Mwa ndangamirwa mwe! The Long Walk to Success

14741342454_99d6655b72_bFor the up-coming tenth edition of your cohort, I thought I would tell you a story.

In his book ‘The long walk to freedom’, Nelson Mandela describes the ritual of circumcision in the Xhosa tribe:

‘WHEN I WAS SIXTEEN, the regent decided that it was time that I became a man. In Xhosa tradition, this is achieved through one means only: circumcision…An uncircumcised Xhosa man is a contradiction in terms, for he is not considered a man at all, but a boy… It is not just a surgical procedure, but a lengthy and elaborate ritual in preparation for manhood… I count my years as a man from the date of my circumcision…’

He proceeds: ‘Early in the new year, we journeyed to two grass huts in a secluded valley on the banks of the Mbashe River…

And further: ‘Without a word, he took my foreskin, pulled it forward, and then, in a single motion, brought down his assegai (knife). I felt as if fire was shooting through my veins; the pain was so intense that I buried my chin into my chest… then I called out, “Ndiyindoda!” I am a man now! I did my best to hide my agony. A boy may cry; a man conceals his pain…

Yemwe mwa ndangamirwa mwe. Indangamirwa as you already know, means; ‘The Chosen; The hope of the nation!’ This might sound like it is us your elders and your parents who expect something from you. Do not be mistaken, this is all on you pals, solely on you!

You see, greatness, just like mediocrity in the history of a society aren’t linear, but curvy. When they occur, the awakening can be revolutionary, or evolutionary.

Let me illustrate:

  • What the Rwandan Patriotic Front did, namely the liberation of the country, stopping the Genocide, bringing back all Rwandans home, reuniting the people, stabilizing the country; that was revolutionary. It was a groundbreaking, historical feat!
  • The transformational phase that is happening now; the lengthy process of developing the country, consolidating the unity and stability, can be defined as evolutionary.

In my experience, the available human energy can only accomplish one revolution in a lifetime. The next revolution, if there is ever to be another one in this country, will be operated by you.

By the time your parents retire, the country will be at a vintage point, ripe for another human leap forward; you are going to lead it!

With that, let me pause and tell you a Kinyarwanda proverb, like Chinua Achebe says, ‘proverbs are the palm oil with which words are consumed…’ Here it goes:

Ngo umugabo yari yikoreye ikibindi cy’urwagwa, maze arasitara cyakibindi kiramucika nokugwa hasi kirasandara, rwa rwagwa rurameneka.

  • Naho undi wihitaraga ati: ayiiii, ubonye iyo udahura n’ibyago ngo unsomye ho.
  • Naho wamugabo kumusubiza ati: Oya, wowe rwose n’iyo rutameneka ntacyo nari kuguha!

Sinjye wahera…

So, to come back to my story, I too can only say that you will succeed; it costs me nothing after all. It doesn’t mean you will – I am no a psychic

I have always been hard on you, but it wasn’t because I don’t love or value y’all. I hear in Ingando they go easy on you, pamper you, etc., but that’s your parents and they’re softening up for you; I am not, I am your big brother.

Ask your parents how they were treated in their cadreship trainings; apparently, if they knew you had a weak spot, your seniors and comrades would keep poking it until you couldn’t fill anything. You had to develop a thick skin on your weak spot. In the cadreship too, they didn’t tolerate one capital vice: ‘Cheap popularity’

I knew you had some oversized ego, surfed on your parents’ achievements while you, yourselves hadn’t achieved anything – so I went straight for your ego, told you you were nothing; a bunch of second class citizens in the West, etc.

You responded as expected, with outrage! So every now and then I poke on that ego again just to see, and as expected, you provide everyone here with much entertainment.

I stand by my statement that you haven’t achieved anything worth celebrating, that your parents’ accomplishments aren’t yours; that you are consumers – rather than producers, that work is waiting for you here, etc.

But I also know that you are ‘Indangamirwa’; that you are fully aware that the title comes with responsibility. We have a saying round here; ‘imihigo irakomeye, ariko iracya komeza’.

There is no reason you may fail. You are not anybody; you are being trained and equipped; being armed with everything that it takes to succeed. Whether I or anyone else has esteem for you or look down upon you is irrelevant, after all, who are we? Agaciro urakiha. Your self-worth will be proven by your deeds, not by other people’s praises.

Do not worry though, when the time comes, you will find everything you need to address all Rwandan problems that you will face. It is all here. You are the luckiest generation there is; when you finally take power in this country, you won’t have to figure out anything; there will be a manual on how to unite people; a manual on how to share power, a manual on how to share resources and ensure universal social mobility; a manual on how to behave on the international scene; basically a manual on every prerequisite for a country to thrive. The foundation is being laid and you will be standing on the shoulders of giants.

Your role, at the very least, will be to process current affairs, and at most, to innovate ways in which you can conquer the world. However, please, please don’t muck it all up all over again, – mind you, that manual too, is available and it is being taught to your age mates, just across the borders.

Mandela proceeds: “The main speaker of the day was Chief Meligqili, the son of Dalindyebo, He began:

‘There sit our sons,’ he said, ‘young, healthy, and handsome, the flower of the Xhosa tribe, the pride of our nation. We have just circumcised them in a ritual that promises them manhood, but I am here to tell you that it is an empty, illusory promise, a promise than can never be fulfilled. For we Xhosas, and all black South Africans, are a conquered people. We are slaves in our own country. We are tenants on our own soil. We have no strength, no power, no control over our own destiny in the land of our birth. They will go to cities where they will live in shacks and drink cheap alcohol all because we have no land to give them where they could prosper and multiply. They will cough their lungs out deep in the bowels of the white man’s mines, destroying their health, never seeing the sun, so that the white man can live a life of unequaled prosperity. Among these young men are chiefs who will never rule because we have no power to govern ourselves; soldiers who will never fight for we have no weapons to fight with; scholars who will never teach because we have no place for them to study. The abilities, the intelligence, the promise of these young men will be squandered in their attempt to eke out a living doing the simplest, most mindless chores for the white man. These gifts today are naught, for we cannot give them the greatest gift of all, which is freedom and independence.

