After 50 yrs, we need a new perception of independence
If you have looked at your calendar, you must have noticed that we are not just in July now but today also happens to be the Independence Day for both Rwanda and Burundi. Therefore, unlike on many other days, this time I knew precisely that my story theme had to do with the Independence Day celebrations for the two countries.
However, I soon found out that completing the story was not going to be as simple as I had imagined. As it turns out, independence is something we often gloss about without not really understanding what it means for us.
Today, Rwanda and Burundi celebrate 50 years of independence from the Belgians after having been colonised and ruled as one entity called Ruanda-Urundi. The two countries are now separate states but with a number of lingering similarities.
For the 50th Independence celebrations, Burundian leader, Pierre Nkurunziza pardoned several thousand prisoners to allow them join the celebrations while the Kigali City Council, took time to freshly paint the roads and give the city more shine (it was shining already).
Independence celebrations around here (East Africa) are often characterised by colourful speeches, about how far we have come since our independence leaders received instruments of power, and, sometimes you get to see a display of some military hardware.
The big question though is whether we should be spending a lot of time celebrating independence, when, for sure we are yet to feel or live independently. The way I see it, most of these independence celebrations are akin to a child celebrating admission to a university as though it was graduation.
We still depend on foreign aid for most of our state bills and this has given so many people the idea that they can talk down on us. We are schooled on human rights, democracy, fiscal policy and so many other things and all we do is sit and take notes.
We seem to have accepted the fact that the good leaders are those who are ‘disciplined’ enough to listen to the Western powers and then pretend to listen to their own people. We look down on local solutions and always call on the ‘international community’ to rescue us from all sorts of itching aspects.
But are we not part of the international community? Can’t we devise and trust in our own solutions. 50 years later, do we still need to be taught about human rights by people who abuse the same when they need cheap oil?
When we show off military hardware from Belarus or Russia during such celebrations do we stop to think that day should be about us and not them? And indeed this in my view should be the focus. We should be celebrating those things that make us who we are and we can claim ownership of.
Independence Day in itself is hollow until we own it. It should be about the beauty of our cultures and resilience as a people. We should be celebrating the initiatives that are our own and have actually worked such us Gacaca and Umuganda.
It should be about the heroes who resisted colonialism not just the ones who sat and agreed with the colonialists to ‘receive’ Independence in sleek suits. At 50 years, we should be looking at where we are headed and how we are going to take charge of the future.
We should not just be celebrating the fact that the colonialist handed us the car keys, yet we all know that he actually remained in the car and gave us directions on how to drive. More importantly, we should not be smiling now that China wants a seat in the same car. We should be thinking of how to drive the car without instructions or at least with mutual understanding. Happy Independence Day to Rwanda and Burundi.
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