19 December 2012

Rwanda: It Is Time for the RPF to Become Story Tellers

Photo: T. Kisambira
Rwandan President Paul Kagame (file photo).


I honestly cannot believe that we will be celebrating RPF-Inkotanyi's Silver Jubilee tomorrow. I mean, I feel like it was only yesterday that I joined other members of the Rwandan refugee community in Toronto on October 1, to eat African food, dance and throw in a few measly dollars for the war effort; an effort I really didn't understand.

I only knew that my uncles were fighting a war and they needed some money for clothing and medicine. I remember telling my father that I wanted the few dollars I donated to be used to buy bullets and guns, instead of medicine.

Thousand of us, young and old, made our nation's liberation possible. At the forefront of this liberation, and the nation's subsequent development, are the people I called the 'Refugee Generation'.

These men and women were at the vanguard of the movement in 1987, and they are still leading the way even today. But what was it about their shared experiences that made them such a powerful generation? Was it the poverty? The deprivation? The shame?

I know that all the offspring of the Refugee Generation have heard tales of their parents having to walk miles to school barefoot and having to work in the farms of the natives to feed their families back in the camps.

A relative of mine, whenever he meets me, jokes that the only reason he isn't taller is because of the heavy loads he had to carry on head stunted his growth. However, while the 'loads' stunted their physical growth, it also gave them a steely resolve to improve their lots in life.

They excelled in school, joined the workforce, and when things became tough in the wintery conditions of the mountains, their earlier experiences instilled in them the ability to persevere.

I can only imagine that our leaders' experiences in the camps, mountains, in the jungles of the Congo formed their character, and their outlook on life. It is my belief that only people who'd suffered as much as they suffered could make the hard choices they'd made.

Choices that are being validated by Rwanda's and Rwandans place in the world. Which brings me to the crux of the issue I'd like to discuss.

The RPF of the last 25 years was borne out of the harsh realities of refugee life. The RPF of the next 25 years will be composed of Rwandans who've, hopefully, not seen the harshness of the Nyakivale and Kyaka II refugee camps.

The question I've been pondering the last couple of days is, will Rwanda be able to continue to move forward at such a breakneck speed with a new generation at the helm? Have we (I add myself to this generation) 'suffered' enough? Do we have the fire in our bellies? And if we don't, will our parents and mentors pass on their own passion, and their life lessons, to us?

Young Americans can, with either a library card or Google, get thousands of books, images, film and other documents recounting the Civil Rights movement.

They watch movies like Born on the Fourth of July and Apocalypse Now to see just how the Vietnam War affected the soldiers that fought in it.

Do we have such resources here? Nope. In fact, I've found out that attempting to prying any kind of detailed information from my 'Afande' uncles about what they saw in Rwanda and their other theatres of combat, was an exercise in futility. And that is very unfortunate.

What I suggest is something that is 'un-Rwandan' in some people's eyes. I urge everyone who can share their experiences to do so. It isn't about 'showing off' or attempting to 'take credit where it's not due'. It's about giving the next generation of leaders the historical context and foundation needed to make the right decisions, even when you are gone.

In my opinion, the RPF story did not start in 1994. Nor did it begin in 1987. It began in 1959 in the camps. That story must be told to the next generation of RPF and the country. For if we cannot remember our past, we will not be able to navigate the waters of our future.

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