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The essence and significance of the Africa culture in fostering good relations in the East Africa Region

By Gerald Mbanda | April 25th 2016

Most missed out the big story in the recent visit to Rwanda by Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli.  Media outlets highlighted the event where the visiting president and his host President Paul Kagame opened the Rusumo one-stop border post. It was mentioned that the one stop border would ease trade and business operations as the two East African community members are governed by a single customs territory.  During the two days visit, President Magufuli also joined Rwandans in the commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi. He accompanied his host to light the flame of hope that will keep burning for the next 100days; the duration of the Genocide period.

In as much as the two events highlighted by the media were very significant in gauging the relationship between the two neighboring countries, I beg to differ.  The big story was not in the two events mentioned above, but rather in the essence and significance of the Africa culture where president Kagame gave five cows to his visitor. The event was either mentioned in passing or totally ignored. It came to my realization that  schools of journalism have taught us  to tell stories from the Western point of view thereby influencing the African journalist to be  alienated from his native culture, hence the failure to tell the African story ‘brewed in an African pot’.

When Kagame hosted Magufuli at his private home, they had time to talk about a number of issues concerning their countries and their personal and family matters. It goes without saying therefore, that there are qualities that President Kagame admired in the personality and friendship of President Magufuli that prompted him to offer cows to his special guest. Thereafter, President Kagame gave his visitor a shepherd’s stick and both walked to a kraal where Kagame selected five good looking cows as a gift in accordance with the Rwandan tradition.    This gesture is symbolic in the relationship of the two statesmen. Through an African cultural diplomacy- establishing a stronger interpersonal bond rooted in the African cultural traditions and values.    

President Kagame giving Tanzanian President Magufuli five cows (Photo credits: www.Paulkagame.com)

The two presidents   come from ‘the cow culture people’ and the significance of the cow giving ceremony has much deeper meaning both to the giver and the recipient. A cow is the most precious and treasured gift one can give to a friend, whose intrinsic and cultural value has no monetary equivalence. A cow is a symbol of love, expressed to a trusted and reliable friend. Through this cultural gesture Kagame and Magufuli made a peace pact based on African tradition, symbolizing a new relationship, that binds the two leaders not to involve in any form of intrigues against each other, but only to be defined by peaceful relations and comradeship.  From our forefathers, the act of cow giving establishes confidence and mutual trust.

President Kagame did not choose to give his guest the coveted foreign and imported cattle breeds like Friesian Holstein, Jersey, brown Swiss  and the like;  but opted to give him the long horned pure African  cattle. In Rwanda, this breed traditionally known as Inyambo is very rare and owned by very few cattle keepers.  These pure breeds were selected through a process that involved a three-layer inter-breeding process between high quality cows, a process that was done by ordinary cattle keepers who knew no vocabulary of genetics.  It is believed that the milk of Inyambo cows does not contain cholesterol which is a health threat to milk consumers.  

 It speaks volumes therefore, of the impression Kagame had of president Magufuli being a first time visiting president. Going by the Rwandan culture, President Kagame gave away the very best of his cows as that is what his beloved guest deserved. Each cow had a name implying the attachment the giver had on each of the cows. According to the Rwandan culture, the recipient in some way recognizes the great gift offered to him or her.  Supposing President Kagame gave me a cow today, I will always make it known to other friends (Kagame wampayinka/ Kagame who gave me a cow!), hence appreciating the special gift and admiring the giver and the act would always be close to my heart. This is how special the cow gift is in the Rwandan culture.

The reason I say that the media missed the big story is that the one stop border post that was inaugurated and given much media attention may not translate per say into easy movement of goods and people; but the bond and relationship established through the cow giving ceremony, creates more trust between Presidents Kagame and Magufuli, enabling good political will for trade and easy movement of people to take place between Rwanda and Tanzania.  Take the example where in the South of Rwanda, bordering Burundi, a one stop border post was inaugurated in 2014, at a place called Nemba. Even though this facility has been in place for two years, Rwandans travelling to Burundi have not done so smoothly, as of today; Rwandan authorities are seeking explanations from the Burundian government on the mysterious death in prison of a former cabinet Minister and diplomat Dr. Jacque Bihozagara.

The mere presence of a one stop border facility therefore, does not guarantee trade and easy movement of the people, but establishment of a stronger cordial relationship by leaders through cultural bonding creates more assurance of peace, stability, trade and smooth movement of citizens across the borders. Similarly, leaders visiting each other’s capitals on important occasions does not imply good relationship, sometimes it is simply a mere diplomatic obligation, when in reality the leaders are not even on talking terms. Again, those who considered the visit, by president Magufuli as a sign of good relations miss the crux of the western diplomatic hypocrisy, and therefore, the measure of how the leaders relate is a more reliable indicator of how other forms of collaboration between countries take place.  

Western dominance in almost all spheres of life has alienated us from our own culture to the extent that we do not give it value yet it is more meaningful in defining who we are and how we relate as Africans. From the time of colonization there have been deliberate efforts by the west to destruct and kill our cultural heritage because they know our culture stands for high moral values and keeps us united to defend our interests.

 In 1835, One British colonial governor Lord Macaulay while addressing the British parliament about their colony of India said, “..I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage”.  This colonial philosophy was applied even in Africa and it was highly successful.    Lord Macaulay further went on with his address to give a proposal to the British house, to replace the   education system and  culture in order to change the thinking of the colonized by hating their own and liking what is foreign. “For if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”, Lord Macaulay concluded . This deliberate strategy of poisoning and killing African education and culture is what makes us lose appreciation of what makes a big story in the African cultural set up.

 Diplomatic practice requires all concepts of diplomacy to be integrated including cultural ones.   The renewed relationship between presidents Kagame and Magufuli through the African cultural practice of the cow giving ceremony,  guarantees more confidence and trust for trade and smooth movement of people to take place.  The cultural practice establishes an unwritten peace pact where the two leaders became allies and ready to give support to each other in case of need. This was the practice in our relations in the African society before the back bone of our culture was crushed by colonial interest.

 President Magufuli’s impression, though still relatively new as a head of state of the Republic of Tanzania, is remarkable and his work ethics and patriotic values   match those of Tanzania’s founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. Regional rating so far puts both presidents Magufuli and Kagame at the fore front of combating corruption and extravagant expenditure of tax payer’s money. Giving value to our culture as expressed by the leaders of Rwanda and Tanzania can be a great opportunity to create dedicated friendship that translates into good relations with a common understanding, for peace, security and development not only for two countries but the East African region and Africa as a whole. 

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