by Simi Fajemirokun
The mantra made popular by the Obama Campaign really does ignite a can do attitude in all of us, in essence, a spirit of hope. In light of the periods in our lives where we are desperate for change, ‘yes we can’ gives that mental push to make the change happen but there’s still a disconnect in knowing you can and actually doing what you know you can. They are certainly not one and the same for instance, knowing is the input and doing is the output. This is the reason why a great speech that is not backed up by some action is an exercise in futility.
I have been near obsessed for a while with the worst human tragedy in my lifetime, the Rwandan genocide. I have watched documentaries and read articles on the evil that man is capable of but still I understood less and my mind remained even more confused. To empathize and consider the survivors who lost loved ones at the hands of their neighbors, friends and colleagues just makes forgiveness such a far-fetched idea. Beyond the act of forgiveness how do you remove the heavy dose of fear that pervades the air once you’ve been stripped of every sense of security you once knew. As we’ve seen, the intrusion of fear in our lives has a multiplier effect that dispels love, unity, trust, purpose and all the other key ingredients to build a nation.
20 years from that devastating act of evil and a new Rwanda has emerged. One that defied all the odds of being classified a failed state to a model African state raising the bar on so many fronts from leadership to development to security to gender empowerment and the list goes on. Once again, Rwanda boggles my mind as I cannot understand how you move from an extreme negative to an extreme positive. It was a great privilege to have witnessed first hand the Kwibohora ceremony, celebrating the 20th Anniversary to the end of the war in 1994. There were several components to it and the one I was privileged to attend was the Pan-African Youth Conference, which included delegates from all over the continent on moving Africa from liberation to economic liberation for all.
Rwanda invited us in to celebrate and chart the way forward as the next generation of leaders but beyond the obvious, what it did was challenge Africa and the world at large that truly impossible is nothing. How do you take a completely split country to be more united than ever before in 20 short years? Kigali boasts of clean streets, gorgeous hills, modern development and a strict adherence to law and order. I felt safer running at odd hours than I would in most European cities. I was proud to be African as the indefatigable President Paul Kagame instills in the youth, a sense of confidence and re-assurance that we as Africans are not inferior to others. I saw young men and women that work in the Presidency not out of tokenism but a deliberate attempt to ensure the majority of the population is at the decision-making table. Throughout my stay, there was an overriding sense that Rwanda means business.
To borrow from President Kenyatta’s keynote speech, ‘from Horror to Hope’ Rwanda truly does serve as a poster child of the power of the collective will of a people to assertively establish themselves despite the insurmountable challenges they faced. It was very emotional observing the sense of pride, purpose and clarity of the future they are actively creating. It was also important to see how they guard so strongly against anything that will stand in the way of that future. For instance, you dare not ask what tribe you are from, ‘I am Rwandan’ is staunchly replied and that is all you need to know and from toddlers to adults everybody abides by that script.
I left Rwanda torn emotionally, on one hand I felt extremely proud and another extremely ashamed. The issues we pretend to have in my dearest country pale in comparison to the Rwandan experience and reflects the opposite: the collective un-seriousness of a people about the future of Nigeria. May we value our diversity, strength and vast beauty. May we guard our bright future so jealously that lousy leadership cannot exist let alone thrive.
To Africa, may we understand clearly that our awesome continent cannot afford any more from ‘Horror to Hope’ stories. Rwanda is an exception we may not be so lucky. Let’s talk, let’s trade, and get rid of foreign aid.
To economic liberation and beyond-God bless Africa.
Simi Fajemirokun is a Research & Communication Consultant based in Abuja, Nigeria with a background in International Relations, and Politics. In 2011, the World Economic Forum listed her as a Global Shaper. She was also a recipient of the Good Planet Foundation award based on her work on ‘Mobile Learning in Rural Areas’. She firmly believes in harnessing Africa’s vast potential and resources in improving the lives of its citizenry.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.