It is such a fantastic book, but I read it only at 31 years old, when it was offered to each one of us by the University of Pretoria, on the day of our Master’s graduation. I should have read it sooner, which is why I offer it to all of you on this link: https://zelalemkibret.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/the-autobiography-of-nelson-mandela.pdf

Everything you read in that book is a clear lesson. Rwanda is still a poor country; a very poor country. In many ways, our condition isn’t far off that of the little Xhosa tribe in Qunu village; never forget that.

What put us in this position isn’t others, it is ourselves; what will get us out of this situation too, isn’t others, but ourselves. The good news is, the last 23 years demonstrate that we can do it. Every year that passes leaves us better off that the previous one, and although the journey is still long, we have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel…

Guess what? there is a manual for that too. When Singapore gained independence in 1965, their challenges were much similar to ours today: more than 10 percent unemployment, ethnic-racial-religious riots between Chinese and Malay Singaporeans; hostile neighboring countries including Malaysia that threatened to cut off the much needed water supply, endemic poverty, etc. Chances for it becoming one of the richest nations in the world were slim to null.

Today, Singapore is home to over 10,000 multinational corporations, with a Per Capita GDP (The purchasing power per person) of around US$ 50,000 a year; the highest in the world, far above the United States and even Japan and South Korea. There is little to non-existent corruption, 90% of families own their homes, and so on; Yet, Singapore has no natural resources, nor ‘democracy’ in the western sense of the word – the two scarcities, potentially its utmost serendipity…

All this is documented in another book, probably more important than ‘Long Walk to Freedom’. The book is Lee Kwan Yew’s memoirs: ‘From Third Word to First’. I found no link for a free copy, but it is 15$ on Amazon, please read it!

While Singapore offers an ultimate learning destination for all of us, the country itself systematically adopts best practices around the world; hence your presence in schools overseas.

But remember, you are not the first Africans to be educated overseas. Those who preceded you, utilized the acquired education to rob us even further.

As a result, we Africans have been left behind by every other nation with which we had been at the same level, just a generation ago. To the point where other peoples of this world started wondering whether there isn’t, after all, something inherently wrong with us.

Singaporeans refused that! One of Lee Kwan Yew’s famous quotes was: ‘I wanted Singapore to be a developed nation in the shortest time possible’; while his aide Dr. Goh Keng Swee, the architect of Singapore’s economic strategy once wrote: ‘We must strive continuously to achieve economic growth. We should not be distracted by other goals’.

Mwa Ndangamirwa mwe: There is no more imminent goal than lifting Rwandans out of poverty; it is the single most important thing; everything else is secondary.

And if any western expert expresses concern to you, answer like Mr. Kwan Yew did: Do not worry about Singapore. My colleagues and I are sane, rational people even in our moments of anguish. We will weigh all possible consequences before we make any move on the political chessboard’

As you can see today, do not fear the competition from others; open your doors to the region and the world, harness the talents of those who come your way; their presence will allow you to locate your cracks and seal them; make them fill at home and they will give you their best.

So my parting shot to you, the one political lesson I learned from Nelson Mandela, Lee Kwan Yew and Paul Kagame is: Discipline is the healthiest, most sustainable way to enjoy freedom.

Singapore had two major advantages: Access to the Sea and a brilliant foresighted leader in Mr. Lee Kwan Yew.

We, Rwandans have two major advantage of our own: 1. We are an organized, polyglot country, at the confluence point between the north and the South, the East and the West of Africa, and 2. A brilliant, foresighted leader in Mr. Paul Kagame.

While this region and the world in general are now full of populist leaders, Mr. Kagame, like Mr. Kwan Yew before him, typically eschews populist policies in favor of pragmatic long-term social and economic measures. This is what the RPF meant by precluding ‘cheap popularity’; what you youngsters call: ‘swag, bling, ball, hit and party’, etc.

When he stepped down on 28 November 1990, Late Mr. Lee Kwan Yew left the country in good and prosperous conditions, so did Late Mr. Nelson Mandela when he stepped down on the 14 June 1999.

While they had accomplished their duty, their successors decided on the direction their respective countries would take.

The day it celebrates 50 years of existence, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) can be like the People’s Action Party (PAP) of Singapore; a glorious party, which has led the entirety of its people to the heights of mankind, or it can be like the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, a rotten party, shadow of itself, which has robed its people of their hard-earned freedom.

In one of her latest songs ‘Ubutumwa’, Cecile Kayirebwa cautions us: ‘Muramenye ntimuzabe imbwa, umugambi n’umwe: urukundo rw’uRwanda, no kuzahora mwibuka…’

But you give me hope. For instance last week I was really impressed by one of you;

  • She announced to me that she was done with medical school, in one of the best schools in Europe, and was coming home;
  • I asked if she wanted me to introduce her to any doctor friends I know;
  • No, she answered; ‘I will go to the ministry of health and be assigned to any hospital that needs a doctor. I do not want to work for private hospitals, I want public ones, urban or rural; and for that I must report to the ministry of health.’

I was left without words. It’s amazing, I keep meeting many of you; youngsters with a drive and passion for this country. Every time I do, I can’t help but hear that Sam Cooke’s timeless song going through my mind: ‘It’s been a long, long time coming, by I know, change is gonna come…’

Until next time, I wish all the best, yemwe mwa Ndangamirwa mwe!

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