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Mysterious Privilege: Power of Faith and Resilience

Mysterious Privilege: Power of Faith and Resilience

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Mysterious Privilege: Power of Faith and Resilience

247 Seiten
4 Stunden
Mar 5, 2019


The Memoir, Mysterious Privilege reveals the importance of faith and positive patience. It’s an account of the resilience of a young man ordained to the life of a backwoods herdsman who, against all expectation, transitions from deprivation to advantage, trading on what he notably calls ‘necessary madness’.

The author’s story from a stateless nomad in Savanah grasslands, to a global technocrat, affirms both the value of hard work and the hand of God.

To those whose life is weighed down by lack, inherited deprivation and whispers of defeat, this book is a must read. According to the author, equipped with faith, one believes in the impossible and attains the incredible. Read, reflect and keep faithful

Mar 5, 2019

Über den Autor

Benon TALEMWA is a socio-economist, a project management professional and a gender expert. He has written widely on economic transformation through social prosperity, gender equality and complementarity.

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Mysterious Privilege - Benon Talemwa



Lost-Tracing My Roots

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness". — Alex Haley, Roots

I was born at a time when the entire generation was at a blink of extinction. Disowned and sold for good by architects of Rwanda’s tragic history. Blessed are those whose past has been without constraint, a free ride, with every answer available to the most pressing questions. For some, including myself, the past has been foggy.

Following dirty politics, my people were forced to flee into exile. As refugees, they walked thorny paths, meandering like a river, in conflict between who they could have been and who the world and history had forced them to become.

At some point, some of us found ourselves, completely divorced from our heritage, battling social rejection, political persecution and injustice, swimming in a cocktail of cultures, struggling to define who we must be. Simply put, it was a crisis of identity.

This story is not my story alone. For a long time, many Rwandans were lost in the wilderness, detached from their roots by such a tragic history. I want to recount how a section of Rwandans were forced to flee their motherland for foreign lands, and how they were gone for so long that many would have found it an uphill task to prove their claim of being Rwandan in the eyes of the law.

Had it not been for the grace of God, ushering in a considerate and rational government invested in national unity, we may never have succeeded, reconnecting to our roots. This chapter doubles as my letter of gratitude for the men and women, dead and living, who stood surety as we reclaimed our lost identity, returning from the brink of eternal enslavement.

As my history was fractured, so was my identity. Bearing a foreign name, with a foreign accent and an amateur in all but a few norms of my land, it takes effort and courage to defend who I am. Just like many other Rwandans who walked similar paths, who I am and who I appear to be are subjects of contention.

By law and inner conviction, I am now Rwandan. By name, I am taken to be from either Central or South-west Uganda, or at least North-west Tanzania. My physique suggests any of these three locales.

For a long time, I have lived with this protested identity, like a mask. Worse enough, my name doesn’t qualify me as belonging to the place I claim to belong. It’s not my fault but history bears the blame. Its disarray has shaped our fate as a people.

Many people the world over understand Rwanda’s turbulent past, that sent its children in disarray across continents. They know we have Rwandans who bear no Rwandan local name. That there are even those who can hardly pronounce a single word in a local dialect, or who can’t trace their geographical place of origin or both. That some indeed have one Rwandan and one foreign Parent. However, some choose not to appreciate the unfortunate consequences that the history of Rwanda, has had on us, her heirs.

On hearing my name, Talemwa, some people tend to ask why I carry such a foreign name yet claim to be Rwandan. Some blame me for failure to take legal steps to adopt a socially familiar Rwandan name that raises no doubt over my origin. Whereas there is some substance in this reasoning, I find it a signal of forgetfulness. I am a student of history. I know the significance of preserving one’s history. I say to these brethren, blame not me but my history, the wrath of which all but a few Rwandans have tasted.

Even so, with regards to names, I have tended to believe that what is foreign is relative. Looking around Africa, most people have at least one or two foreign names that have only been socially accepted. Everybody carries with them French, English, Italian, or Arabic so-called ‘first names.’ If they are not John, at least they are Jean. If they are not Jean, they are Abdullah, depending on one’s religious orientation and faith. What makes my case outstanding is perhaps that neither of my names; Talemwa Benon is domestic or at least domesticated. Even for my surname, Talemwa, whilst African, is considered exotic.

Nevertheless, if bearing a foreign name was justification for questioning the credibility of a person’s origin, then every person in the colonised world has been deracinated, except a very small number of people who can prove their names derive from local words.

