Can the Rwandan model be exported? This question and its answer has been the subject of several recent pieces including one from Nic Cheesman in The Conversation Africa.
Cheesman argues that the ‘Rwanda model’ cannot be exported to other countries in Africa.
The question, of course, is a tricky one. It implies that Rwanda set out to be the model for Africa. A good understanding of Rwanda’s history clearly demonstrates the devastating effects of externally imposed societal models.
It would be disingenuous to argue that Rwanda seeks to impose its ‘model’ throughout Africa. We are seeing the same narrative circulated since President Paul Kagame took over as African Union Chairperson at the beginning of the year.
That said, the question of the central implication of transferability of what has worked in Rwanda remains valid for two reasons; first, there is always transferability across countries, every country in the world learns from the successes and failures of other countries.
Rwanda itself has built its development model by blending homegrown solutions with best practices from Developmental States in Asia. Why would best practices in gender equality, governance etc., adjusted for context, not be emulated across Africa?
Second, there is the question of transferability across generations, which pertains to the sustainability of Rwanda’s emancipation and current trajectory. Central to this question is whether or not Rwanda’s contemporary history is the result of deliberate and therefore transferable choices.
In his book, Rwanda Demain! Une longue marche vers la transformation, Dr. Jean-Paul Kimonyo details the inner workings of the engine at work in Rwanda, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).
He concludes that Rwanda’s rebirth is the result of both leadership and deeply rooted ideology. The book discusses the agency of internal and external players and thus explains the complex process that is nation building.
A fundamental insight of the book is how RPF developed an ideology based on a modern understanding of Rwanda’s culture and third world liberation movements.
This ideology enabled RPF to organisationally outflank the formidable forces rejecting self-determination in Africa.
So is what has happened in Rwanda replicable?
The answer is yes. Rwanda has demonstrated that state failure can be surmounted irrespective of any historical deficit or geopolitical headwind. Of course, context matters, both future generations of Rwandans and people from other countries wanting to replicate good results witnessed in Rwanda will face different challenges.
It seems what matters is the compass rather than the pathways. Rwandans have literally erred around the globe, especially within the region, until they found the right coordinates for a homecoming. This process of nation building continues to demand disruptive innovations, as every transformation does.
The desperate attempt to portray the political process in Rwanda as the result of oppression is a subtle attack on replication because what cannot be rationally explained cannot be replicated. What some scholars and journalists seem to miss is that there are limits to brutal force. Even the world’s most powerful army has not managed to impose new nations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The often touted choice of development versus democracy is a cynical tautology, as if there can be democracy without development or vice-versa. If power is for the people by the people, why would the outcome be poverty?
Isn’t it an insult to human intelligence to think that democracy can occur without development? Wherever there is development, social transformation is happening, people are making the right choices.
Democracy and development are results of the same phenomenon: freedom.
The Rwanda Patriotic Front successfully won an armed struggle against the most brutal form of physical and ideological oppression: genocide driven politics. It is now successfully addressing another humiliating form of dependence: poverty. That is how we view the essence of politics in Rwanda: protecting freedom for a life in dignity.
Can the Rwandan model be exported? Every nation has the right to self-determination. This right does not need to be exported but rather respected. In reality, what annoys critics is the idea that one can exercise political freedom while being a recipient of foreign aid.
In that regard, the RPF actually agrees with its critics, President Kagame has set a deadline for Rwanda’s dependence on foreign aid. Solving this paradox is the new frontline, which a generation of young and well-educated cadres is joining. It means in practical terms that every Rwandan will have to be more productive.
The writer is a social commentator based in Kigali
The views expressed in this article are of the author.