Wednesday, May 23, 2012

When Rwanda does not work

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.
Jams are rare in Kigali, but increasingly a predictable occurrence at certain junctions and times. (file photo)
Jams are rare in Kigali, but increasingly a predictable occurrence at certain junctions and times. (file photo)

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 real.

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.

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