So you made it to the year 2004 — bravo and compliments of the New Year! Ten years in Rwanda from the genocide of 1994, yet it looks like only the other day, when Habyarimana was shamelessly proclaiming to any one willing to listen to him: Rwanda is a country full of humans, like a glass full of water. Add one single drop, and the extra water will spill irrecoverably! And with that, he had signed off those Rwandans whom he thought undesirable, by consigning to exile those he was not able to kill off. Ten years later, and close to two million ‘drops’ more, the people of Rwanda are living serenely together, like raindrops in the calm waters of the lakes of Rwanda! In fact, as the years increase, the ‘glassful’ becomes more and more accommodating! So, come ye Rwandans, wherever you may be outside Rwanda, let’s rejoice in counting these years that are more and more accommodating, the ‘older’ they grow!
But apart from proving people wrong, the years have always baffled those who thought they could subject them to cold, mathematical calculation. Counting the years has always been filled with chaos. From 45 BC (before the birth of Jesus Christ) when Emperor Julius Caesar introduced his own calendar, the Julian calendar, dates and months have been twisted around countless times, added or removed at will. Whenever the year was found not to conform to the seasons, a month would be added, like the month of ‘July’ by Julius Caesar. Emperor Augustus, who came after Caesar, still added his own month when the years were found not to go with the seasons. This was the month of ‘August’. Days were added to make months of 31 days, or removed to make months of 30, 29 or 28 days. Still, nobody has got it correct and days will have to be removed or added again and again!
And talking about naming months, it is a wonder that none of these endangered species, the dictators, had thought about it before they kicked the ghost. It is no doubt that all of them would have jumped at the chance to have a month or two in their names. Ntako Atagize Habyarimana, Emperor Bokasa, Conqueror of the British Empire Idi Amin Dada, Ndeko na bisu Mobutu Sese Seku wa Zabanga, Cheou Seskou, etc. As it is, we have the nyayo era to denote the time President Daniel Doroidich Arab Moi of Genya was in bower. However, our bull down yonder, President Mugabe, still has a clean bill of health and one day, when the Common Wealth finally gets tired and stops breathing down his neck, he could allocate himself one modest month. Thus in Zimbabwe the month of ‘May’ would be known as the month of ‘Mugabe’. It would be remembered as the month when the saintly powers of Baba Mugabe smiled upon the people of Zimbabwe and for, the first time of late, a year passed without a few lives being lost to famine.
Still, down to our earth, we shall still be in the horns of dilemma. The earth makes one rotation of the sun in exactly 365.24219 days, complicating our scientists’ effort at the most reasonable approximation. The 365 days that we have adopted for a year, therefore, will always leave us with a discrepancy. The creation of an extra day to make 29 days for February of every leap year has not done much to help. Apart from leaving some people without birthday anniversaries during the non-leap years, the effort has not completely taken care of the extra fractions of the days. The above approximation means that every century, the calendar gains 25 seconds. This in turn means that in the Year 4317, we shall have a whole day to tuck away!
But we, the modern homosapiens, are not the only ones to agonize over the calendar. The sixth century monk and astronomer from Scynthia, southwestern Russia, Dionysius Exiguus (or Dennis the Midget) spent countless, sleepless nights to compile a table of dates that still applies as the Christian calendar today. In 532 AD, Dennys le Petit (Dennis the Midget) suggested that since the Roman Empire had consumed itself, the years should be counted from first January following the birth of Jesus. The year 248 Anno Diocletiani from then became the year 532 Anni Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, 532 AD, for short! He did not exactly get the birthday of Christ correct, but neither have the hordes of scientists who are still trying today. Herod is known to have died around 4 BC when Jesus was a toddler, so Jesus Christ must have been born around 6 BC (Before Christ). That is, six years before his time!
And therein lies the complication of counting the years in this Gregorian/Christian calendar. From year 6 BC (which actually should be -6) down to year 1 BC (or –1) the years continue to 1 AD, without a zero year in between. The second millennium therefore ends with the end of year 2000 from year 1. But we do not have to stick to this confused calendar. If we do not like it, there are many others we can choose from. As we speak, Palestine President Yasser Arafat has just celebrated his second Christmas in five weeks, this 07.01.04, the second being the Orthodox Christmas. It also happened to be Idd-ul-Fitr day, or Idd-el-Fitr, or Idd Mubarak! So, we can decide to adopt the Byzantine calendar, in which case we would now be in the year 7512. We can choose the Chinese calendar, meaning this would be the year 4640. Or the Jewish calendar, which would put us in the year 5764. We could also follow the Indian calendar (Saka) where now it is the year 1925. Or the Islamic calendar (Hegira), where we would now be in the year 1424!
However, choose or not, we shall always be hostages of the arbitrary and confused decisions of our fellow men. An ‘international’ conference held in Washington by a few ‘Westerners’ in October 1884 decided to adopt the meridian at Greenwich, Great Britain, as the prime meridian for “all the world”. Thus was fixed the universal time and day, what is referred to as ‘GMT’ or ‘UTC’. And so, for instance, the 180-degree longitude is stretched to hug all islands of the Republic of Kiribati, and the islands of Fiji, all in the Pacific, so that they can all be bundled into one date line. Otherwise you would wake up to find your next-door neighbour heading for the church on Sunday, as you rush to scramble for a taxi-bus to hurry you to the office on Monday. The way a Ugandan customs officer at Gatuna border-post hurriedly swallows the last drops of his imported Mutzig beer to go and hit the hay at 10 P.M. He leaves his Rwandan counterpart still nursing his bottle of the imported Bello beer, because it is only 09 P.M. across the borderline!
Best wishes for the New Year!