POETRY / A song for Rwanda: In a poem commissioned for a forthcoming BBC2 series, Ben Okri argues that Rwanda's agony is more than a newsworthy 'tragedy' - it's a crisis in African culture and history

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The Independent Culture
----------------------------------------------------------------- 1 ----------------------------------------------------------------- And the black flowers Of the innocent land Perish again under our World's hardened gaze; The flowers perish And the children, women And the unforgetting men Victims of an ancient Tribal wound Drawn into insane genocide, Of tribes, and ascendancies, They perish They die of starvation And cholera, and ghoulish hatred And festering wars; They perish from the rotten Dreams of leaders, Soldiers and politicians Who live protected and make The innocents destroy one Another in the century's Renewed African bloodtide; They perish, and Africa's hopes Perish with them.

2 The land, poisoned and rich, Poisoned at the flower's roots With an unravelled colonial Nightmare of maps and rank; Rich with fertile life And future forms of power Rich with a happy bloom And a music of renewal; The land, poisoned and rich, Bears the fallen heads Of black flowers; The dry land, from which New centuries will grow, Harbours horrors now; And the ghosts of refugees, Dying in their thousands, Haunt the heart of this uneven Injustice-spiked world.

3 And time has now come To proclaim that aid Is not enough; compassion Itself can prove the greatest Traitor, coming, as it does, In the time after the poison Of the past now reaps Its grim harvest Of the innocents dying In thousands, dying in Rivers, polluting the false Peace of the world, dying And burnt under a happy sky. On a rocky land between Borders, dying of the policies Of soldiers and leaders, who Dream of nothing But mastering the coffers, While the innocents die On the margins of our age Die of the continent's Refusal to think itself Into a higher destiny Die of the continent's Curse of bad leaders And a worse inheritance of history.

4 And the time has now come to SCREAM That the past must be Re-made in the present; And all across the continent Of flowers A new great dream Must be born Must transform the lands Must change the fault-lines Of our destiny Must turn our nightmares Into radiant reality If the continent - weighed Down with suffering enough To sink the planet - Is to survive another century Without flowers dying And vultures singing with joy.

5 And the new dream must transcend All boundaries, all peoples, all Colours, all politics, all religions; Must unite the suffering Hearts of the innocents Who die in their tangled lives When their fiendish leaders Dream only of war And their ascendancies.

6 The warm land was meant To be one of the world's happy Gardens, not the world's Most celebrated grave; And the flowers, with the Unique fragrance and seed Of their magical ancestry, Should be given the chance To bloom again, And be joyful and free Under the universal sun of Serenity. -----------------------------------------------------------------

'A Song for Rwanda' will be shown on BBC 2 on 11 Oct at 8.50pm. The other pieces in BBC2's 'Rwandan Stories' series are 'Mutter of Voices', a monologue by Michele Roberts (10 Oct 7.50pm), 'The Black Body in the Bush', a history by David Dabydeen (11 Oct 9.50pm), 'Genocide - How It Happened', a guide by Mark Doyle (13 Oct 10.20pm), and 'Rain', a poem by Fred D'Aguiar (15 Oct 8.50pm)

(Photographs omitted)