Rwanda is a winner and everyone wants a piece of it

One of my favourite #RWoT sent a tweet that read, “Who is not in Kigali? Kigali is becoming a global city.” To paraphrase, @awozdeya is saying that anyone who is somebody was in Kigali last week for the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa.

And if they were not physically in Kigali, they were talking about Kigali. Indeed, the list of attendees reads like a ‘who is who’ when it comes to matters to do with African development. On the claim that Kigali is becoming a global city, one simply has to look back to last year alone.

In 2015, the country hosted the UN International Conference on the Protection of Civilians, the Transform Africa Summit, and the Interpol General Assembly. Also, in a few months Kigali will host the African Union Summit of Heads of State and Government, having also hosted the African Championship (CHAN) earlier in the year.

So, why is Kigali becoming a global city? The short answer is that human beings naturally gravitate to a winner; everyone wants a piece of a winner. Rwanda is a winner. That’s why people want to be part of a winning story.

The long answer is long. And a bit uncomfortable. A horror movie that should be seen after the kids have been put to bed. A losing story. A story of losers: people who descended into senseless massacre that claimed a significant portion of their kith and kin. It’s dark enough, even before delving into the details that the killings were targeted; it’s a show of pettiness that left behind a picture of losers.

Nobody wants to identify with losers – except fellow losers, of course. The 1994 carnage reinforced prejudices about Africans as beasts, savages ready to pounce on each other in blood thirsty orgy. It vindicated racists in their belief that the ‘tribes’ are destined to finish each other off whenever they come in contact – a matter of time.

Africans were angry. They hated the fact that Rwandans had reinforced prejudices about them. However, they understood that they could not distance themselves from them for better or for worse; their destinies were intertwined in fact or perception.

They found a way around being tied to the losers of Rwanda. First, they pretended that they didn’t know anything about Rwanda; they ascribed to the “Hutsi” manoeuvre. Embracing confusion as a face-saving tactic, they tried to turn things upside down. They did not know who the killers were and who the victims were. When they did know, they justified the killings.

At play was a cognitive dissonance that at once felt anger for the carnage while placing responsibility for it at the hands of the victims. At least by saying that the killings were justified Africans could ward off attacks to, and reclaim a part of, their humanity: The killings were justified; therefore, these were actions of rational human beings.

With trepidation, Dr Abdul-Rahim Tajudeen, the late Pan African thinker, tried to explain this internal contradiction among Africans in the aftermath of the Genocide. Africans, he explained, consider themselves Bantu and by extension Hutu. As a result, he noted, they tend to sympathise with the perpetrators of the Genocide and tend to justify it. Let me explain.

Tajudeen was speaking of a version of the “Hutsi” trap: the colonial logic that placed Tutsi and Hutu along an alien/indigenous divide. It claimed that the Hutu were Bantu while the Tutsi were Caucasoid (Caucasians), albeit of the lowest order, despite their shared Bantu language and culture.

In any case, this is the deep hole in which Rwanda found itself after genocide: broke, broken, despised, and unwanted. It is how far the post Genocide leadership has had to claw. And it is due to the depth of despair that the description of Rwanda’s recovery uses terms like “remarkable” and “miraculous” and their synonyms.

Now, who doesn’t want to be part of a miracle? Africans are proud to identify with Rwanda because it is presenting the true picture of who they are: a people with aspirations similar to those that others elsewhere around the world possess; a people worthy of respect and dignity. Rwanda is helping to dismantle old stereotypes, and for this reason Africans are among its most ardent defenders – even as they recognise that Rwanda still has much work to do on a number of indicators of societal welfare.

Ordinary Africans also love Rwanda because it is holding a mirror in front of their leaders who frequent the country. In that mirror is the question that each must answer: If we can muster this level of progress on the backdrop of tragedy, what is wrong with you? What excuse do you have? 

Rwanda is politely asking this question. And Africans want their leaders to answer it. They want them to frequent Rwanda in the hope that this will ignite an awakening in them, to inspire them to return home and try to replicate what they will have seen.

Genocide helped distance Africans from losers. Recovery brings to them a sense of pride, camaraderie, and compatriotism with Rwandans. This is as it should be. Everybody else is flocking to Kigali for the same reasons: to share in the success, hang with winners. It’s why Kigali is becoming a global city.