The making of a nation

We might as well start with a disclaimer. This article contains optimism for an impoverished nation under siege from a myriad of challenges: poverty, economic stagnation, trade imbalances, inequality, corruption, high infancy mortality, crumbling social and physical infrastructure etcetera.

That done, this article, offers no apology for offering hope when clearly, again, there are reasons for the citizens of that nation, to look ahead with confidence.

Of course, no nation has one fixed narrative. Our stories shift, moods change, perceptions vanish, and, most importantly, time allows us to genuinely correct mistakes of the past and tangibly build a better home.

All the people eventually move, however, the challenges of the hour. We are not an exception to the rules of nations.

When Paul Kagame can conjure a miracle from ashes of Rwanda’s genocidal hell-fire—a tiny and landlocked nation, too—then, we, too, can. Unlike Rwanda, our country has always been an oasis of peace; has bigger land mass and demographic dividends to reap from. Our potential is frightening, immeasurable.

Our shared story—today often told in a language of our colonial heritage—is an accumulation of decades in shared melting cultures and languages.

Various ethnic groups, attracted by the richness and smelling opportunities of a prosperous homeland, settled here one by one. Armed to the teeth, they arrived in full flight; either fighting or fleeing. They, eventually, made peace. They traded, intermarried, co-existed. That they formed a nation that continues to live in this inter-ethnic harmony years, after ending British colonial subjugation, is a plus on our national CV.

And experiencing the one-party tyranny, in 1993, aided by the winds of change and human mortality that allowed a dictator to age, we reclaimed our destiny. The challenges today are different. But we are still a young nation, we can learn from our mistakes and create a better nation for our children.

Democracy allows ideas to thrive, and our institutions of democracy are maturing. We might have suffered from incompetent governments half the time, but we have also seen in glimpses enough to suggest we can mould this country better if we got our act together.

Many other nations have endured pain before enjoying prosperity. But we have our work cut out for us. Chief among them is uprooting the pervasive cancer of corruption and making our both government and business more efficient.

While our challenges are enormous, we shouldn’t overestimate our predicament either. Our governance institutions are strengthening, our people are resilient.

But our people’s stoicism in face of obvious patronising behaviour by incompetent leaders must end. We can’t live on blind loyalty and fool ourselves that by corruptly benefiting from plunder of this nation, either by association with some ruling party or not, or through abusing position of influence, then all is good for us. When a nation falls, even the rich bear the blunt.

The rest of us, those marginalised, can’t afford to be complicit by just being passive watchers just engrossed in cynicism. Active citizenship means demanding rights and better leadership and prudent use of your taxes. The vote is a powerful weapon. Protest is as potent in a democracy.

To build a better nation, we must be ready to go to war against the very things that have derailed us in the past.

Our sacrifices must be both personal and national. We can’t just be patriots while being lazy citizens.

The same rivers and lakes, arable land and valleys that beckoned our forbearers will water our emancipation.

Let’s wean our dependence on aid; donors are not our saviours—they have their own interests. Prayer alone won’t save us, not when even the Bible say “we will eat our sweat.”

But our government can’t afford to do things haphazardly anymore. Long term visions ought to be drawn and implemented religiously—regardless of the name of the president or the ruling party.

As one patriarch of our nation remarked, “let’s dream in colour.” Let’s dream about future industries, cities, schools, hospitals, roads, town halls, stadia, airports. Let’s excite and support our innovative minds to utilise science and technology to turn this country around.

We have mourned enough and been partisan enough. And while we might not be off the rails yet, there is something amazing about hope.

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