Last Saturday I was in Nyamata, thirty five kilometres south of Kigali. The last time I’d stopped over was in early 1995. Then the ‘town’ was a deserted strip of mud heaps flanking a dust road, with all the mud buildings lying in rubble and the whole area enveloped in a putrid stench of rotting corpses.
Nyamata that time represented the height of demonic excesses as demonstrated in its Catholic church. There lay the rotting body of a woman who had been roundly gang-raped by Interahamwe in the 1994 genocide. They had first tied her legs to her neck so as to facilitate their macabre preoccupation.
In an act only imaginable in the mind of a crazed fiend, the Interahamwe pushed a jagged piece of wood into her, after raping her. After all that, they half-severed her neck and that of the baby she was holding and then left that whole ghastly sight at the altar of the church. That was then. Today, Nyamata flanks a tarmac road, and concrete buildings are springing up in what looks set to be a bustling city. It was in this budding city last Saturday that I picked my way into ‘Gacaca’, a busy eatery whose animated buzz of conversation contradicts the purpose of its muted namesake, the Gacaca court system that has been arbitrating genocide cases.
At the counter as I entered, a smartly dressed man scooped up a crippled man and carefully placed him on a stool at the counter. Then the cripple was handed a bottle of Primus beer, which he proceeded to poor into two glasses. The disabled man dressed in dirty rags handed one glass to the smart man and took the other, and the two drank up, as old buddies. I was intrigued and sought out the proprietor of the eatery in the spacious backroom. Yes, he knew them because, like him, they are natives of Bugesera, the area around Nyamata. Bahinyuza, the handicapped man, used to work for an establishment for the disabled in Nyamata, before the 1994 genocide, while Englebert, the smart man, used to work for the ministry of finance in Kigali.
Bahinyuza was protected by Interahamwe/ex-FAR for later display as what a Mututsi looked like – nothing much to be missed. That explained why he does not accept alms and why Englebert’s smart clothes are shiny, betraying the fact that they have seen better days. Englebert is also a survivor of the 1994 genocide. The proprietor himself is a former employee of a state corporation in a North-American country, where he was a refugee. Three men who have been brought back together in a re-assemblage of their destiny.
In the backroom, the lanky proprietor was in conversation with a stocky man with the mild manners of an English gentleman, and a midgety man who displayed the expansive manners of East African mountains, salivary jokes and all. It turned out that the three had been together in secondary school in Uganda, before parting ways. Again, a trinity of men whose destiny has brought them back together. In their company were three ladies. One had lived in Central Africa, the other in East Africa while the third had lived first in East Africa, and then Central Africa and seemed to have brought the two so that together they can form a trinity of their own.
Looking at these trinities and the rest of the whole congregation in the eatery and their happy conversations, you couldn’t tell that these people form part of a community that was torn to shreds in 1994 by that very idea of their trinity.
Indeed, that Gacaca eatery to me represented a microcosmic symbol of Rwanda the country, now busy in the transformational re-assemblage of her destiny.
After consolidating their trinity of Bahutu, Batwa and Batutsi, Rwandans are now going out to join other trinities and, in the process, expanding them into ‘multi-nities’. In that regard, Rwanda has joined the formerly East African trinity of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, which has subsequently become a group of five. In the same vein, Rwandans have gone beyond that to join the formerly English-speaking trinity of Great Britain, Canada and the Australias, now grown into a group of 54. Even then, the country still has her feet firmly fixed in the central African trinity of D.R. Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.
I couldn’t help thinking of Rwanda the country as a melting pot, igisafuriya, wherein all humanity is welcome and the ills of the Rwandan community are being hot-cleansed: petty rivalries, ethnic chauvinist feelings, parochial selfish considerations, genocide ideology, greed, injustice, name it.
When that truly international airport near Nyamata is completed, Rwanda should be able to open up more and exploit her potential, expose her human and material resources to the world and properly engage in mutual exchange and gain.
And when all the fibre-optic connections are completed and Rwanda is hooked to the latest technological advances of, say, Silicon Valley, USA, and Bangalore, India, that whole gatogo (mélange) should be placed on the global, flat-world platform for world appreciation.
To reach there and properly energise their trinity, however, Rwandans must empower their youth with appropriate education.