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Dear former Diaspora, don’t be so humble, you are not that famous…

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By Gatete Kevin Thierry mother attends to the daughter during Umuganura festival

In 1822 when black slaves were freed in America and decided to return to Africa, they were offered Liberia (The land of the free) as a place to settle. Once there, they proceeded to systematically marginalize the indigenous people they found. Although they claimed to be free, they still named their capital city Monrovia after James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States and, without knowing why, tried to mimic everything American. For over 130 years they remained the dominant minority in Liberia, until the civil wars that we all know about. Today, 85% of the people in Liberia live below the poverty line. But who could blame them; every one likes to feel valued, even when we do not know what we are doing…

So to the Rwandan Diaspora, how can we do it differently from the former slaves? You are a critical mass, one that has been exposed. Indeed your contribution to this society is critical. And it is up to us to harness your diverse talents and skills to leverage our growth. But you have to let us help you, help us…

You are the bridge between Rwanda and the world. To this landlocked country, you are the gateway. However, if there is selling to do, it is the selling of Rwandan wealth to the world. There is no need to sell the west to us; your hosts have been doing that for the last 200 years – which is probably why you went there in the first place.

Then again, you know more about the west than about Rwanda. Yet, you yearn to be valued in Rwanda, because your innocence is combined with your enthusiasm about your home country. At last you are someone, your name is not difficult to pronounce, you see familiar features five times a day, you are surrounded by love; from cousins, aunties and the new friends. You now live in a big house, you dress lightly and smile frequently. You used to be the maid, now you have one; and a guard, a gardener, etc.; you are pampered!

So you owe it to your society to pay back. But you can only be useful to Rwanda if you act Rwandan. If you are proactive, engage, immerse, learn; catch up with all those years lost in exile, reconnect with your culture, your history, your people; Reconnect with yourself. You are lost if the only poetry you know is Shakespeare’s. You are adrift if the only languages you speak are foreign. I know it is not your fault, but you can use that excuse for another three, four years and that’s it! So for your learning, you should not only hang out with people as lost as you; it is like two blind men walking together, convincing one another that it is in the middle of the night; even though it is mid-day.

Rwanda isn’t Kigali, go find your people, go find yourself: you will see it’s incredibly fun too. Take a motto, go to Nyamijos, ask around; people like your Kinyarwanda accent: they think it’s cute: they love you! They love the fact that you came back, they are eager to integrate you. You might be frustrated sometimes, but we have a saying round here: ‘Intore ntiganya, ishaka ibisubizo’ (Intore doesn’t complain, he/she finds solutions). You are Intore! So don’t be shy; try out things; take a risk. Mosquitos at your house do not have malaria, because the place is clean and there is no one with malaria around there; take a few bites, to strengthen your immune system; that spray makes you smell like a tourist…

Now Diaspora is the group of nationals who live outside their home country. Once you return home: YOU ARE NO LONGER DIASPORA! You are local, indigenous. If you think I am lying, look at your uncle Sayinzoga from Bugesera, or your grand mother Mukakigeli in Umutara: Tell me if they strike you as citizens of Luxembourg.

Remember, unlike Eritrea, Somalia or Moldova, we do not live off your remittances. Most of the time; we pay for your stay abroad and your education. Sometimes we enter into agreements with countries there to educate you, on the understanding that you will return to serve here once you graduate. But even when we do not do any of that, that look of respect and admiration that you see on your host’s face when you say you are from Rwanda, that’s the fruit of our work here. And finally, take a good look at the locals: you know you wanna be them! You are not discovering us, we are not discovering you: Turaziranye (We know each other): you are not here to change us; you are here to change…

For your own good, you need to shake off that title ASAP. There is nothing special about being Diaspora: You go to Dubai, buy a container for your shop in quartier Matheus; Done, you are Diaspora! You go out for a one-year master’s degree: Done you are Diaspora. You join the FDLR in Congo forests, or the refugee camp in Zambia: Done! It’s easy…

Come to think of it, most adults who live here now, were abroad for a long time; some in cities, others in forests, but we can all claim to be Diaspora; and that’s great! To quote Lupita Nyongo’o: ‘No matter where you come from, your dreams are valid’

That’s what makes our country special, because we can bring all those life skills together and build a beautiful thing; In Rwanda we can have the best of both worlds; thanks to you!

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