Friday, 11 November 2011 19:02

A Tale of Two Black Cities

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There are two black cities sitting on the map

One named Kigali, one named Washington D.C.

Fly away Kigali, Fly away Washington D.C.

Come back Kigali, yes, come back Kigali

Come back, my dear Kigali

And sit on the map

The cities are known. One, is very well known; Washington in the District of Columbia, capital city of self acclaimed world’s greatest country. Daily, millions flock to D.C. in search of remarkable sights. Tourists are often seen navigating the narrow, exclusive parts of town;  without their knowledge, barred from sighting the real Washington D.C. Very wide open to the public are the government offices, historical sites, museums, archives, and man-made attractions. But, tourists must not be allowed to tour the greater part of South East, and parts of North West Washington D.C, or Chocolate City as its Black majority population would rather it be called.

The hugely dilapidated parts of Washington D.C., now occupied by the descendants of slaves are - through carefully crafted invisible barriers - out of bounds to visitors. Visitors to the United States of America must not suspect or even know that Washington D.C. is a black city.  How will they know, when for the most part the important sights are placed within miles of one another in the good parts of town.  The very good transport network of Washington D.C is also known to run more frequently along the routes showcasing the “city.”

The visitors who have the guts  to venture outside designated “visitor areas” of Washington D.C., are confronted with heart wrenching sights. They are faced with the realization that Washington D.C., the present capital of the now faltering Western civilization houses the poorest of poor black people.  The truth is that aside from the places surrounding the Capitol, the White House, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian and some of the affluent parts of town, traversing Washington D.C. is a most depressing endeavour for an African or  any lover of humanity.

The streets are sewn with discarded syringes, obviously utilized for the intravenous injection of something illegal, designed to numb the pain of poverty and its attendant frustrations. Should one doubt the use of these syringes, casting your look upward, would most definitely bring you face to face with a stoned out person, staring at you, but not seeing you.

But before you venture, it is advisable to be armed or in the least, wear a bullet proof if one intends to go on a tour of the real Washington D.C. That poverty breeds crime, is an age long and foregone conclusion. With a crime rate of 60 per thousand, Washington D.C. accounts for one of the highest crime rates in the United States. Globally,  Washington D.C. compares appreciably with some of the  global cities renowned for  high crime rates.

As you navigate your way through trash, trying to maintain a bold face before the heavily tattooed gang boys who stare at you ferociously, you are halted by a police tape. There has been a shooting and the street is cordoned off. It was a drive-by, two people were killed and several innocent passersby wounded.

You are re-directed through another street - a busier one - where you are confronted with the sight of several children pushing strollers with babies. Smiles radiate through your grief; something to be proud of at last. Here are young girls helping their mothers to take care of siblings; elder sisters to care for nieces and nephews; or aunties to care for younger cousins. In the midst of the desperation, death and destruction, you have found the true African spirit of brotherhood and familial attachments.

Deeply moved, you pause for a quick chat with one of the stroller pushing children.

 “What is your name, darling?”

“Sharaya,” comes the response, as blue chewing gum pops loudly in three quick successions, in between rolling eyes.

“How about your little brother, Sharaya?” you ask, gently stroking the head of the baby sucking on some bright pink fizzy drink in a feeding bottle.

“Elijah is my baby, he ain’t no brother.” Startled, you stand, confused, not knowing how to take the conversation further.

Sharaya pushes her stroller on, swinging her hips seductively – the only sign to you that she was not joking about being the mother of Elijah – and talking loudly on the phone, barking angrily about child support  arrears. Stretch Sharaya’s age, and she cannot be more than 13. You walk on, staring at the faces of more babies pushing their babies down the streets of the world’s greatest capital, making their way to the social security office to collect their welfare package. The men have been shot dead, are in jail, are addicted to some substance, or homeless. The females are the ones holding what remains of the descendant of African slaves together, in the United States.