Just like height, weight and skin color, I don’t think names should matter. In the 21 st century, tying a person’s nationality to how their name is written or pronounced is no better or truer than apportioning specific roles to males and females just because they are born so.

Meanwhile, in all the unfairness of my past, I am grateful that the laws of my land don’t grant nationality based solely on names, otherwise we would have remained aliens to the land of our ancestors indefinitely.

I am indebted to the government of national unity that passed accommodative legal provisions that cater for every category of Rwandan, lost and found, both from within and without. Otherwise, with our untraceable roots, some of us would have been forever deprived of the right to belong.

Graciously, despite being foreigners by name, we were accepted as citizens when we returned. Our past has been troubled and left us with a lesson to stick to our roots. Thus, I have given my children Rwandan names, to cushion them from the conflict of history and social expectation: Mfura, Iliza and Ntwari.

As for me, unfortunately, it is too late. Any attempt to change my name would be a distortion of our history; a history that shaped and fuelled our resilience as a people along the most difficult journey. Changing my name would be destroying a remnant of our turbulent past, from which our children learn so much. I beg to be excused.

So, what makes me a son of this land? This must be tackled for our children and the future generation to know how crooked our life’s itinerary has been. I was born to Peter Ruchari and Manjeri Nyirakamagaza. My father is from the Basinga clan, whose totem is a coloured cow with black stripes, known as Ngobe in Diaspora Kinyarwanda, or Inka Y’umusengo, in original Kinyarwanda. My mother comes from the Bagesera clan. According to folktales, my Paternal grandfather was Rubangura, who married Nyiramahinga. He was the son of Gatabazi, who married Kirungu. Gatabazi was son of Rukundo who married Nyirancece.

Rukundo was the son of Bishirira, who was the son of Nzarubara. Nzarubara had three sons, including Murengezi, Nyakana, and Bishirira (My line ancestor). Climbing my family tree brings you to the famous Burora, a legend of the Basinga clan, from which I’m descended. According to oral legend, he is known to have cursed an eagle, causing it to remain stuck in the sky. That is my paternal ancestry, connecting the dots to my Rwandan roots.

Meanwhile, due to the dictates of patriarchy, where descent is reckoned in the male line, female members of the family have been skipped from the narrative of one’s bloodline. In this journey of self-discovery, I have laboured with difficulty to trace some of the female characters within my genealogy. The result is even more consoling. These women further connect me to nowhere else but to Rwanda, the land I am now claiming.

I learnt that my Great-grandfather Gatabazi had two daughters, (sisters to my grandfather), who are not commonly referred to in narratives of our genealogy. These were Gahiiza and Nyirantegwa.

Rubangura, my grandfather had six children. In order, these were; Kimiya Kosiya, (Eldest son), a daughter, Nyirantabire, another son, Busheshe, who died young, my father, Ruchari Petero, another daughter, Gahinjagure, and Rwagikamba, the last born.

Gahiiza gave birth to three daughters: Kyabatuku, Karigore and Nyirabashakamba. Nyirantegwa gave birth to two daughters: Butisiiga and Bukobwa, and had a son, Rwabibi, who was by a different husband.

When I look at my long lineage, I am firm and consoled. I was only lost but am now found. It takes the edge off the winds of an ugly past which blew us from our original roots. No matter how foreign my names can sound, if we go by such descent, every member of my ancestry was undisputedly Rwandan. Therefore, so am I.

My mother belongs to the Bagesera Clan. She is daughter to Semafara who Married Mukandanga. Semafara was son of Rwakigarama, Intwaramuheto y’Umwami w’Igisaka, literally meaning one who carried a bow for the King of Gisaka.

Gisaka was one of the ancient kingdoms before the formation of modern state of Rwanda.

Rwakigarama was son of Musare, son of Segaforomo, son of Shyerezo, son of Bazimya Ba Ruregyeya, son of Kimenyi cya Ndagala ya Ruhinda, all from the former Gisaka cya Migongo, in the current Kirehe District of Rwanda’s Eastern Province.

According to unconfirmed ancient history, Ruhinda is believed to have been the ancestor of all Bahinda clansmen in Rwanda and Karagwe region of Tanzania. That is how nationalities in the Great Lakes Region can be interrelated.

