a year sees over 2,216,378 graduates of primary education, over 436,915 of secondary and over 45,128 of higher education.
16 years hence, KIST is one of a growing number of internationally renowned and regionally engaged universities in this country that deceptively presents herself as the land of a thousand hills.
In truth, the hills of this country are so many as to be uncountable. So are her lives. When everybody thought she was dead and gone, up she came and here she is.
Not only here, but here as an exemplar of clean governance and knowledge-based growth.