Last week I finally had the nerve to write that the Radio Katwe whispers of Rwanda may actually be rumors of heaven. I’ve rarely had as many friends and acquaintances speak to me about something I’ve written. The conversations have been diverse – Americans, Dutch, Ugandans, and mostly Rwandese. I wrote a bit poetically and some misunderstood my point. The point was to giggle at rumors of Rwanda as a secret society while we live in the hope of heaven. As we live in the hope of heaven it builds our community’s paradoxical values of grace and responsibility. A few have mentioned that I have an overly romantic view of Rwanda. The criticism is true. I love Rwanda. I also believe all humanity is worthy of infinite dignity as we are made in the image of God.
Yet, I acknowledge like all of humanity sometimes Rwanda does not
work. Since my ongoing illustration of understanding the Great Lakes is
roads, my illustration of Rwanda not working is Kigali traffic. Jams are
rare in Kigali, but increasingly a predictable occurrence at certain
junctions and times. They happen for a simple reason. Our economy has
grown. With that growth has come more cars. Sometimes there are more
cars at Kigali road junctions than those junctions are designed to
accommodate. A jam occurs and we wait.
The morally bankrupt simpleton has an answer. Rwanda has too many
people. The argument can become sophisticated, but in the end it is
horribly destructive. My answer is the oldest of all time. All humans
are worthy of infinite dignity. Their lives are irreplaceable. We must
build their lives to be full of joy and accomplishment. The answer to
too many people is to embrace the potential of the Banyarwanda.
When it comes to traffic jams we have two long term options. The
first is to build more and better roads. The second is to invest in the
education of our youth. With more education and infrastructure the jams
will become less, and we will become more prosperous. The glitch is that
both education and infrastructure take money and time. They don’t
remove today’s jam.
So what do we do when today’s Rwanda doesn’t work and were stuck in a jam?
Here’s what I observe at Kigali traffic jams. Kigali is a very
diverse town. Most of us who drive cars learned to drive them with
different sets of social rules. Some of us learned that the best way to
approach a jam is to quietly wait in the queue. Never move until all is
clear. Some of us learned to move slowly as we use the opportunity to
visit with our neighbors. Some of us learned to aggressively inch for
each space while we tell jokes with our neighbors. The humor makes the
aggression not only tolerable, but enjoyable for those who understand. A
few of us learned to be aggressive with neither a smile nor a joke.
Some may understand unkind aggression, but most of us find it baffling.
With all these different social expectations Kigali traffic jams can
become a nightmare. Nothing moves. Nothing changes. Most become annoyed.
The only way to sort out the jam with the different social
expectations is for an authority figure to enter the jam. When he enters
he tells us what to do. For many Bazungu they admire the efficiency of
the authority, but sometimes murmur that he is a controlling dictator.
As the authority begins sorting the jam, sometimes his mobile phone
rings, he answers the phone, and then steps away. At this point we fall
back into social chaos. I choose to believe the phone call is either
from his family needing help in a crisis or his boss giving instruction.
Yet, another possibility exists. The authority may be gossiping about
football matches or planning the evening at a local bar.
So what do we do when Rwanda does not work for us in the day by day?
The visionary may see tomorrow’s infra-structure and education, but we
need to live today.
First, practice the oldest consensus ethic of time. Treat our
neighbors as we would like to be treated. Those of us with Kampala Kid’s
League and Ntare School stickers on our cars should go an extra measure
to wait while we still make our neighbors laugh. Those who see an
opportunity to visit should remember that other’s find forward movement
more polite. Those who are paralyzed in Qing should learn to be a little
more assertive. All of us should be forgiving and full of grace.
Second, let’s respect the authority figure who steps into the jam.
Let’s assume the best in his motives and actions even when we don’t
understand it all. Let’s do what we are told. If we allow him to lead
the jam will be solved much sooner. Yet, if he’s close and we hear him
on the phone gossiping about football or planning the evening’s bar
discussion let’s respect the authority above his authority. Let’s speak
to him as a friend, but be willing to go to his boss with the details of
bad authority usage in a jam. If there is no earthly boss to address
our complaint let’s speak to the King of Kings, and trust that our
temporary jams will be sorter when the rumors of Rwanda as heaven become
Last, we’ll eventually get through Kigali’s evening traffic jams. A
new morning will come. When we reach the office the next day let’s
remember the big picture. Our children’s future will be discovered
through education and infrastructure. Let’s build Rwanda’s future.