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Assumpta Mugiranzea, Sociologist

By Assumpta Mugiraneza

Assumpta Mugiraneza © Assumpta Mugiraneza

Living with globalisation, Free Thought.

Get informed to live as a free citizen... The Internet gives me the choice to stay informed and I chose : mainly radio, France Inter and France Culture and the digital press (no Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or Instagram account, inappropriately called social media). It was through this that I learned of the arrival of a new virus from China, quite ordinary for the end of a winter period.

The news persisted, we could feel the tension rising, at the turn of a sentence of a politician appealing to his constituents’ populist tendencies, another who hesitates, not knowing how to present his opinion without mercy... and speakers who speak a language that I am able to hear, one that describes what we observe, analyse, one that warns us without yielding to sensationalism, a language of seriousness.

I had planned a trip to Europe for the end of March and I had found an interesting booking that I paid before 14 February. I realise that doubt had won me over, I can no longer go on this trip, as if the news had finally convinced me that the crisis did exist. Without wanting to worry two of my children who live in France, I speak to them about the threat, daring to name things and asking them to be careful, to neither give in to paranoia or denial, and that staying at home in lockdown is the only way.

How do you manage the 1st week of work when Kigali is starting to get scared?

Remain open by taking precautions, create and encourage a space for discussion and debate, to reassure, to de-dramatise, to raise awareness and find the right approach... The situation was going to get worse, but the IRIBA Centre could not close without warning its public, especially the young people who have made a habit of coming to elaborate their numerous and eager questions in a corner of the Centre. My regret is not having organised more structured meetings to exercise their understanding during the lockdown.

At home, there are strategic purchases, such as buying credit for the phone for hundreds of SMS and calls, you have to keep in touch, stay available, despite the global virus, to support the remote learning of two other children... You share films, and lots of musical moments and time passes quickly.

Thinking about our time and owning it

Globalisation... a word you hear on everyone's lips, whose meaning and facts is rarely fully understood. Our era is struggling to think about the progress of the world today; now long overdue is the forging of the appropriate tools to grasp the new challenges of globalisation, to measure the impact of new information technologies on our existence.

Our world has opened up and is not likely to stop; it has improved by opening up, and not only in the commercial aspects. Our era has won the fall of the Wall, the disintegration of the old blocs (East-West), the freer flow of information and the almost uncontrollable access to it. If a virus can exploit the paths of our freedom, it is first and foremost because these paths exist and are manifold.

Multilateral thinking of action, in the search for mutual supportiveness and solidarity will make it possible to safeguard the areas of freedom that have been acquired and will overcome this virus and others. There is Hope in Free Thought.

And what about Rwanda during this turmoil?

Talking about Rwanda in March to April is about agreeing to face what makes this country unique, this famous month of April in which Kinyarwanda consecrates Mata - the month of milk - which has become - the month of blood. The sky seems heavier and low, as if it were in danger of collapsing, with tears that never cease to flow, perhaps to cleanse Rwanda? For us, living the week of mourning (07-13 April) in lockdown was an ordeal within an ordeal. Happily, life is always stronger and the friends who remember that remain the best support against the feeling of deep loneliness that takes hold of us as 07 April approaches. You still wonder how it is possible... and, as a Rwandan poetess said so well in ‘94, “you will ask yourself that question forever without ever finding the answer”. Up to 04 July, we continue to live the three months of Remembrance. Ordinary Rwanda continues its resistance to Covid-19; but every day, there are survivors who have the feeling that the ground is slipping away. “This day is the day when our mother, father, brother, sister, wife, husband, was killed, the day I was killed...”, expressing the unspeakable unhappiness that they carry quite alone in a lockdown, which therefore seems very linked to them... “This time, we all stay home without anyone coming to kill you, you stay in your house, you are not being hunted and you can even cross the street without anyone shouting to bring down a horde of killers upon you - igitero- as it was in 1994”. Attentive and sensitive to the unpublished figures of Covid-19 deaths, they end up recalling that all of the Covid-19 deaths around the world only equal a week, on average, of the number of people killed in the spring of 1994.

The day we emerge... The majority of Rwandans are experiencing the lockdown as a decision by the authorities; they submit to it, the media reminds them and the police watch over it. In discussions, everyone talks about “when it is all over, we will emerge”. The next part varies, however:
  • Can we live as before? It may look like the recovery, after 1994, but, of course, without the dead.
  • Won't we go through a crisis with soaring food prices? As for what is produced locally, there is a risk of overabundance; but for what must come from outside, the prices risk doubling while there is a shortage of fresh money in the pockets of the average Rwandan.
  • Will we be able to see the people who usually flood the churches? Will there be more or less of them? What will the attitude of the state be?
  • How will we manage the return of the children to school? Parents are short of money, but the institutions will be even more demanding on the school fees, especially if they have to decontaminate the buildings and schoolyards! Above all, Rwanda will go back to the previous school year, but how will this year be validated?
  • Rwandans will rediscover their values from before, instead of spending a lot of time in our various businesses - shuguri. We will take more time to live with our loved ones (especially children), see friends and visit each other. In short, we will have rediscovered social meaning.
The list is not exhaustive but we must believe that there is a kind of impatience in seeing the possibility of returning to work, especially the odd jobs that allow you to eat. Hairdressers, street sweepers, motorcycle taxis, construction workers, vendors, etc. are all waiting for the authorities to reopen the roads and shops, so as not to starve. But, since there will be some of them, who will take care of the ones who don’t recover their wages? Who won’t get their small jobs back? There is a risk of tension between employers and employees, with everyone hoping to not be the most affected by the lockdown measures.

On the socio-political level, the lockdown has given people time to turn their attention back to their own situation in the Cité-Rwanda. There are questions and reflections and they should find a space to express themselves, to share, to debate, etc. What will the management line be for this kind of need?

Public speech seemed to simply mark time, not very unique, not diversified, with the risk of repeating the same thing on different levels. This puts into question Rwandan society as to its maturity as a civil society, in particular. Indeed, it is for the first time, in decades, that Rwandan society is facing a “shared” crisis, the factors of which are entirely external. It will be necessary to analyse in more depth what has changed in the perception of oneself, of one’s country, in the relationship one has with one’s neighbours (26 years after the local genocide), of the citizen to the authorities, and of the individual to the institutional structures. It may be necessary to more acutely analyse the understanding of globalisation and of international relations, especially among the young people. Concepts that seemed to have become hollow and cliché, such as solidarity, interdependence, community, etc., should be brought back into dialogue with those such as freedom, independence and individuality. The freedom of each Rwandan, in the digital and modernist transformation, must be questioned and debated, with its place understood.

Brainwashing or fake news, populist speeches and conspiracy theories and rumours of all kinds have occupied an important place in the “lockdown cyberspace”. We will need to track their impact in life after Covid-19 and imagine a way to deconstruct this “false knowledge” and produce objective sources of knowledge available to the public, which must be actively approached. The resumption of schools should be thought of with messages written by those people responsible for it; people capable of thinking about this problem in a world living through the early years of the digital revolution.