The Rwandan paradox
Rwanda is the most misunderstood country in Africa, if not the entire world. Because it is succeeding by defying Western perceptions, it is constantly vilified by the West. Quite often, I see acres of print space in Western media devoted to Rwanda’s human rights record. My own perspective is that the coverage is often biased and lacks perspective.
Following the last elections, some commentators tell us that Rwanda’s political differences are rising to the surface and that the only reason RPF won the elections was by rigging votes. Something that the West doesn’t know, or stubbornly refuses to acknowledge is that, even if Rwanda were to hold elections again tomorrow, and these Western countries were to send Barrack Obama with thousands of observers to watch the elections, guess what, President Kagame and RPF would win with a landslide. The reason is simple: because under his leadership, Rwandans have had the fastest increase in standards of living than any other African country in the continent’s history. I say this knowing that it is a very large claim to make. The people of Rwanda support the government because it has consistently delivered on its promises.
This is a country that 18 years ago was faced by the worst tragedy in human history, while at the same time was among the poorest nations in the world. Within 18 years, several millions have been uplifted out of absolute poverty. All of this has been achieved with a broad measure of stability. The governance that has been delivered is quite frankly, exceptional. Rwandan leaders know that they need the country to pull together, and it will not let anything stand in the way of achieving the goal of building a strong and prosperous Rwanda.
As someone noted, the greatest strategic error the West is making today is to view democracy as an ideological good, not as a pragmatic instrument to improve human welfare. Rwanda’s policies are derived from the careful rational analysis of options and consequences against the fundamentals of ensuring our economic viability, competitiveness and well-being. Here, I am making a case for a pragmatic view of democracy instead of an ideological view. Being a country with few natural resources, except our people, we have to be pragmatic.
Believe it or not, Rwandans live in a society that promotes self worth (agaciro), where everyone is given the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential, where people have the right to elect the government of their choice and where the government is accountable to the people (e.g through imihigo). Having said that, one question that most societies have to deal with in organising their polity – is to find the right balance between individual interests on the one hand, and the interests of society on the other. How that balance is structured will impact on a variety of areas.
Western commentators usually start with how the balance has been struck in the US and some other countries in the developed world. The rest of the world is then judged by reference to that standard. My basic point is that each of us has to choose what works for us. Over time, it is possible that a set of core values can evolve across countries – but this has to be agreed rather than imposed.
Most importantly, Rwandans are both extremely proud of their present and confident of the future. The rest of the world would do well to understand the issues Rwanda faces, the results it has achieved and its perspectives, before offering criticisms and prescriptions. And it is quite unfair to ignore the whole picture – the real human rights record – which is the continued uplifting of millions of Rwandans out of poverty
Contact email: millions of Rwandans out of poverty. liban.mugabo[at]gmail.com