Rwandan Culture: realistically, there’s no such thing, today, as a distinct Rwandan “culture” or “values”

I cringe whenever I hear Rwandans, particularly the proudly ‘educated‘ ones whose colonial education means they’ve been inculcated with a colonial value system and its bourgeois values and aspirations, speak, sometimes irritatingly, about Rwandan “culture” and Rwandan “values“.

Rwandan “culture” is simply an illusion of the past, rooted in the false perception, if not due to the ignorance, of colonial influence and the present, often subtle cultural dynamics as a consequence of globalisation.

Realistically, there’s no such thing, today, as a distinct Rwandan “culture” or “values“. However, this is not to suggest that Rwanda has no culture and values; or there’s no culture and, importantly, there are no socioeconomic and, to some degree, political values in Rwanda.

Far from it, Rwanda has a culture, and it has values; and there’s a culture in Rwanda and that culture has its own values. It is, however, a culture that is inseparably interwoven in and influenced by colonialism, its experiences and value system.

That is the culture of borrowing, copying and mixing cultural practices from other cultures in the world, and blending in vestiges of pre-colonial Rwandan cultural and traditional practices, such as, prominently, Rwandan traditional dance and its distinct regalia. And many other pre-colonial Rwandan cultural and traditional facets exhibited today, often in formal social occasions such as weddings; and/or the usual entertainment (and beguiling) of foreigners from a supposedly uniquely and culturally and traditionally Rwandan identity.

It’s particularly this blend, and therefore apparent veneer of vestiges of pre-colonial Rwandan cultural and traditional practices that create a false perception, and give an equally false impression of what many Rwandans, more likely out of an unconscious need to create a unique cultural as well as national identity, call Rwandan “culture“.

But what’s referred to as Rwandan “culture” today, like cultures of all colonised societies, is a hodgepodge of native cultural and traditional as well as borrowed foreign cultural practices. What was pre-colonial Rwandan culture died with the advent of colonialism and its aggressive (colonial) cultural influences on the colonised societies and their cultures, particularly through the colonial educational and religious value systems.

Rwanda today, like many other African countries, is a country with many different nationalities from all over the world. It’s a country, again, like many other African countries, where people of various nationalities, with different cultural and traditional value systems, go and form their own small communities and maintain their cultural, traditional and socio-commmunal values and languages. They form settler communities akin to colonial settler communities in Africa.

Rwanda is a country, like many other African countries, that warmly welcomes and accommodates foreigners, sometimes to the point that it gives the impression that it favours foreigners over Rwandans.

It’s not uncommon to hear muted complaints by and from Rwandans about being discriminated against, by Rwandans (employers), for foreigners on the basis of various criteria; the more common one being – sometimes assumed – superiority in skills and foreign language proficiency. Even though the proficiency in language is due to the fact that the foreigner is speaking and communicating in his or her first (native) – and possibly only – language. The mastery level is naturally different: one is a native speaker and the other is a foreign language speaker.

Rwanda is a country, like many other African countries, where foreigners are not required to learn and speak Kinyarwanda – Rwanda’s national language – as a prerequisite to their legal (permanent) settlement in the country. Or the acquisition of the Rwandan citizenship (nationality).

Although the government introduced a mandatory citizenship test for foreigners wishing to acquire Rwandan citizenship (nationality), often the test is set and hence taken in one of the officially accepted foreign languages; thus making it a lot easier for foreigners to pass and effectively acquire Rwandan citizenship (nationality). It doesn’t give primacy of language to Kinyarwanda and therefore doesn’t require knowledge of – and doe not test proficiency in – Kinyarwanda. Contrary to what happens in many other countries where knowledge and satisfactory proficiency of the national language is a prerequisite for citizenship.

This is partly because various foreign languages are spoken in Rwanda, mainly, by ‘educated‘ Rwandans, a part of whom have either had the opportunity to travel to different countries for business and other reasons. Or have been ‘educated‘ and lived in various foreign countries and as such, have been inculturated in foreign value systems and hence, exhibit foreign values and practices which foreigners easily identify with, making them feel rather at home. So, foreigners will have no problem living and working in Rwanda without speaking Kinyarwanda.

Rwandan “culture” or Rwandan “values” are things foreigners in Rwanda or those who travel to Rwanda frequently, back and forth, will speak about; but often from a Rwandan perspective, i.e, what Rwandans tell them Rwandan “culture” and Rwandan “values” are.

Hence, foreigners with their conscious or unconscious biases about Africa and African socio-cultural and traditional values, will look around for all possible signs and things that are compatible with – and to confirm to – what they’ve been told what constitutes Rwandan “culture” and “values“. They will swallow that often uncritical presentation and therefore view of Rwandan (national) “culture” and “values“, like they swallow most things intentionally and well prepared for them. They will hardly pause to ask and critically examine how that culture and the said values are reflected in Rwandan administration: the national administrative structures.

Ideally, national culture and values should be reflected in national administration and its structures. National culture and values should form the basis of national identity and national administration and its structures. National language, therefore, must be at the centre; it must be the primary language of communication, and other languages as added advantages.

The national legal system must have developed from national culture and experiences and as such, reflect national culture and values. The Rwandan legal system is a patchwork of foreign legal regimes and practices, with practitioners educated in different legal regimes.

If national culture is not reflected in the national legal system, in the laws that govern a country (nation); then what culture does the legal system – and the laws of governance, reflect?

What kind of Rwandan culture and values does a “Rwandan” born and raised outside Rwanda, and outside a particularly Rwandan community influence, who does not speak Kinyarwanda, exhibit?

What kind of Rwandan culture and values does the Rwandan government exhibit in its structures?

What kind of Rwandan culture and values does the Rwandan ministry of foreign affairs and cooperation promote and/or project?

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