Dare to take the Number 70 bus going to Silver Spring via Georgia Avenue. For this particular trip, It is advised that a gas mask be kept handy. The bus is filled with pungent odour from bodies alien to showers and deodorants. Besides you, the elderly passenger coughs violently, nonstop for three minutes, holding your hand for support. She follows it with deep guttural sounds, prior to spitting a mouth full of undecipherable substance. Half the bus is filled with homeless black men and women. They drop off here and there, in search of food to eat, or just to idle away at a park while waiting for the shelters to open its doors at 9: 00 p.m.   These are the uninsured people who wait to die when they are sick, because they cannot afford the high cost of health insurance in the world’s greatest capital.

Unable to bear the sightseeing any longer, you decide to drop off, and walk down a little bit closer to one of the streets off Georgia Avenue. There, you start to see sprinklings of white faces. Your environment gets a lot more cleaner and very well taken care of. Welcome to gentrification; the rich white folks are dispossessing the poor blacks of their homes, their last place of refuge. The blacks are lured, harassed and practically told in outright terms to relocate from their homes. The world’s greatest capital will no longer be tainted by their presence.  In Washington D.C accumulation by dispossession, one of the enduring traits of capitalism is being played out in extreme detail. 

Washington D.C.; the black city the world thinks it knows, but does not. The city of contradictions; filled with wealth and filled with lack; filled with knowledge and full of ignorance. Washington D.C., the city where few of its inhabitants walk the streets puffed up with pride, while the majority trudge along bearing on their shoulders, generations of crushed self esteem.  Washington D.C., a city of refuge for some, but a place of death for many.

Tale of Two Black Cities (II)

There are two black cities sitting on the map

One named Kigali, one named Washington D.C

Fly away Kigali, Fly away Washington DC

Come back Kigali, come back my dear Kigali

And sit on the map

“Chika! No! How did you pass through immigration with this?” screamed my hostess. She held out the plastic bag containing what I had carefully selected from the mall and packaged as her gift. Her large eyes were now the size of two akara balls, those delicious Nigerian bean cakes fried to perfection by the ever jovial grandmother at the side of the dilapidated road intersection.

Her reaction shocked me. I stared first at the bag, then at the stiff hands that rigidly held it out, before looking at the eyes that spoke of something I could not easily tell.

My heart began to beat widely, as if I had just completed a black coffee drinking competition where I downed 30 cups in 10 minutes. Surely, someone must have slipped in some banned substance into my carry-on luggage while I waited for my Kigali flight at Washington D.C.

 I stared at my hostess, as she repeated her question.

‘Chika, you mean you were allowed to carry this past the security checkpoint?” Clearly she expected an answer and was waiting for it.

“Carried what?” I swallowed hard and looked inside the bag as bottles of perfume and some work shirts showed through. I summoned courage and took the bag, peering inside it. I dipped my hand in the bag, retrieved the shirts and started to shake them thoroughly, expecting to see some tightly wrapped white substance falling to the ground. Instantly, my hostess’ eyes returned to normal and glowed;

            “What lovely shirts! How did you know I desperately needed work shirts? ” She was unbuttoning to try on the shirts, as I stared at her.

 One moment she was screaming and the next, her face was lit with joy.

“What did I bring that is not allowed in the country?” I ignored her questions as to how I guessed her favourite colour.

“Oh! The plastic bags. They are not allowed in the country. I don’t know how you passed through immigration checks, they would usually seize it.’

“Are you kidding me? Plastic bags are not allowed in this country?”

 “Yes. But never mind. I will destroy this. You must not be caught on the streets carrying plastic bags of any type. It will be confiscated.”

Washington DC_CollageWelcome to Kigali, Black man’s cleanest capital city; a city synonymous with death in modern world history. From Kigali in 1994, orders were issued that mandated the elimination of ten percent of the population, the minority Tutsi. At the end of the blood chilling exercise, one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu men, women and children lay dead. The entire country and particularly the capital city was unfit for human habitation. Corpses at various stages of decomposition littered the narrow, potholed and dusty streets. Skulls, femur, tibia, fibula and other skeletal remnants  - scraped clean by dogs – lay here and there. Thousands of homes were burnt down, government offices, hotels and hospitals had been raided and looted. Several technocrats, academicians, public intellectuals, civil servants, entrepreneurs had been murdered. Kigali was a dead city in 1994. Western interests, who watched unconcerned as the killings - of black people with neither oil, gold nor diamond to purchase their souls - lasted, wrote off the country as finished.

