Nine years old and orphaned by ethnic genocide, he was living in a burned-out car in a Rwandan garbage dump where he scavenged for food and clothes. Daytimes, he was a street beggar. He had not bathed in more than a year.
When an American charity worker, Clare Effiong, visited the dump one Sunday, other children scattered. Filthy and hungry, Justus Uwayesu stayed put, and she asked him why.
“I want to go to school,” he replied. Well, he got his wish.
This autumn, Mr. Uwayesu enrolled as a freshman at Harvard University on a full-scholarship, studying math, economics and human rights, and aiming for an advanced science degree. Now about 22 — his birthday is unknown — he could be, in jeans, a sweater and sneakers, just another of the 1,667 first-year students here.
The story of Justus Uwayesu is an amazing one of a young man. He makes everyone realize that there are extraordinary talents all over the world – including Rwanda – whose lives are wasted first, because of wars imposed on them by the dictates of Western imperialism, and second, because there are no Clare Effiongs walking down Rwandan streets in search of them.
Justus Uwayesu’s story though extraordinary is not uncommon, even in the United States where Harvard University campus proudly dots its skyline. Yet, Harvard gets all the press for simply admitting a student with such a background. The effort should be lauded but the use of it as fodder for Western propaganda should be shunned for two reasons.
Foremost, such propaganda is at the root of the problem that is Western imperialism and her colonial ambition, that produces conditions similar to those Justus Uwayesu and his family were plunged into during the 100 day Rwandan Hutu-Tutsi genocide, all across Africa. Rather than address the problem, stories like Master Uwayesu’s at Harvard are used to fill the void that hopelessness creates for millions of children in the wake of civil wars and genocides in Africa.
Second, as much as we would like to appreciate Master Uwayesu and his achievements as a student, spreading it across the front page of the New York Times reminds us still of American arrogance.
Rwanda is a dump? Rwanda was not a dump before the French arrived there! And it is certainly no longer a dump after the French have been kicked out!
To imply that somehow, Master Uwayesu’s Western education at Harvard is what Rwanda needs to emerge from ‘a dump’ is as ridiculous as it is disingenuous.
Mr. Kagame whose government has been lauded across the continent for renovating the dilapidated Rwanda that the French left behind, does not have even a college education – not in Rwanda nor anywhere else. Mr. Kagame boasts of a secondary education at Ntare Secondary School in Uganda.
This does not imply that an education at Ntare made Kagame, but this man’s background and his prowess as an elite African leader only underscores why a Harvard education nor any fancy Western education for that matter, is not the recipe for producing African leaders or leadership. In fact such Western education has been central to the destruction that Africa has suffered in recent memory.
Before colonial occupation in Africa, our leaders were home-grown. And Africa was fine producing some of the best science and philosophy still known to man – steel, iron, gun powder, medicine and religion!
The only epidemic in Africa is more recent – the welcoming of Westerners with their brand of Christianity and brand of indoctrination disguised as education. They have changed Africa and publications like Justus Uwayesu’s story on the front page of the New York Times continue to serve this purpose of proselytization and imperialism.
If Harvard is interested at all in educating an African elite loyal to the whims and caprices of Western imperialism then this is exactly the way to doing it. However if Harvard should ever become absorbed in changing Africa for better, then like Carnegie Mellon University which has built a campus in Rwanda, and graduated its first class of 22 students this past July, 2014, Harvard can do the same, and eventually hand over her campus to fellow Africans!
Instead, stories like Justus Uwayesu, though always heartwarming, mask a larger truth – most children who suffered the war in such circumstances were not likely to even survive, let alone thrive. It does take a village to raise a child. Harvard and her allies can’t continue to use stories of exceptional people like that of Master Uwayesu to shirk their obligation to entreat their Western partners to leave Africa alone.
We have been here longer than you, so why do you think we need your help?
Comments about Master Uwayesu returning to his homeland to become a great leader of his people are so indicative of a Western mindset that refuses to look in the mirror. After all, did all the Italians, Germans, Russians, etc., who went to the US in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s go back to their countries to lead them?
They remained and became the fabric of what America is today. We in Africa are fine with Master Uwayesu remaining in the US and thriving, as well as happy if he feels the need to come back home and continue the good work he started.
Either way his education at Harvard will mean nothing to us. His contribution is what we will care about. And if secondary school graduates from Uganda are contributing immensely in Rwanda, we are sure Master Uwayesu is already equipped to emulate his predecessors, surely without a Harvard education.
We just hope, perhaps against hope, that Harvard doesn’t ruin him by turning him into yet another Wall Street investment bankster!