Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ugali in Kigali

I feel like the Cookie Monster when I’m in this part of Africa – can’t get enough ugali. Doesn’t help that I’m a vacuum cleaner by nature, generally eating anything within reach of my arms or legs. My big orifice welcomes anything remotely edible, except manioc ugali (foufou); I like the maize version.

Took the bus back from Bukavu via Cyangugu to Kigali yesterday. Stunning countryside, and we passed many towns where I worked in 1994: Gikongoro, Kibeho, Butare, and lots of small villages. Back then Butare was a ghost town, littered with bodies, no civilians in sight, and occupied only by the RPF. Between Gikongoro and Butare was ‘the line’—basically an international border where RPF control stopped and that of the French military began.

On the French side, all the way to Cyangugu and the Ruzizi River where Congo starts, were Hutu IDPs: some certainly guilty of genocide, some not. But all of them were running for their lives. Anyway, there was no way to tell who was guilty, and culpability was not a priority issue then. The main thing on everyone’s mind was to prevent a second (revenge) genocide.

It took a while to figure it out, but my cramped minivan yesterday was filled with Banyamulenge (Tutsis of Rwandan extraction born or raised in Congo). Politics was the primary discussion point, and lots of laughter about life in general. In today’s ethnically charged climate, Banyamulenge are no longer welcome in Congo. Many felt forced to immigrate to Rwanda, a country they don’t consider home, and that does not accept them. Many never learned to speak Kinyarwandan, as pressure to assimilate in Congo meant speaking Swahili and French. Unwelcome in Congo, in Rwanda they must assimilate again, this time to a society conrolled by Tutsis from Uganda—English and Kinyarwandan speakers.

JG, a friend here, was born and raised in Bukavu to a Tutsi refugee father and a Congolese (Shi) mother. In his final years of study towards priesthood at Bukavu’s prestigious seminary, his mentors and colleagues turned on him. Because he was half-Tutsi, he had to leave. With no English or Kinyarwandan, he came to Kigali and found the professional ranks occupied entirely by Tutsis who’d followed the RPF from Uganda. Along with the Hutu majority here, JG is essentially excluded from participating in the bright and prosperous Kigali of today.

Over ugali and beer yesterday, JG and I recalled the French expulsion from Rwanda in late 2006. For a government that brooks no dissent, no opposition politics and barely a peep from civil society, it was logical that they eject a threatening foreign presence: recall the Kagame indictments issued by a French court (and more recently by a Spanish court). However consistent the logic of this regime—brook no dissent—it is a recipe for open hostility, sooner or later.

JG wants a country where ‘all Rwandans are one’; his NGO works with former prisoners (ex-genocidaires Hutu) to reintegrate into society. Very brave, but essential if the timebomb is to be diffused. JG's work is a drop in the ocean, unfortunately. And as long as the government treats everyone except the Ugandan Tutsi community as potential traitors, the supposed center will not hold.

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