Nevertheless, guilt money poured in. The derelict Kigali International Airport was awakened with vigour.  Western “development” experts poured in; briefcase carrying men and women, with little or no experience in post-genocide reconstruction, brought their pale skins as “resume.” A resume that most often grants the bearer unrestricted access to even the private bedroom of an African Head of State. In Rwanda, however, the expatriates were met with a different attitude. Paul Kagame and his freedom fighting men were not about to deliver the country into the uncaring hands of Western capitalist “development experts.” As if he saw years ahead into the current crisis of development that has engulfed the West, President Kagame insisted that Rwanda must have a say in the terms of development of the country.

At first, he was treated suspiciously; here comes another rent seeking African landlord, intent on corruptibly enriching himself with aid money. But President Kagame proved the doubters wrong. There are still men of dignity and integrity in Africa, men who care about their country and have vowed to give their lives for it. President Kagame happens to be one of them. He set to task with his team of carefully selected men and women, and began to rebuild Rwanda, economically, socially, politically, culturally and psychologically.

Kigali city is spotless. The bus drivers and conductors are so clean you could hire them as your secretary on the spot, and plead with them to resume immediately. The markets are tidy, so tidy, you could sit on the floor and chill for a while in the midst of your shopping for organic fresh vegetables and fruits. The commercial motorcyclists are so well kitted, their motors so sound looking, that even a car owner would be tempted to ask for a jolly ride on them, every now and again. People are polite. There are no street fights going on between a conductor and an irate passenger, or a street hawker and a cheated buyer. Actually, there is no street hawking in Kigali.

The time is 1:00 a.m. on Friday, and young and old are walking the streets, some drunk from partying, but everyone is happy. I do not know of any other country in the world as safe as Kigali. Kigali is safe. Black and white, red and yellow walk the streets at all hours without fear of a stray bullet, or of being the direct victim of attacks. Education is free and 98% of all residents have health insurance.

The weather and environment in Kigali bear mentioning. While the extremities of the winter and summer in Washington D.C. could lead to bipolar disorder, or mild depression in the least, Kigali is the epitome of good weather. When it rains, it is just exactly as needed. When the sun shines, the weather retains its coolness. The pristine cleanliness of the air in Kigali, and the awesome 24 hour breeze, bear no comparison at all with the carbon monoxide passed around as oxygen in Washington D.C. The mountainous terrains of Kigali, the beauty of the unpretentious, earth coloured brick houses, portray life as real and cool,  contrasting sharply with the blood pressure inducing structures choking up residents of Washington D.C., but being acclaimed as the apex of human civilization.

In Rwanda today, the black man feels human and proud to be associated with his people. It must be made clear, that it was not the penance-like pouring in of money by the “repentant” West that built Rwanda. As much aid has poured into the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya, but these countries are nothing compared to what Rwanda is today. Rwanda is being built on the discipline of President Kagame and his team, their commitment to excellence, their tenacity in the face of several obstacles, and their uncommon resolve to transcend the temptation to visit vengeance.

Yes, I will rather be in Kigali than in Washington D.C. where life for the average black person is aptly captured by the Hobbessian state of nature; nasty, brutish and short.  Nasty, because from the moment you wake up in the morning, it is clear to you that the society in which you live detests you, and places no value on your person. Brutish, because the white police officer has a right to shoot you, just for being a black man.  Short, because except you can afford the exorbitant health insurance, you will die in your bedroom from common infection for which no doctor will prescribe antibiotics. 

Yes, I will rather be in Kigali where I can work and see the fruit of my labour, where I am regarded for the content of my character and never the colour of my skin. Kigali is where I am constantly reminded of the dignity of the black man and his tenacity in being able to rebuild his life from the scratch. Between Washington D.C. and Kigali, I will choose Kigali anytime, any day.

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