President Paul Kagame’s inclusion on the Financial Times’ list of the 50 personalities that shaped the world over the last decade is the latest international recognition of not only Kagame’s leadership style, but also Rwandans’ gallant journey since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
It’s a statement of just how far we’ve come as a nation – from one whose nationals were once ashamed of being Rwandans to one of a beaming and proud population.
Thanks to Rwanda’s hard-earned feat, many around the world now want to associate with the same nation they turned their backs on at a time we needed them most. But now the past is behind us and from the look of things, Rwandans are more committed than ever to move into a much brighter future.
Forget the Financial Times’ assertion that Rwanda has punched well above its weight’ under President Kagame’s leadership. While I agree that we have indeed achieved well beyond many people’s expectations – given the odd nature of challenges the Rwandan people have had to squarely face over the past 15 years – I believe the FT’s statement is interlaced with the usual western stereotype that no African leader can faithfully serve his/her people.
According to their school of thought, no African president can genuinely rally his people around a noble cause and for the good of their nation.
Unfortunately, the western media has held onto that view for long, and it appears the trend is not about to change anytime soon. That’s why they will always cook up some weird accusations against an African leader who is doing his/her best to make a difference in their societies.
Obviously, the western media share the same view as their countries’ politicians, pundits and so-called human rights activities. It’s such a belittling and arrogant perception.
Never mind, we, Africans have started to realize that conspiracy to bedevil us, and we hopefully will increasingly have the means and ardor to tell our own story.
Nonetheless, the international recognition that Rwanda is on the rise despite all the hurdles – including those emanating from the west – is a manifestation that, after all, Africans are as good as anyone else in bringing about and consolidating peace, fostering economic development and building democratic and accountable institutions. For a period spanning well over a decade, the people of Rwanda have demystified the myth that Africans were born just to tear each other part, their leaders addicted to thieving and everyone plagued with disease and poverty. Hopefully, the Rwandan people can work harder to post another ‘surprise’ in the next decade.
International recognition is good, but that should not, in any way, deviate us from our set goals. Nor should we be flattered into thinking that we have excelled enough and cannot improve.
There is still more room to make our national unity and reconciliation drive more rewarding and the anti-corruption campaign more visible and successful. Our land can still be more productive, and our school enrolment rate can by far surpass the current level.
Women may be occupying a significant portion of leadership positions, but, just like men, can always redouble their output.
In the end, it’s that ordinary Rwandan on a Kigali street or deep in the countryside, who reaps the dividends of our leadership and overall national commitment, and not the so-called pundits doing arm-chair analyses from western offices.
Rwandans, and indeed Africans, should continue to shape their own future with or without complements or criticisms from western capitals.
James Munyaneza is the First Vice President of Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ)