August 09, 2015
Well, it’s been forever. But you know how it is: there is no being time-specific with your repairman – or doctor, to you given euphemistic precisions. So, my repairman took his time putting me back together.
Anyway, when after eons my repairman was through with me, I was shambling along, as per his orders, when I saw this place that was familiar and yet I could not immediately place it.
It was only after the third such visit that I recognised the place. And when I did, I threw caution to the wind, sat on a wayside rock and had a belly laugh!
I was in part of an area that used to be known as ‘Kiyovu-For-The-Rich’, looking at my handsome ‘residence’ of 1994. Alas, today it is a pathetic shack, if ever there was one!
It is sandwiched between two comparatively gigantic storied structures, one of which houses Urban Boutique Hotel. The two tall buildings are surrounded by posh, true residences.
A distance to the left, a glass building housing government agencies rises above tall trees, dwarfing them. On the same street is Karisimbi Hotel, with both Hotel Gorillas and the new Kiyovu Hotel hedging it in. From below stands Nobilis Hotel and, further down, are the regal RSSB twin towers.
But the days of giving directions in such terms as “near Marariya”, “past Giticyinyoni”, “at Mushimire’s” and suchlike are long gone. Now there are precision GPS directions: so, check out the confluence of KN35 Street, KN38 Street, KN51 Street and its environs.
Kigali may be clean but some areas will truly take your breath way. The whole neighbourhood with soaring structures, fine hotels, airy restaurants, walled-in villas, screened-off constructions, sparkling bitumen streets and lush overhanging canopies; everything seems to have been given a fresh shower and a scrub-over!
But my thoughts drifted back to my former residence.
Now worn and weather-beaten, it still dares to stubbornly, if shyly, peer through the glittering buildings in this neighbourhood and assert its poisonous asbestos-roofed presence, short-lived as that presence may be. ‘Short-lived’ because word has it that a Simba Supermarket complex is set to sprout in its place and also swallow up the modern but unseemly kiosks next to it.
To think that in its heyday, pre-1994, the block wherein my ‘residence’ is housed was the only strong, permanent building in this area. And that this place was for the rich, which meant that the rest of Kigali was as ‘nyakatsi’ (grass-thatched and unhygienic) as they came!
Except for a very limited number, the buildings were known as ‘rukarakara’: mud buildings that were given a veneer of paint and a ‘civilised’ tin roof to look urban. Woe betide thee if you tried to pin a photo-frame on the wall – the wall would come tumbling down, many times with the rest of your ‘royal rukakara residence’!
Meanwhile, you’d have to contend with the overpowering stench that enveloped the whole atmosphere, issuing forth from two enormous garbage dumps that were threatening to converge, despite being a kilometre apart. One was where today those kiosks are; the other, opposite Kiyovu Hotel.
It was no wonder, then, that even six years after 1994, Rwandans in exile used to break into sarcastic uproar whenever anybody mentioned Vision 2020.
The year was 2000, with as yet minimal change in the 1994 ‘rotten’ physical state of Kigali and the country generally, and yet here was a government that thought it could turn Rwanda into a middle-income economy in a mere 20 years!
“‘Inyenzi’ (cockroaches),” snorted those exiled Rwandans, “what a bunch of dreamers!” To these exiled Rwandans, all were ‘Inyenzi’ who did not opt for exile after 1994!
The exchanges between Rwandans inside the country and those in exile were on internet discussion forums those days: ‘rwandanet’, ‘all-Africa forum’, ‘rwanda-l’, ‘DHR’ and others.
Here crude insults were flung from exile with unfettered abandon, all of them to show the “absurdity of trying to imitate developed countries and their sophisticated cities”. And, because the insults always necessarily touched on anatomical parts of mothers, only the brave could dare engage these self-denigrators. Even then, fewer still ever dared use their real names.
How indignities could advance our compatriots’ arguments, only they could explain!
With loads of mockery, they used to post pictures of intricately built cities, with complicated road and rail systems, some with trams going through buildings, to ‘triumphantly’ exhibit the inanity of Rwandan shanty-towns aspiring to be like advanced cities in 2020!
I remember Shanghai being depicted as Kigali; Atlanta as Nyagatare; Hong Kong as the then-Gisenyi; the Birmingham interchange as the Nyungwe Forest road system; et al.
Gladly, unlike some of those cities, Kigali and the provincial cities are not concrete jungles. They’ve taken an environmentally-friendly path – hoping they’ll stick to that.
Imagine when our compatriots in exile (a dwindling number) see, in commentaries of the global media, a headline like “Kigali: the cleanest city in the world?” I have not been wised up as to their reactions these days – of only 2015!
Who wouldn’t let out a belly laugh? For, in Rwanda, we are having the last laugh.