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Finding the common ground

Tuesday 28th September 2010

Nigeria’s Esther Eshiet on the lessons she learnt in Rwanda.

Common. Ground.

Two weeks to my participating in Nkabom, these two words kept resounding in my mind. These words are crucial because they never get the attention they deserve. It is only after something major happens that we realize what we have done, what we have neglected. We are forced to wonder how we got here and then we begin to go through the tedious process of healing, reconciliation, and rebuilding.

According to a popular saying there is unity in diversity, yet we fail translate and domesticate this into our daily lives. This scenario might be an unfamiliar territory for those who come from countries with small populations and only a few ethnic groups, but I come from a country populated by over 140 million people, a country I like to describe as a continent of its own, with its 36 states as countries and its 774 local councils as states; a country that comprises of over 250 ethnic groups speaking over 356 languages.

Yet, this strength in terms of numbers and unique history has not played a central role in Nigeria’s discussions regarding its development. Rather, we continue to be divided along ethnic and religious lines, inflicting upon ourselves the same divide-and-rule system that our colonists used against us.

What is worse is that our political leadership greatly manipulates this prevalent mentality and so further perpetuates this act of discrimination. Political offices are allocated to people not merely because of their competence and/or motivation to do that particular job but also on the basis of what tribe or religion they belong to.

The same situation existed in Rwanda. Although it is a small country with just three ethnic groups, these ethic divisions were nonetheless fueled by their colonists, and a direct result of this was 1994 – the year that marked the occurance of the world’s greatest genocide. As I walked through the Kigali Memorial Centre dedicated to the 1994 massacre of Tutsis and moderate Htus, I pondered, do we really need to wait for something this major to happen in Nigeria or in any other country before we change the stereotypes and break the walls we have created in our minds against each other?

I am inspired by the strength that Rwandans have demonstrated by being able to rise up again after the genocide; this they did by seeking and giving forgiveness, utilizing the role of their particular culture and commonality, promoting the principles of humanity as opposed to ethnic demarcations. Moreover they have indentified and implemented local solutions from within Rwanda and its history – such as the Gacaca courts. This has been resoundingly successful, as is evident in the interactions amongst the Rwandan people and this for me is the common ground!

Therefore as citizens of the world, we have to identify and build upon things that bind us, our human nature is a universal one; we all have blood running through our veins. The melanin within us that decides what colour of skin we end up with might be of differing quantities; the genotypes that decide what we look like might be different in each of us. Even our wants may be varied – but we have shared needs of love, peace and development!

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