From unverified oral tradition, I learnt that the legendary Ruhinda was engaged in political power struggles against members of the Bajembe community of the ancient Gisaka kingdom, in the 1850s, over who would rule the then powerful Gisaka Kingdom. That at the height of the conflict, Ruhinda fled to neighbouring Karagwe in Tanzania. That after he fled, his family separated into three factions. That one faction stayed in Gisaka and were called Banyagisaka, another went to Nduga, and were called Abanyanduga, while the third group fled with him to Karagwe, to form the popular Ruhinda Dynasty, Ingoma Yaruhinda.

My maternal grandmother was Mukandanga, daughter of Seburimbwa. Seburimbwa was son of Muhizi. Either way, paternal or maternal, if names define one’s nationality, none of the above sounds foreign. My maternal grandmother was from the Batambira sub-clan, also born and raised in the ancient Gisaka Kingdom.

Before they fled, my ancestors were Rwandans, living in Rwanda. From their ancestral place of origin, Gisaka cya Migongo, my maternal ancestors settled across the old Kingdom of Rwanda, in places such as Cyimbugu, in present day Gatsibo District, and Kyonyo, in Nyagatare District. Am still struggling to locate exactly where this is today, with the turn-around of names. From there, they fled to Uganda via Kabeza in the then Ankore District, which was part of the greater Mpororo Kingdom. They were fleeing colonial misrule at the time.

My paternal ancestral place of origin is said to have been at a place called Gakenke, commonly known as Kumuringa wa Rubona, in the then Buganza region along Lake Muhazi. This fell within the radius of the original Rwanda.

Existing literature indicates that the period between the 14 th and 15 th centuries was when various clans began to coalesce into kingdoms such as Bugesera, Gisaka, Nduga, and Rwanda. During this time, Rwanda formed a single kingdom, like the other kingdoms mentioned above. One can logically assume that the Banyarwanda then, were the people resident within the boundaries of then Kingdom of Rwanda, as people were named after their kingdoms, Banya, meaning people of.

According to literature, the Kingdom of Rwanda was founded on the shores of Lake Muhazi in the Buganza region, close to the modern city of Rwamagana. Despite the lost heritage, tracing my ancestry along the original bounds of the ancient Kingdom of Rwanda, it occurs to me that my people were among the original settlers of ancient Rwanda (u Rwanda rwa Gasabo), the very heart of Rwanda. I should be Rwandan. However, today, this is a non-issue, irrelevant to the vision of modern Rwanda. What is past is gone. Instead, let us shape a good future, trading on our positive diversity, from the same root, with a common heritage and a shared vision.

A good future would be one that doesn’t judge a person by their name, physicality or faith, but by their attitude, intentions and actions towards Rwanda and the entire human race. This has been the will of our founders. It’s a founding doctrine of the government of national unity. Let us learn from the past. To some, wherever they fled, some tenets of the founding tradition were circumstantially altered. Let us maintain a future that attributes fault not to tradition but to the fallibility of being human.

Who cut my roots? Who stole my heritage? Over three decades later, when I asked my elders specifically when, how and why our people left the land they loved so much, they told me they fled from colonial-inspired oppression and subsequent political persecution. One night, they left Bubiligi in Rwanda for neighbouring Bwongereza, the then Kinyarwanda term for Uganda as a British colony. A chapter had been closed.

For a long time, my people were refugees. In diaspora, they were later to become stateless and hypothetical ‘citizens of the world,’ crossing country after country. Many people have suffered the same fate and faded away. As for Rwandans, despite this indecent exit, I see God’s hand in all that we went through, from the genesis of the thorny path to the journey of return. By way of mystery and auspicious luck, our people persevered so that our generation could be a living testimony of Rwanda’s torn history but also a resilient people, transcending from victims to victors.

Families were split. As my grandfather fled persecution, some of his brothers stayed. They would later face subsequent inhuman treatment at the hands of a rogue regime. Ruvuzo, our then family chief and brother to our great-grandfather, remained in Buganza. He only left later, during another phase of persecution during the late 1950s. This is how the hand of history rent asunder blood relatives, evicting some into early exile, while keeping others under subsequent perpetual deprivation.

The journey was long. The story can be endless. To cut it short, after a long while, we finally returned home, as strangers in our cradleland. As a result, I painstakingly seek my roots today here in Rwanda. As I search, I am sure people from the family of Ruvuzo, brother to my great grandfather, who stayed here and hopefully survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, could be among my immediate neighbours. But how would I know them? The chain-link was cut.

Cursed be the day a wall was erected in the middle of our house, disorganising my heritage. Cursed be the day that caused me to have to prove my roots to my homeland, Rwanda.

