Sunday 26th May 2013
When I look back, the happiest moments of my childhood that I recall are those that I spent in Congo Kinshasa (today’s D.R. Congo). This is surprising because those were uncertain times. We lived in a jungle infested with many easily curable diseases but the nearest health centre was 58 km away. Even then, it was useless since it had no medicine!
Which, you’ll reason, makes me queer. You’ll be wrong, however, because you’ll not have considered the context. We were not living in today’s Rwanda. We were living in the Congo of the time – sadly, no different from that of today! – where in other areas the diseases were always fatal. As to the diseases in Bambo, near Masisi (where we lived), they were simple skin diseases like acne, dermatitis, furunculous disorder, the incomprehensible lot – and rot!
What made the times interesting was our lifestyle. The Banande and Bahunde tribes of the area wore no clothes; they adorned only loin cloth. At first it was hard for us but with time we got used to their small loin cloth. Where we took clothes for granted, they looked at us as superior to them because, like the white man, we had clothes. For that, they respected us.
It would have been hard for us young ones to wear our clothes at school but, fortunately, school kids were required to wear clothes. That meant that they carried a lot of weight in the community. And carrying it, they threw it around. Since we were in the scout movement, we had to take on the conduct. This involved dancing what we called ‘kalimusoko’ at every chance; before classes, during break and after school, as well as in the market, every Sunday.
The market day could not open before we, the scouts, ‘blessed’ it. At eight in the morning, we stood at attention in the market place, whereupon the ‘flag’ – which was any piece of cloth picked from anywhere – was raised! Then we sang the national anthem – “Debout Congolais…. !” – after which we saluted and then business could commence. At the close of business in the evening, it was the same. And then those who wanted could go home, while some indulged their thirst with ‘amandarakwe’, which was a brew made from maize!
When I mention a scout in passing, however, you’ll not exactly begin to appreciate the power he wielded. Nor will you appreciate the respect and solemnity with which the flag was raised or lowered and the national anthem sung. You were in trouble, for instance, if you were caught moving when the flag was being raised/lowered or the anthem was being sung. The head of the scouts, who was usually the oldest of the boys, was like the commander of a military platoon. Whatever order he gave, scout and non-scout obeyed without question.
We are standing at attention, for instance, singing the anthem or raising/lowering the flag and you walk past everybody. In such a case, ‘Commandant’ (the commander) interrupted everything and shouted: “Iyi-i-igiha…..!” And I shouted: “Coma-a-a-andat!” And commandant shouted: “Arrê-e-e-tez l’indispliné(e)!”
Immediately, I ran and grabbed the culprit and made him kneel down to await orders from Commandant, once we were done with the ceremonies. If it were a lady, I made her stand there to await orders. Punishment was caning, confiscating merchandise, et al.
Generally, then, we were guided by the law of the jungle and enjoyed it, as we benefitted from it. Looked at seriously, though, this law of the jungle did not advance anybody. If anything, it was an abuse to those it targeted, being innocent. Still, we were happy to get along, without realising that we were acting like criminals. On the other hand, the innocents we harassed seemed resigned to the abuses and made no effort to resist. This ‘kalimusoko’ life went on and, if anybody saw anything wrong, none denounced it.
It’s when I look at D.R. Congo today that, with hindsight realisation, I am hit by pangs of sadness. That ‘kalimusoko’ life that we led in Bambo obtains in the whole country to this day. And it has been so from the time of colonialism: no new school, hospital, dispensary, road, hydro-power dam, plantation, none. No maintenance of the old infrastructure, no improvement. Add to the lot– and rot — the daily abuses on inocent Congolese Tell me, wouldn’t your heart bleed?
Meanwhile, unfortunately, these poor Congolese know not that they can stand up for themselves. When French soldiers empted the Interahamwe of Rwanda onto their land, they received them as a ‘gift’ from France and went ahead to suffer all forms of indignities at their hands. The enemy of these Interahamwe, a gift from France, is their enemy. So, they’ll hurl abuses and a precious egg, which’d otherwise sustain them, at Rwanda. And, even when these do not hit their intended target, their cause will have been served and they will celebrate!
That’s life for our poor neighbours: endless celebration with song and dance, as they await favours from their Western ‘allies’. Whether their brethren are milking them or their Western ‘allies’ are, they’ll celebrate them and demonise a neighbour who calls attention to this fact.