I spent most of last week in Kigali, capital of neighbouring Rwanda. Going by recent media reporting in Uganda, tensions are steadily rising between Uganda and Rwanda.
In Kigali, those tensions are not felt or if they are, are not publicly discussed except among the top political and business elite.
Ugandan journalists, politicians and others who made a point of comparing Uganda with Rwanda and usually always speaking favourably of Rwanda in that comparison, have unwittingly contributed to the anti-Rwanda sentiment in Uganda that is unnecessary.
When it is constantly drummed into one that another person is better than one, even if you know it is true, most people become defensive and resent that comparison.
Rwandans too generally feel uncomfortable with this Uganda-versus-Rwanda comparison. They tend to admire something about Uganda they can’t quite put a finger to.
The popularity of Ugandan music on Kigali radio stations, among other things, attests to that.
To avoid that trap of Uganda versus Rwanda, during my trip to Kigali last week, I focused on the Rwandan people as a society without reference to the Rwandan government, the ruling RPF party or president Paul Kagame.
I wanted to experience Rwandan society along the lines of that which is common to all societies – the ordinary people, their work, places of abode, worship, leisure and education.
The main reason that took me to Kigali was to gather a collection of photos for the Kampala Express, a Facebook page that I run.
I also wanted to experience Rwandans on their own terms, without having to necessarily compare them with any other people.
Overall, the society is generally a low-key one.
The public and private mood is mild, the spirit collective rather than individualistic, the behavioural tendency is toward obedience than questioning.
The country is quiet, from capital city to the small township.
The mood and air in towns like Fort Portal in Uganda or Asmara in Eritrea more resembles that in Kigali than most other towns I have visited or know.
Kigali itself feels more like a small town than a capital city because of this quiet atmosphere.
The general societal tone is one of consensus rather than confrontation. Is that always a good thing? I don’t know.
For those concerned first and foremost with holding together fragile societies with underlying ethnic tensions, consensus is certainly the top-most priority.
For those concerned with the growth of individual expression, creativity and the contrarian, a society that leans toward consensus probably comes across as boring and unimaginative.
Rwandans might argue that if that is so, better to be bland than broken.
The all-round cleanliness that is Rwanda was the most striking aspect to me.
The eye sore of untidy towns, slums and streets across Africa makes one appreciate a poor country that manages to get this bit of public diligence right.
Football is by far the most popular sport, with cycling fast becoming a national sport as well at least in Kigali.
Ugandan and Nigerian music are the most popular African music alongside Rwandan pop music.
The national attitude, in summary, tends toward a civil service mindset. People wake up to go out and do their duty one third for self, two thirds for the state.
The mood on the radio stations is jovial, relaxed and warm, only that it is characteristically mild.
Football, music, shopping, checking on their Facebook updates, church, going from point A to B, then returning home.
Not exactly a sensational assessment, I know, but that’s Rwanda: Toned down, quiet, mild, low-key.
Given their history over the last 60 years, Rwandans would probably like it that way.
Facebook: Kampala Express