Fellow Nigerians, I finally found my way to Kigali, Rwanda, two weeks ago. I had procrastinated and postponed that journey for too long, for no justifiable reason. I visit Nairobi quite regularly and could easily have travelled to Rwanda, as part of my trip, but it never happened because for once, I simply did not put my mind to it. My interest in Rwanda had been stirred by recent news and events in that country for some years now.
I had heard and read so much about the amazing transformation going on in a country that witnessed one of the deadliest civil wars in 1994, just about the time Nigeria was going through the June 12, 1993 Presidential election crisis. Today, Rwanda has virtually recovered physically, even if not psychologically, from the scourge of that tragic, destructive and devastating war but our dear beloved country Nigeria is yet to come out of the after-effect of the political imbroglio which culminated in the death of the two prime actors in the June 12, 1993 aftermath, Chief MKO Abiola and General Sani Abacha.
My decision to travel eventually came from a simple flight from Accra to Lagos on RwandAir a few weeks ago. Sorry if I’m advertising the airline but I was pleasantly surprised to fly such a beautiful and brand new A330-200 aircraft belonging to a national carrier of a country that had been so ravaged by an internecine war. The crew was extremely warm, courteous and dutiful. There was no sign amongst them of the tribal warfare that had almost practically sunk and sucked the country into the abyss. They were all smiles and interacted with one another like brother and sister. It was a remarkable throwback to Nigeria of yesteryears when there was no distrust or enmity between us even though we faithfully clung to our tribal groupings.
Back to Rwandair! The food was excellent for a 45-minute flight. The journey was smooth and the timing was spot on, unlike our epileptic airlines, where interminable delay is the order of the day.
That was it. I was sold instantly on the Rwandan magic. I needed to experience first-hand what had changed and was making these people tick and preform near miracles in the reconstruction and rejuvenation of their beloved country. I wasted no time in calling my ever-dependable travel agent, I call her Mrs A, and she booked me from Lagos to Kigali, Kigali to Johannesburg, Johannesburg to Kigali and Kigali to Lagos. To my surprise, the fare was very reasonable and affordable. I made up my mind to explore Africa more than anywhere else this year with this Airline and other African Airlines like Kenyan Airways and Ethiopian Airlines who also have a very good fleet of aircraft and dependable and reliable service and safety history. It is a big shame that most of us have flown too many times to Europe, America and Asia but know practically nowhere in Africa.
For as long as RwandAir remains efficient and affordable, I will remain its self-appointed Ambassador.
The appointed day was very soon upon me. I had no anxieties when packing and preparing for the trip as I often have when flying abroad with some of our Nigerian airlines. The flight from Lagos to Kigali was wonderful. It arrived with some passengers from Accra and picked those of us from Nigeria. We flew for a little under four hours. The Business class was not very full despite the fact that some Access Bank executives were on the flight for their retreat in Kigali. RwandAir needs maximum publicity to market such a fantastic brand. I love the availability of WiFi during the flight.
Some major international airlines, including the much vaunted British Airways, are yet to have these feature on their flights yet those managing RwandAir have seen the vision and realise that this is one of the ways to enhance the travel experience of their passengers. I am very active on social media and was able to communicate and update my social media accounts throughout the flight thus ensuring that I missed out on nothing during the entire flight. There was never a shortage of champagne, but I indulged a bit requesting for one glass only before reclining and stretching out to catch a much-needed nap.
The announcement by the Captain woke me up and brought me back to reality as we started our descent into Kigali. The crew went through the usual ritual of getting the cabins ready for landing. In minutes the massive plane opened it flaps and landed perfectly. The plane taxied to its parking bay in the small airport. The door was swung open, by the crew and not by unknown forces, and we were told we could disembark. I was the first to leave, anxious to get to my hotel. I approached the Immigration counters and was invited by an officer who granted me visa on arrival. The visa cost 30 US Dollars and the process was easy and smooth. No one requested for tonnes of documentation or any gratification to get what was clearly my entitlement. I went to the luggage claims area after passing my handbags through x-ray machine. I picked my suitcases and put them on a trolley which was free of charge.
DJ Cuppy and I had spoken before my trip and she had mentioned a few good hotels to try. I readily settled for the Marriott Kigali. I walked out of the airport and located a taxi rank. I got a driver in little time and we drove to the hotel about 25 minutes away. I did not regret my choice. The hotel was reasonably priced and very comfy. I had a quick check-in, showered and went straight to bed.
I woke up in the morning to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast. I hired a car to take a tour of Kigali and enjoyed taking in the atmosphere of a battered but recovered nation. After two nights, I headed to South Africa and landed at about 2a.m. By 3a.m, I was in my hotel in Sandton. No unnecessary argument with the front desk officer, I was granted early check-in. Elsewhere, I would have been punished for arriving too early and advised to wait till 3p.m. but South Africa understands tourism.