This journey of self-discovery remains puzzling. No proper records beyond a single generation. My family were a cattle-keeping one. Even in Uganda, where they fled to, my people settled in remote areas, in valleys, on mountain tops and other inaccessible pasturelands. They were nomadic pastoralists. Given the circumstances under which they left, and their subsequent settlement patterns, I believe my ancestors had no organised system of keeping records. Information and knowledge were kept and transmitted by word of mouth, from one generation to the next. They had no computers, no smartphones and no access to the internet. Without oral history, a person barely has any idea what transpired before they were born. The accuracy of this information was entirely dependent on the teller’s memory, which was vulnerable to the distortions of time.

For more than three decades away from Rwanda, we kept on the move, unsettled. From region to region within a host country and even across borders. In this life of eternal transit, people carried no identification whatsoever. Most of the elders died along the way, leaving no clear record of their people’s roots. Children remained destitute, with a fractured sense of self. I, for example, never had the chance to talk to any of my grandfathers. They died long ago, when their children, our parents were still young. Asking me for my grandfather’s story would be the equivalent of asking a son about their father’s wedding day. I can only say what I’ve been told, through the memory of others.

In all this, luck was with us. During all the time we were out there, my people mysteriously stuck to their traditions and their heritage. If you looked at how they dressed, and arranged their celebrations and mourning ceremonies, you would sense their strong bond with a treasured yet defiled past. For so many decades, we continued to understand and speak Kinyarwanda, though it became diluted with the years.

Despite visible constraints, my elders never lost hope of returning for good. Why shouldn’t I call this a mystery when refugees of other nationalities who came after us swiftly surrendered to the forces of assimilation and integrated into local communities? There’s something unique about Rwandans, their culture and traditions. We have a culture that survives through rain and sunshine, indomitable as an island in a sea of opposing traditions. I am proud of my heritage.

Until later, the names my people gave newly born children in the diaspora were purely Rwandan, a symbol of the pride and ties to their roots. In my own family, for example, you find petty names like Bwinturo (wildcat), Nyirinkware (wild chicken) , Rusatsi (thick-haired), and Kayitesi. They were Rwandans at heart, only physically divorced from the land of our ancestors.

My people defied both threats and concessions to dissolve in our host local communities. I suspect our reluctance to assimilate into local communities partly triggered the social discrimination and political harassment that my people underwent. Fellow foreigners, who traded their identities for social acceptance and became swallowed by host communities, are today eternally adopted. I’m happy we resisted.

Because of characteristic socio-political upheavals, my people were always on the run. They were internally displaced and often expelled. We lived in isolation and endured deprivation, hiding from rivalling authorities during the perennial wars in Uganda. Unfortunately, the gates of Rwanda, our inherited home, remained shut to a section of its shareholders until after 1994.

Appreciating that background, does one still wonder why some of us bear foreign names yet continue to claim to be Rwandan? I have been asked this question often, especially by those who are unaware of the realities of my history. This is how the whole thing unfolded. Where we stayed as refugees, to cushion their children from discrimination at the hands of an ethnically divided society, some parents started to give their children local names.

This helped them to fit in at school and in employment within the regions in which they had settled. Boys in Central Uganda for example had names like Mukasa, Mutebi, Kakooza, Kibuuka, among others, whilst girls were called Namukasa, Namutebi and Nakibuuka, among others. In the West and South-west, children had names like Asiimwe, Kaliisa, Kobusingye, Kabarebe, Rugambwa, Busingye, Mwesigye and Talemwa. The same applied to Rwandans in whichever corner of the globe they lived. Because my family lived in an area where Rwandans were resented, and where names often incited discrimination, attracting justice or injustice to the bearer, depending on the second name, they decided to call me Talemwa.

Many Rwandans were portrayed as foreigners to-date. Although I regret how this came to be, I have come to accept this name and have no intention of rejecting this memento of my people’s struggle and the degree of might of the Lord who led us back. To me, my name is both a living symbol of my turbulent history and a constant reminder of the value of liberation of my beloved homeland, Rwanda.

The name Talemwa is common among some local tribes in Uganda, such as the Banyankore or Bakiga, the Baganda, and the Banyambo of Karagwe. The name literally means ‘God never fails.’ Prophetic, not so? This in itself is a signal of faith in God and his abilities that my people held. Indeed, God never failed to protect my people from the wrath of dirty politics

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