“Rwanda is spectacular to behold… eucalyptus trees flash silver against brilliant green tea plantations; banana trees are everywhere… During the rainy season, the clouds are huge and low and fast, mists cling in highland hollows, lightning flickers through the night, and by day the land is lustrous. After the rains the skies lift, the terrain takes on a ragged look beneath the flat unvarying haze of the dry season, and in the savannahs of the Akagera Park wildfire blackens the haze.” Philip Gourevitch
Two weeks to my participating in Nkabom, two words “common ground” were words that kept resounding in my mind. As crucial as they are, these words never get the attention they deserve until something major really happens. Of which afterward we are forced to ask, “What have we done?” “How did we get here?” And then begin to go through the tedious process of healing, reconciliation, and rebuilding.
There is a popular saying that there is unity in diversity, yet this is not translated and domesticated in our daily lives. This scenario might be an unfamiliar territory to those who come from countries with small populations and just a few ethnic groups. But I come from a country populated by over 140 million people, a country I like to describe as a continent of its own, with 36 states as countries and 774 local councils as states, comprising over 250 ethnic groups speaking over 356 languages.
Yet, this strength of numbers and unique history has not been central to the discussions in our pursuit towards development. Rather we have been divided among ethnic and religious lines, inflicting upon ourselves the same divide and rule system that the colonialists used against us.
It is quite alarming that our political leadership has been greatly manipulated to implement this act of discrimination- political offices are allocated to people not merely because of their competence and or motivation to do the job but due to what tribe or religion they belong to.
This was the same situation in Rwanda, though a small country with just three ethnic groups, their colonialists fueled the cultural divisions amongst them and it resulted in what became the world’s greatest genocide ever in 1994.
As I walked through the Kigali Memorial Centre, I pondered, “Do we really need to wait for something this major to happen in Nigeria or in any other country before we change the stereotypes and break the walls we have created in our minds against each other?”
Reflecting on what this year’s international day of peace means to me, I am inspired by the strength of Rwandans in rising above all the pain of the past to embrace healing and unity. This they did by seeking and giving forgiveness, utilizing the role of the culture and commonality, promoting humanity as against individuality/ethnicity as well as in dentifying local solutions from within like the Gacaca courts. This has been resoundingly significant in the interactions amongst the Rwandan people and this for me is the common ground!
Therefore as citizens of the world, we have to identify and build upon things that bind us, our human nature is a universal one; we all have blood running through our veins, and the Melanie deciding what colour of skin we have or not, the genotypes that decide what we look like; while our wants may be variant but we have shared needs of love, peace and development.
Note: Nkabom 2010 took place in Rwanda between 5 and 15 September. The busy 10-day programme brought together around 35 young people from all over the Commonwealth.
Also, this year’s observance of international day of peace, which took place on 21 September, focused on youth and development, under the slogan: “Peace = Future. The Maths is Easy.” Young people already play a crucial role in working for peace. Yet I know they can do even more.
Image via: Bridging culture