What you need to know:
- So, Dear Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba of the UPDF, leave our dear President Kagame out of this monument talk. Gen Kagame will be remembered for the iconic Kigali Convention Centre, the sprawling Ministry of Defence Headquarters and many others.
Mr Timothy Kalyegira once told me he liked the street naming system in Kigali. ‘It’s such a novelty comparable to urban attitudes of Western cities’, he said. And then he asked me: What’s ‘the real reason’ behind the new (un-African) street naming system in Kigali?
Here is the answer to Mr Kalyegira’s query. What does changing Ben Kiwanuka Street (formerly South Street) to KC01 Road mean? An attempt to erase Ben Kiwanuka from the history of Kampala and inversely, changing Kitante Road to Yusuf Lule Road means acknowledging Prof Yusuf Lule’s place in the history of Kampala.
So, Rwanda authorities may have had other reasons to change the street naming system. But it is clear the names of people and places after whom these streets had hitherto been named have been relegated (in a subtle way) down the lower rung of the cumulative history and heritage of Rwanda.
Rwanda (and Africa at large), is no place for statues as a legacy or as an instrument of cultural expression of the cumulative benefaction and charity of history.
That’s why I smiled knowingly when Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba tweeted suggesting that statues (or monuments) be built in honour of Gen Yoweri Museveni, Gen Salim Saleh, Gen Fred Rwigema and Gen Paul Kagame. I have met all the four generals in different circumstances. But I still say: No monuments. Why? I will tell you a story to answer that.
A Rwandan friend told me ‘for the record, Rwanda has no living former president.’ Shocked, I asked: And Mr Passteur Bizimungu? My Rwandan friend laughed and said: ‘A court of law expunged from public record Mr Bizimungu’s public life, including his presidency; so, it is illegal to refer to him as a former president.’ I don’t know how true this is and I don’t even intend to find out.
Dear Lt Gen Kainerugaba, if one’s public life can be legally removed from the national records, what would happen to a statute or monument built in his or her honour? I have observed that statues and monuments have in recent history been the object of public ire during popular civic actions (like protest marches). For lack of space, I cannot list statues or monuments that have been brought down during civil protests since 2000.
But I lifted this from the Facebook Wall of a Ugandan living in the UK… “Winston Churchill’s imposing statue survived being pulled down by protesters in the “Black Lives Matter” march in Central London that was sparked off by George Floyd’s killing. (Churchill was known to be a racist).
Here is another story which could discourage Gen Kagame from buying into the idea of a statue or monument in his honour. Mr Dominique Mbonyumutwa was the first president of Rwanda after the dissolution of the monarchy (in 1961?).
He died in 1986 and was buried in Gitarama where his mausoleum (grave) was gazetted as one of the national monuments and antiquities of Rwanda. But in 2010, his mortal relics were exhumed and reburied in a public cemetery (because government had changed the land-use for the plot on which former president Mobinyumutwa had been buried).
So, Dear Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba of the UPDF, leave our dear President Kagame out of this monument talk. Gen Kagame will be remembered for the iconic Kigali Convention Centre, the sprawling Ministry of Defence Headquarters and many others.
If it were up to me, the only monument I would endorse for preservation in Kigali City is the iconic Gereza Ya Kigali (Kigali Prison) aka 1930. I was imprisoned there. I learnt more about Rwanda in that prison than from all the good people I had met.
Mr Bisiika is the executive
editor of the East African Flagpost.