A close confidant advised me to give a review of the past year but, seeing that many people have already done so in this paper and elsewhere, I’ll talk about baringa instead!
To those unfamiliar with Rwandan folklore, baringa means a mirage. Of course, translations cannot exactly capture the illustrative significance of a word in its cultural context. So, it is not enough to say baringa means a mirage. As children, we used to dread walking in the dark because of the ‘big dark forms’ in our way. To ‘cure’ us of that fear, elders used to force us to walk to those ‘dark forms’ to show us that they were nothing.
You’d walk to that ‘form’ only to see another one ahead until in the end you dismissed ‘all the forms’ as za baringa. Unfortunately, even as mature Rwandans, we are in the vicious grip of baringa. The other day a gentleman asked me if I had read about “those bombs in that newspaper”. He was referring to stories in what journalists, in their clichéd language, describe as ‘a section of the local media’. Since I am not of that privileged trade, I’ll respect the baringa and not name the paper!
The following day, I brought the ‘section of the local media’ and spread it in front of him and, pointing at the headlines, asked if those were the bombs he was alluding to. He exclaimed: “Hide it! How dare you read that paper?” Not only did my friend fear za baringa of stories but also the baringa of finding out the truth of those stories. Which, unfortunately, inadvertently lends credence to the false claims by reporters that the Rwandan community is gagged. It reminds me of this foreign colleague at my work station. After observing colleagues for some time, he approached me and asked me why every Rwandan talked in whispers. To this day, my answer is only a conjecture. Someone out there may know better, but I think almost all Rwandans are reserved by nature. If you’ve lived outside, you know how people there never used to understand how twelve men could sit around a table sharing a drink without a single one of them raising a voice!
In fact, this led some to suspect us of being what today is called gay, that beautiful word that used to mean ‘happy’ but has been abused and twisted into an unspeakable term. As to the fear of speaking out, even I cannot hazard a guess. It cannot be explained off as a result of any system spreading fear among the people. I’ve heard it on authority that even colonialists observed it and condemned it as Rwandan arrogance. Anyway, in the case of ‘the bombs’, it showed that the gentleman had not read the stories. Otherwise, he’d have seen that the local two-page news rag had no story beyond the headlines. If there was any story, how could it explain how a book by ex-speaker of parliament Joseph Sebarenzi can constitute a bomb, unless we are scared of paper bombs? I must confess I’ve not read the book but, as I have said here before, I’ve read its review and his many interviews. Which is more than the author of ‘those bombs’ has done, because he does not quote a single word in the book that may pose a threat to the leadership in Rwanda.
The writer of the stories prefers to speculate on other likely ‘bombs’ instead. Ex-president Pasteur Bizimungu is here and free to talk. So, instead of imagining a ‘bomb’ that he is likely to release, why don’t you seek him out and coax a story out of him if you are a scribe worth your notebook?
Patrick Karegeya, Valens Kajeguhakwa and others mentioned may be out of the country but they are not out of reach. A seasoned journalist will not fail to somehow access their contacts, even if it means bribing them with the offer of a juicy story advertising them.I have seen the lengths to which journalists go so as to get to the root of a story and I have marvelled. Last evening, I was watching a Kenyan TV channel that was showing highlights of the stories covered in 2009. In the highlights was a story that exposed the problem of drug abuse in the Kenyan coastal area. At the possible cost of his life, the photo-journalist had somehow managed to smuggle himself and his equipment into the house and hide in the roof to film the culprits in action.
When he broke the story to a Kenyan audience used to hearing local politicians’ denials of the existence of the problem, it was a true bomb!
In another highlight, the same journalist travelled to Somalia and inter-mingled with Somalis to see how constant wars affected them. At one time, he barely escaped a bomb explosion. This was in the quest of authenticating the accuracy of his stories. If our scribes are not to be taken as za baringa, they will need to write responsibly.