The New Times (Kigali)

8 February 2013

Rwanda: True, Africans Need to Own and Tell Their Story

opinion

Things might be starting to look up for this English daily, The New Times. There was a time you saw it only to throw a hasty glance at the headlines and that was it. Then you'd turn to other newspapers from the region or far afield in which you could find a variety of insightful stories and opinions. Today, that seems to be changing, at least tentatively. A number of people, junior and senior, are coming up to freely give opinions - and react on them. I even espied an incidence of lively debate but, alas, it seems to have shied back.

But, still, are these the seeds of a vibrant culture of reading, writing, debating, name it, in this country? If this culture grows in the English language, it'll enhance, rather than diminish, the multiplicity of verbal expression in newspapers in other languages, notably Kinyarwanda and French. Soon, hopefully, Rwandans will embrace the written word, rather than shun it. But, whatever they tell, by hand or by mouth, let it be their story. It'll not be a story unless they own it.

As Africans, you tell your story by building and consolidating yourselves. It means having what to express.

Acquiring outside spinners (for they are just that) for one, as one senior come-lately said in this space, rather than the boon that many have taken it to be, has been the bane for many an African nation. It has been a bane because outsiders have spun a story that they own.

On one level, some Africans are content to hear news of what's happening in their countries from these outsiders. They do not consider why they are receiving and not giving that news. Worse, they have begged and even paid outsiders to come and report on news of what's happening in their countries.

On another level, some Africans have welcomed outsiders to come and make that news for them. They have come to expect that only those outsiders can end their wars, build their peace, make them grow. They are content to see these outsiders feed their people, pay their children's education, care for their sick, pay civil servants' salaries, build their roads et al.

Some Africans have allowed outsiders to own their story and tell it the way they want. They cannot dare tell a story that they do not own.

Talking of not daring, François Mitterand (RIP), 4th president of the Fifth Republic of France, must be gnashing his restful teeth. To see his junior (François Hollande, 8th president) standing on the pedestal of Africa, in the proudly historic town of Timbuktu, to proclaim his heroic rescue of Africans from their enemies who happen to be their compatriots. To see them take cover and not dare throw a challenge, that's a dream he'd have died (pun unintended!) to fulfil.

What triumph, to see cheering Africans come out in force, their teeth out to the last molar and French flags aloft in their hands! That's the ultimate joy of any French president, a jewel in any French presidential crown.

Mali, a country that was split in two by its nationals, those in the north bearing down on those in the south, now being made whole again. If this peace the French are pursuing for Malians is realised and it endures, Hollande will be celebrated by the French for generations to come.

As Africans, we can only hope that Malians of future generations will not share in that celebration. But then again, who are we to begrudge a man his luck of being beseeched to be crowned hero?

It's a luck Mitterand missed by a whisker - or was it a whisker?

When Rwandans in RPF bore down from the north on Habyarimana for his divisive approach to government, he ran to Mitterand for rescue. The latter organised a few troops from his army and larger contingents of support troops from all the Francophone African countries to wipe them out. But RPF held forte and even gave them a few bruised noses.

Before three years were out, these stubborn RPF rebels had stopped a genocide that he'd helped organise and were threatening to take over the government. Even after putting Habyarimana to death for his softening stance and organising a more hardliner government, Mitterand got nothing for his pains. It was time to mount the mother of all attacks, a 'mother' that even Hitler did not see when he took over the central French region of Vichy, that 71 years ago!

Mitterand got the UN Security Council to okay what he disguised as a humanitarian mission, Opération Turquoise, and deployed it to Rwanda. In truth, it was a formidable crack force that came to bolster the beleaguered army of what remained of the then government and its contingent of Interahamwe militia. But it, too, came to naught. The UN Security Council, having been watching all this, was aware of all this of course.

Maybe they thought Rwanda was of no consequence. However, Nature herself seems to have sneered at their inaction when She deployed a consuming prostatic gnat to gnaw at the vital organs of their consanguinity, 4th boss of the Fifth Republic of France. We may go the same way, but what the heck? It'll not be with blood on our hands.

Africans, beware the wrath of Nature if you don't own and tell your story!

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