The New Times (Kigali)

1 January 2013

Rwanda: What Does 2013 Hold for Rwanda?

opinion

The year 2013 is now here. As always happens, some will sigh with relief that 2012 is gone. Others will look back on it with nostalgia, wishing it had lasted a little longer. For many more, time will pass regardless of our wishes or expectations, or what we get in its passage, so, what's the fuss? Still, we all welcome the New Year hoping it will bring better fortune than the last, but knowing it probably won't.

In our case in Rwanda, 2012 was event-filled - with the good and the bad - and left us quite breathless. This year will no doubt have the same mix of things. The good we don't much bother about. They will make us feel good. We can handle that. The bad, too, we have come to expect and can handle as well. The experience of our post-colonial history has prepared us for this. That's not to say, of course, that we relish having to untangle all the traps that will be laid on our path.

And so, back to 2012, and the good things first. It was a year of jubilee celebrations - three to be exact. Where did you get the third from? The two we know, but another one... Patience, I will tell you anon.

It was the Platinum Jubilee of a charming old lady on the throne of the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II is also the head of the Commonwealth. And just in case you might have forgotten, Rwanda is a member of the Commonwealth.

Her Jubilee was celebrated with much fanfare in the UK and other parts of the Commonwealth. The Brits loved it. For them, it couldn't have come at a better time. It offered them welcome relief from the economic hard times they were going through.

Many Rwandans didn't know about this jubilee and probably wouldn't have cared much anyway. For some, the very idea of monarchy is anathema. Others are such arch republicans that kingship and associated rituals and ceremonies have been expunged from their world-view.

But there is a small band of admirers of such institutions and another group who look on them with amused curiosity who did notice and followed the celebrations, and actually enjoyed what they saw. Of course, our leaders and diplomats knew about the jubilee and sent the appropriate congratulatory messages.

The Brits love their queen, unfortunately so do pranksters. Pranks of all sorts periodically pull off some daring stunts, although some end up in tragedy like the most recent one. Through it all, the Queen remains calm and unruffled. I wonder whether behind that regal demeanour lies hot temper or other strong passion.

Rwandans did care for the second jubilee because it was directly their own. It was the Golden Jubilee of independence that fell on July First. Unlike the Brits, we celebrate in much sober fashion - with no pomp or pageantry. Ours is businesslike and Spartan. It is not because we are such a mean and misery lot. Rather, it is a signal that we cannot rest on our laurels, that we still have much to do before we are so satisfied as to warrant lavish ceremonies.

There are other reasons for not being too excited about fifty years of independence. You cannot celebrate lost time and wasted opportunities. You can mourn and wallow in self-pity. But that, too, is not the Rwandan way - which is to pick oneself up and move on.

The Golden Jubilee of independence was nonetheless an important event that had to be marked. It offered a springboard for the journey to the next jubilee. It was a useful learning experience about how to spend time meaningfully. Rwandans have learnt the lesson, which is why they are in a hurry to get to where others reached a long time ago.

One can almost see that the next independence jubilee will be different. It will be a real celebration of achievements, not simply a mark of the passage of time or a moment to rue missed chances.

The third anniversary - the Silver Jubilee of the founding of the Rwandese Patriotic Front - was marked less than two weeks ago. This was a jubilee of great achievements. But again the celebrations were very practical - no frills, no blowing of trumpets, no chest thumping. In any case, that is not necessary as there are people who will do that for you - unintentionally.

Rwanda haters and bashers, those who allow their twisted emotions to blind them to reality and would rather it didn't exist, actually illuminate it and make it more visible.

The achievements of Rwandans in the last twenty-five years are solid and visible. Hatred, however strong; treachery, however despicable and wilful blindness, however total cannot wash them away.

I have run out of space to recount the bad things - the sustained savage attacks on Rwanda and Rwandans. The bad often comes with the good, though. The attacks were always followed by sweet victories. About that another time.

And so we begin another year and a new cycle leading to more jubilees. When the next jubilee comes around (for those who will still be here), there will be no lament about lost time, no excuses about things not done, no reason for the present (then) and the future not being what you really want to celebrate.

Happy New Year!

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