The year is 1998, the first intake of high school students graduate from Lycee de Kigali and Kigali International Academy. Those are the two most notorious schools in Kigali; Many students are either related to high ranked soldiers, or they are former ‘Kadogo’ – child soldiers themselves, sent back to school immediately after the war. They have organized at least one strike already at each of the schools and headmasters fear them.
They all come from Uganda and walk around with a permanent arrogant demeanor: If the war was won by Rwandans from all over the world, ‘their people’ (from Uganda) were the pioneers and now occupy the highest positions in the Army.
They’ve just graduated with ‘Merci Kagame’ – allegedly lenient diplomas given wholesale to the first intake of Rwandan returnees, to facilitate them in accessing university, in order to build some critical mass of future cadres. Sadly I am in junior high school at Lycee de Kigali and I don’t get to say Merci Kagame…
They reach the University and there is language prep-year for all: it is famously called EPLM: Ecole Pratique de Langue Moderne: (Practical school for modern languages). The concept: if you are Francophone, you spend a year of English; if you are Anglophone, you learn French for a year.
The Francophone have had the advantage of learning a bit of English in high school. The Anglophone are hearing of the language’s existence for the very first time; and quiet frankly, they do not see the use for it. If we won the war, we must impose our language; we don’t have to learn this French; so they seem to think to themselves.
Now, at this point they think ‘their people’ will side with them; but only them think there is such thing as ‘their people’. The RPF didn’t just finished a war against Habyarimana’s ‘Akazu’, to readily establish a fresh patronage of their own; with a bunch of freshman year students as the hallmark.
Using another Ugandan import, they strike, and refuse to learn French. What follows is a hurricane. They are all permanently excluded from the University. Some are briefly jailed, others flee to Uganda, others to America, but to my knowledge, not a single one of them was ever able to recover their fully paid university scholarship.
Ground rules are set: You do what you are told and you keep your mouth shut! One would think others would learn from it; but you know Rwandans…
Instead, they start mean nicknames for each other, depending on country of exile:
Dubai – meant you had come from Zaire. Like Dubai vehicles, they look good on the outside, but rotten on the inside – Essentially people from Zaire are posers with no core.
Sope means you were in Rwanda before 1994 – named after a famous petro-station: ‘SOPECYA’ (Now Sopetrad): just a disparaging name to mean you are a villager, never travelled, etc.
Abasajya: Luganda word for kinsmen: Essentially some nebulous brotherhood like the Freemason or the Illuminati; people you only mention while looking over your shoulders, in fear that they’ll come and get you…
GP (Guard Presidentielle) for those who came from Burundi – I never quiet got the meaning of this one, but I suspect it meant something, like women from Burundi were players, etc. etc
Below those ‘come from’ tags, were breeding regionalist patronages, very dear to Rwandans during Habyarimana era, and Sopes, who knew no better, weren’t ready to let them go just yet.
Now the Speaker of Parliament at the time is Joseph Sebarenzi, and although he evolved in Zaire back in the day, he was considered Sope, since the war found him in Rwanda. He also happens to be from Kibuye. Him and the P.A. of the then president Pasteur Bizimungu; they found a regional group of their own: Solidarité Kibuye
At some point he is removed from his post, around the same time as the PA of the President is assassinated. People from Kibuye; among them, Singer Ben Rutabana, decide to protest that ‘their people’ are being witch-hunted. The protest is repressed ‘with extreme prejudice’! Most flee to the west, make noise for a while, eventually reconcile with their fate and moderate.
Soon after, Bizimungu Pasteur the president of the Republic resigns from his seat and tries to set-up an opposition party with ‘his people’: disgruntled slingers who’d built their networks around him; among them a one time minister Charles Ntakirutinka. This group will be repressed: ‘with extreme prejudice’! Tried, sentenced and jailed in record time. Their supporters wait for some sign from up above – none will ever turn up.
Eventually Bizimungu makes peace and is pardoned; Ntakirutinka serves off his sentence and comes out – a born again Christian.
At this point people from Burundi and Zaire: GPs and Dubais have been behaving. But not for long; missing out on the love, one senior officer named Raymond start talking to his colleagues about the fact that soldiers from Burundi do not advance in ranks.
- ‘Raymond ni nde?’ (Who is Raymond?)
- ‘Ni njyewe Afande’ (It’s me sir)
- ‘Ni wowe wavuze ngo abasirikare bavuye iburundi ntibaba promoted?’; ‘Front yanyu muza yitangirire hariya ku kanyaru ok?’ (I hear you say soldiers from Burundi don’t advance in ranks? You should start your own front at the Akanyaru river if you aren’t happy ok?); – (Kanyaru river is the natural boarder between Rwanda and Burundi, in the southern province)
In the meantime, Rwigamba Balinda sends some bright Banyamulenge students for a master’s degree in South Africa: All costs paid. In fact, for some, he has offered their undergraduate education at his university, with no charge.
They go on the understanding that they will work for him as lecturers at ULK for five years before they can seek employment elsewhere. They are all registered in the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal; a good university. He has bought a hostel in South Africa for them. In addition to pocket money, food is provided and their clothes washed.
Upon return to Kigali, they suddenly realize that, as Master’s degree graduates, their salaries at ULK are not competitive. There are better offers in UN and other places for people as highly qualified as them; they decide to strike and write a petition to ULK’s board asking, among other things, for a standardization of their salaries.
Now the president of the Board of ULK is Prof. Karangwa Chrisologue: Think of him as Kagame in civilian version. (Kagame light – but Kagame nonetheless). For those who don’t know him, he was the first president of the National Electoral Commission. Legend has it that students at the University of Lubumbashi once broke his leg because he failed them too much
So the group will be repressed: ‘with extreme prejudice’ – all are immediately excluded, and on the advice of Prof. Karangwa, Rwigamba didn’t bother ask for the money back: ‘go in shame and disgrace; your carriers in Rwanda have been dented for life’.
A part from poor Raymond, we were hearing but glorious stories about our army, until it emerged that Gen. Kayumba, a long serving and popular Army Chief of Staff had circles of allegiance within the army; So strong that when he is suddenly replaced as army chief, some officers want to mutineer. The mutiny will be repressed: ‘With extreme prejudice!’ Some are jailed others flee the country.
After that the situation has been rather quiet in the Army lately; save for ongoing cases whose ins and outs elude me – or am I scared to find out…
All unauthorized patronages in Rwanda were nipped in the bud. Provinces have been rearranged to undermine regionalism, and overtime, reshuffles and other policy shifts have become inconsequential; nonevents. The next army chief of staff was replaced seamlessly and some of the most famous ministers are now freelance consultants like myself, trying to be in their best behavior until they are ‘remembered’.
So on a strictly acrobatic viewpoint, the rope is just too tight in Kigali. Some maintain shy whatsapp groups of OBs; others launched in Nyamirambo an annual party of all twins; others have an annual communauté des Sapeur, where they dine dressed in white, but they all struggle for recognition and influence…
Sope, GP, Dubai brands are thrown here and there in cordial conversations with no impact. In fact, for some people, it is no longer possible to tell where they once lived; After 21 years, we are now all Sopes – Banyarwandas. Anything else shall be repressed: ‘with extreme prejudice’.