Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Have you noticed our contemporary plethora of Rwanda experts? Everyone knows one. Many want to be one. Some are quick to take the title. Yet, I propose there are no true Rwanda experts. Webster’s Dictionary defines an expert as one with special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject. No one within or without has yet mastered the knowledge of Rwanda. All who labor and live in Rwanda are still discovering. A few are wise. A few have mastered a specific area of knowledge. None have mastered Rwanda.

Twenty years ago, Rwanda’s northeastern neighbor, Uganda sought to explain her chaotic post-colonial past. Alex Mukulu wrote the play, “30 Years Of Bananas.” The opening scene involves the search for an unbiased narrator. One by one each narrator option is eliminated. No one from within could narrate Uganda’s history due to tribal and political bias. No one of influence from without could narrate Uganda’s history due to the “view from the Pajero.” Only a Rwandan refugee, Kaleekeezi could tell the story of Uganda through the eyes of an unbiased participant. Kaleekeezi made us laugh with his humble and pointed critiques. He danced, he drank chai, and his fortune followed Uganda. Some today, desire to be voice of Kaleekeezi to Rwanda. Maybe, even those who discovered Uganda through the eyes of Kaleekeezi ponder if they are the Rwanda equivalent. Yet, none have walked the path of Kaleekeezi and been a 30 year humble participant. Some Rwandans find Kaleekeezi offensive. He represented the stereo-type that never permitted them to be at home. Yet, Kaleekeezi’s charm is inescapable. Maybe, Kaleekeezi is the reason so many desire to be his home’s narrator. Let us follow Kaleekeezi’s search to discover a Rwanda expert.

From within Rwanda we search for an mzee. We seek to find expertise through age and history. True there are those with gray hair. They can tell the stories of old. Some have studied and are masters of academic subjects. They are the advisers to both the powerful and the youthful seeker. Yet these men and women of wisdom refuse to take the title of Rwandan expert. Most even deflect compliments about their wisdom and knowledge. The academics have seen the unending rows of books in the library. They know their knowledge is only finite while expertise is infinite. Others just acknowledge their wounds. Many have found healing. They sing, smile, and dance. Yet, the wounds have left scars. A scar upon one’s joints limits mobility. Limited mobility prevents one from turning one’s body and head. Even when one’s ears are attentive and sound, a wounded joint prevents clear discovery. The healed sometimes is unable to turn and fully see. The wounded mzee’s limitations taught him to go forward quickly. His generation’s task is to build. In the building our wounded mzee may not understand all Rwanda requires. His humility knows this and looks to another for expertise.

As our Rwandan mzee refuses the title of expert many pretenders arise. The Bazungu quickly takes the title of Rwanda expert. He knows with expertise comes fame, power, and reward. His appetite for all is unending. Thus he will pretend and even deceive himself to take the title of Rwanda expert. The Bazungu Rwanda experts come in three flavors. You can meet them all on any international flight into Kigali. The first one to be noticed is the V.I.P. Muzungu. He is one of power, wealth, and influence in his home nation. If he has a measure of wisdom, he like our Rwandan mzee deflects compliments to another. He realizes that like Kaleekeezi sometimes the ball just bounced well for him. He was on a winning team when he may have been a poor player. Yet the appetite for expert status is too much to resist. He is met at the airport by another V.I.P. He is quickly ushered through immigration. He is driven to the Serena. He eats and sleeps well. He tours Rwanda in style. He counsels the powerful. If he is proud, he begins to believe the words that are spoken about himself. In the sweet words and posh treatment he misses that the profound is discovered in waiting and suffering. The V.I.P. Muzungu will leave as quickly as he came. He will never sit and wait in an office. He will never be told to return days after days. His children will not be subjected to Rwanda’s medical care nor even have a minor case of malaria. The only humble Rwandans he will know are the ones he meets in a photo opportunity. Because he never becomes a suffering friend of the humble he will never be a Rwanda expert.

The second Muzungu pretender is the Buvera Muzungu. He enters Rwanda with an item he bought in the international airport just before he reached Kanombe. He walks through customs thankful for the wine, chocolate, and perfume of his last stop. He carries his duty free trophy in a plastic bag. Then he meets a Rwandan customs official and is informed that Rwanda allows no buvera. He does not know what a buvera is, but he knows his property rights. No one will take his plastic bag. The Buvera Muzungu comes arguing. He will stay in Rwanda arguing. He will leave Rwanda arguing. He likely will never even discover what a buvera is. If he does learn the meaning of buvera he will search for buvera in Rwanda. He will find the inconsistency of Rwanda practice. Yes, there are buvera in the trash piles of Kigali. The Buvera Muzungu stands upon these trash piles and argues until he reeks of dirty buvera. None can stand him any longer. He simply leaves and with his buvera enters the blogosphere of Rwanda haters.

