In Summary

  • The Rwandan one was a one-day calm affair. In slightly over 24 hours, they were done with it and gone back to their day-to-day activities.
  • I travelled on RwandAir and landed at Kigali Airport on a sunny Friday afternoon.
  • While Kenyans have come to believe that ugali can only come from maize, Rwandans know unga must not necessarily come from maize.
  • I also attended Gacaca Court sessions and witnessed how nice it gets when people willingly confess to their ugly past but aspire to move on.

In June 2009, the Nation Media Group sent me to Rwanda, not to do any particular story but, as managing editor Mutuma Mathiu put it, “we are sending you there to feel the place, know the people, and give us a report.”

I travelled on RwandAir and landed at Kigali Airport on a sunny Friday afternoon.

“Karibu Rwanda”, the friendly cab driver told me on reading the tag on my suit-case.

“Where do I take you?” “Anywhere: Let’s first have a drive through the town then you advise me on where to stay.”

After an hour of getting to know the town, the cab driver told me I could try Seasons Hotel next to the Rwanda National Stadium. “Kenyans like the place,” he said. He was right.  And there began my lessons:

LESSON NUMBER ONE

Outside our borders, Kenyans appreciate what they hardly do at home: They acknowledge they are one people called Kenyans.

That evening I dined with a group of 17 Kenyans who hailed from every corner of our Republic.

After the meal, we rode in a convoy of four taxis to an entertainment joint in the middle of Kigali (it is pronounced Chigali) called Car-wash. 

Any Kenyan who has been to Rwanda knows Car-wash. If a Kenyan was blindfolded and suddenly dropped at Car-wash, they would swear by the Holy Book that they are in Nairobi.

Everything at Car-wash is Kenyan. The nyama-choma tastes like that at Nairobi’s Kenyatta Market; the fish like that from Migingo; githeri tastes exactly like the one the Githeriman was munching as he waited to vote on Tuesday, and the muthokoi is original Ndwele sipite.

KENYAN TUNE

But the real Kenyan moment at Car-wash comes when the revellers take to the floor to dance to ohangla, mugithi, Ken-wa-Maria, mwana a mberi, twist, taarab, and  any other Kenyan tune you know.

At Car-wash, Kenyans hardly suppress a feeling of guilt that it takes just one evening in a foreign capital to discover what we should have known all along – that we are first and foremost one people called Kenyans.

After a night of kuji-enjoy Kenya style, I was woken up past midday by one of the many friends I made at Car-wash, Dr Nick Onyango.

At the time he was a medical practitioner in Kigali. (Some digression: Kenyans know no borders. In the last eight years, Dr Onyango has telephoned to tell me he was working in Tunisia.

Then he called to say he had moved to Sao Tome. His last call came from Bolivia. God knows where else he will call from).

“Man, you can’t sleep the whole day. Come down I take you to see the town”, Dr Onyango woke me up, my head as heavy as lead.

LESSON NUMBER TWO

Rwandans can never go hungry for lack of unga.

The first stop we made was at the main market in Kigali – our equivalent of Wakulima Market.

While Kenyans have come to believe that ugali can only come from maize, Rwandans know unga must not necessarily come from maize.

They have unga from cassava (they call it manioc); they have unga from banana (ibitoke); unga from millet (my in-laws from Kisii know how nutritious ugali-wimbi is). Rwandans also have unga from minji (Governor-elect Anne Waiguru and other minji-minjis from across the country will like that).

Contrast that with Kenya where potatoes rot in Nyandarua; bananas are fed to cattle in Kisii; and cassava is eaten by rodents in Nyanza even as we starve waiting for maize from Mexico.

 LESSON NUMBER THREE

Rwandans have internalised the importance of being orderly and obeying the law. 

I came to know this as I took a ride through Kigali on a boda-boda. It was on Sunday when there was not a single cop in the streets.

The first thing the boda-boda man did was to hand me a helmet and a safety jacket. The typical Kenyan in me asked: “Must I put them on?”  “Yes you must”, he said in a tone of finality.

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