MATIVO NOTEBOOK: In Rwanda, there are ‘silent’ terms
Stanley Mativo in Kigali
“We are all Rwandans now”, this is a strictly enforced official mantra here in the Land of Thousand Hills, and using the labels Hutu and Tutsi in public is akin to committing suicide. You will be jailed for 20 years!
It’s on a Friday, Malkia Strikers are not in action and I receive a call from Abraham Olwenyi-a Kenyan seasoned journalist who lives here in Rwanda. He tells me to visit him at a restaurant owned by a Kenyan, not far from the Kigali Arena where the African Volleyball Championship is being staged.
From my hotel, the restaurant is about five minutes and so I take a boda boda, but wait in my head I thought Rwandans speak Swahili. I realised they don’t. They speak English and Kinyarwanda. So I thought ‘no problem, we’ll communicate using English, right?’. Well, shock on me. It takes us about an hour to reach there, but that’s a story for another day.
I arrive at the restaurant and I find Olwenyi with four other Kenyans, he was not amused why I was late because of course, I’m a foreigner in this city.
At last, I feel at home as all of us here are using Swahili and English and so we enjoy our meal and drinks as they ‘thirstily’ engage me on matters politics and sports development back home.
We are even using our native languages at will and it is not funny even as we narrow down to our tribal lines while dissecting Kenyan issues.
But then unknowingly, I innocently asked “what about here, how many tribes do we have in Rwanda!”
Olwenyi, popularly here known as Abu, alongside one of his friends quickly with amusement tells me “tafadhali wachia hapo na uendelee na kinywaji chako!” (Just stop there and continue with your booze!)
Another one hit back, ‘let us use tribal marks when talking about Kenya but we desist that for Rwandan issues!
We switched off to football matters.
The year 1994 marked one of the darkest years in Africa, the year that tribalism bared its teeth, leading to one of the bloodiest massacres ever witnessed in Africa and across the world.
As the genocide was unprecedented in African annals, so is avoiding the tribal remarks here in Rwanda and one must be careful not to ask, or spell it out! This is not Kenya indeed.