The third Muzungu pretender is the “I’ve been around the block” Muzungu. These Bazungu come in 2 sub-flavors. The first is the one who entered Rwanda before 1994. His early discovery of Rwanda came through colored lenses. He may be a master of Kinyarwanda. However, his mastery of Rwandan language and culture is seen through lenses that did not experience refugee living from 1959 to 1994. Rwanda was peaceful before 1990. However, not all Rwandans lived in peace before 1990. If this sub-flavor of Muzungu is wise, he like our Rwandan mzee looks to another for expertise.

The second sub-flavor of the “I’ve been around the block” Muzungu has an old history in the Great Lakes Region, but entered Rwanda after 1994. He knows many people. He hears many rumors. His mastery of Rwandan comes through the lenses of friendships with those who were refugees from 1959 to 1994. He ponders if he like Kaleekeezi is just a recipient of good fortune. He suspects that if he is asked to narrate and participate he will still be the subject of secret jokes. If this sub-flavor of Muzungu is wise, he like our Rwandan mzee looks to another for expertise.

In our search for Rwanda’s Kaleekeezi journalists enter the race. Something about Rwanda fascinates the deepest part of their being. Is it the beauty of Rwandan women, a clean and orderly city, or just an unfulfilled longing? They are enticed with the rewards of being a Rwanda expert. The world’s eyes are upon Rwanda and her story teller will be richly rewarded.

The Rwanda critical journalist enters the race as a Rwanda expert.    For those who learned Rwanda through the lens of Kaleekeezi Rwanda criticism stir deep wounds.    The wounds are so deep that first emotions are of self-hatred.   Naively the Great Lakes once heard banter about peace and democracy in the early 90's.    Naively some of us listened to mythology about Rwandan women's sexual prowess that later justified rape.   Naively I even once provided dinner to Bazungu travelers who told stories of Tutsi invaders from Uganda.  The stories sounded reasonable, but the philosophy a few months later justified genocide.   Many of us are still in a season of repentance that may last a lifetime. 

Our scars are full of pain.  The stories of the Rwanda critical journalist are too close to our old wounds.   Our wounds will be healed by time, compassion, and shared labor for coming generations of children.   Kaleekeezi was an expert to our neighbors through humility and humor.    The critic must humbly acknowledge our pain, and be with us until our tears of grief become tears of joy.   That day is not here yet.   When it comes we'll be overwhelmed by how God's grace took us through such painful reality.

The Rwanda booster journalist may also pick up the title of Rwanda expert. His history is likely entangled with Rwanda. He may be young, but his stories are old. He is well read and connected. His fascination with order reflects his hidden wounds. His childhood heroes are disappointments. He has found a new savior in Rwanda. He pours his full energy, intellect, and resources into Rwanda boosterism. The Rwanda mzee will quietly try to usher the booster away from Rwanda salvation. The mzee knows his and Rwanda’s failings. Another expert must arise. The pretenders must cease.

Rwanda experts are arising. They will be numerous in number. They can be found today in Rwanda’s nursery, primary, and secondary schools. A few may cluster in universities. They are true believers in Rwanda unity. They see the wounds of the bzee and feel no disdain for the bzee’s lack of expertise. They are friends with both those who were refugees in Uganda and Congo. They listen well and ask many questions. They seek before they speak. They know suffering and waiting are the uniting principles of a new Rwanda. Yet, they are not content to live in destructive cycles. They study history not to complain about the past. They study history to discovery Rwanda’s future. They are masters of Kinyarwanda and understand the complexities of Rwanda’s history and culture. They listen to the Kigali’s many radio languages. They choose a favorite radio station, but not a favorite language. Rwanda’s future will be discovered in Kinyarwanda, but implemented in English, French, German, Kiswahili, Lingala, Luganda, Arabic, and Chinese. Languages are only the tools of trade. Rwanda’s experts will arise as her youth become bzee. They will manage complexities with grace and show their expertise through comprehensive wisdom.

So today Rwanda is a nation with no experts, but great wisdom. The wise acknowledge their colored lenses and wounds. They giggle at both their failings and the pompous pride of the pretending experts. The wise listen well to the ambitions and questions of Rwanda’s youth. The wise suffer with a smile and wait for Rwanda’s youth to become mature. Rwanda experts are coming.

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