I settled to my meetings in Johannesburg and spent my two days well. One of my plans was to meet the aging and ailing Winnie Mandela, one of the greatest icons of the anti-apartheid struggle. Thanks to my friends, Ms Cebo Hlatshwayo and Mr Malcolm X, an appointment was arranged pronto. I had met Winnie Mandela about 14 years ago at the 70th birthday of Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion and remain one of her biggest fans till this day. We were minutes to her home in Soweto when we received a call that she was being rushed to hospital. What a shame, I soliloquised. We decided to go to a nearby restaurant to sample some local cuisine. I was humbled when Winnie called Malcolm from hospital just to offer her apologies to me. She promised to see me before flying out that night if the doctors released her to go home.
Winnie kept her word and we met for about 30 minutes before I headed to the Oliver Tambo Airport to catch my flight back to Kigali.
There is so much happening in Africa that I hope to capture in the books I’m working on. The story of Rwanda is one that I believe every Nigerian should study and understand well. It seems we did not learn much from our own civil war experience. At the rate, and the way, Nigeria is going, we need special prayers not to go the way of Rwanda. In case the story of Rwanda is strange to you, please, allow me to give you a quick summary. The genocide that rocked Rwanda is better left to the imagination. Like all pogroms the world over, it started with one ethnic group hating the other, in this case the Hutus hated the Tutsis with so much passion and venom. It is always difficult to determine the source or cause of such monumental dislike for a fellow human being. The situation gets worse when leaders who should discourage such malady actually encourage and partake in the orgy of violence.
In Rwanda, the Hutu were said to have had a pathological hatred for the Tutsi. I stumbled on the Hutu Commandments and I had goose bumps all over me. I wondered why anyone would hate another being in such ungodly manner. Let me share some with you:
“All Hutus must know that the Tutsi woman wherever she may be, is serving the Tutsi ethnic group. In consequence, any Hutu who does the following is a traitor:
acquires a Tutsi wife
acquires a Tutsi mistress
acquires a Tutsi secretary or dependent
All Hutus must know that our Hutu daughters are more worthy and more conscientious in their role of woman, spouse and mother. Are they not more beautiful, good secretaries and more sincere!
Hutu women, be vigilant and bid your husbands, brothers and sons to come to their senses.
All Hutus must know the Tutsi is dishonest in business. His only goal is ethnic superiority…”
Now, as if this is not bad enough, wait for this, my dear reader:
“In consequence, any Hutu who does the following is a traitor: whoever makes an alliance with Tutsi in business whoever invests his money or state money in a Tutsi company whoever lends money or borrows it from a Tutsi whoever grants favours to Tutsi in business (granting of import license, bank loans, building parcel, public tender offers…)
The strategic political, administrative, economical, military and security positions must be reserved for Hutu.
The education (students, teachers) must be of Hutu majority.
The Rwandan Armed Forces must be exclusively Hutu. The war experience in 1990 teaches us this lesson. No military man should marry a Tutsi woman…”
This was how the Hutu clan brainwashed their own people. Isn’t this similar to what is going on in our own country? Politicians daily regale us with their predilection for restructuring on the basis of primordial tribal sentiments when the restructuring that this country needs is on a political, social and economic front, devoid of religious or ethnic considerations.
Anyway, Rwanda exploded as the warmongering protagonists had wished and in no time, a million lives were wasted by blood-sucking bigots and jingoists.
I was stunned when I visited the genocide museum. It brought home the grim reality of war in a way in which history books, documentaries and other works of art can never do. We must commend the government and people of Rwanda for preserving this important moment in the country’s history. Emmanuel, my driver, brought the reality home when he blatantly refused to enter the museum. I asked him why and his response was that “I have both my parents there…” I didn’t understand him at first. I thought they worked in the place. I prodded further, and he told me sadly that he lost his parents to the senseless war and they are buried in that museum. Perhaps if our country had preserved some of the relics and experiences of the Civil War that almost nearly tore us apart and led to millions of deaths, we would not be beating down what we should realise is a well-trodden path to destruction and perdition.
I had tears in my eyes as I toured the well-kept monument. The tears were not only for Rwanda but for the unseen future of my country where ignorance and our unique ability to lose sight of history is leading us to a ruinous date with the destiny of war. My fervent prayer continues to be that reason and good leadership will prevail in Nigeria, and we will be brought away from the brink of the grave disaster, that our foolhardy leaders appear to be steering us towards. I bought many books, in fact every book written in English.
It is one important history I cannot afford to ignore or forget. The lessons are of flaws in humanity leading to a human calamity. Those who are beating the drums of war should please cool temper. They will probably be the first to flee and disappear when the first shots of battle ring out. It is the ordinary man, woman and child that will suffer the most.
Indeed, war is never a tea party …
By Dele Momodu