I am amazed at the recent flurry of reports and commentary in international media as well as by so called opposition leaders on the current political state of affairs in Rwanda.
What I find particularly astonishing is not so much the increased interest in Rwandan affairs as the level of inaccuracy and deliberate misrepresentation of facts.
For starters, Rwanda’s consensus-based political system has been grossly distorted. Our constitution provides for power sharing and bans all forms of discrimination.
Failing to see how this set-up has guided our political path, critics repeatedly label the post-genocide government as “Tutsi-led”. Even more disturbing, are the derogatory words such as “puppets”, “empty suits” used in some circles to discredit those who are in the government especially my fellow Hutu public servants.
I could ignore all this and choose to focus on contributing to our growth and development – but shedding some light on this issue is part of building the new Rwanda.
In my opinion, the old theories of race and ethnicity still influence the thinking of some of journalists and politicians. Ethnicity has been one of the most controversial issues in Rwanda for many decades. Rwandan society has always been comprised of three ethnic groups; Hutus, Tutsis, Twas and what some often refer to as hybrids as a result of intermarriages among these three groups. Growing up as a child, I recall tales from my Hutu father on how Rwandans once lived side by side as neighbors. He taught me how this society co-existed in peace and harmony, and how the tension between the three groups was a byproduct of colonialism.
I grew up witnessing the extent to which ethnic division was tearing our people apart, and pondered “what was so unique about Rwanda that the post colonial government failed to undo the mess left behind by imperialism?”
I remember my elementary school teacher asking Tutsis in the class to stand up in order to be identified and counted – an exercise I found bizarre. It was not uncommon to hear government officials publically making statements inciting hatred towards one group of people.
Religious leaders followed this pattern and before long the entire society was totally brainwashed. As young people we were also told that Tutsis were “evil” and while this never seemed logical to me, some of my friends believed in it.
The culmination of this deliberately cultivated hatred was the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis. What I witnessed changed my life forever. When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) halted the genocide and took over leadership in 1994, I had many reasons to believe that matters were going to be sour for me – or for Hutus in general.
We assumed that it was “their turn” to rule after enduring years in exile and extreme discrimination both for those who were in the Diaspora and even more so for those that remained in the country following the 1959 genocide. Many also anticipated massive revenge by the RPF for the one million lives lost during the genocide.
On 7 April 1994, I fled Kigali to escape the Interahamwe militias. But in Cyangugu, my birthplace, they continued to harass me until I left for Kenya through Tanzania in May, and only returned in August.
Perhaps my first and biggest surprise was witnessing the election of a Hutu President right after the genocide and later the establishment of a Government of National Unity.
This new broad based government embarked on restoring peace and stability as well eliminating discrimination, by firstly doing away with the ethnic identity cards that had been used to divide Rwandans for over 60 years.
Shortly after, I came to the realization that my instincts about the new government were completely wrong.
President Kagame, elected in 2003, has managed to do the unthinkable, often by introducing policies that at first raised eyebrows. As a Rwandan who has witnessed these changes unfold, right before my eyes in a span of just 16 years, I place high on this list of achievements promoting unity and reconciliation within a society that had been massively divided for decades.
The extraordinary progress Rwanda has made also includes ensuring peace and stability; good governance and democratic dispensation; building strong judicial institution; innovation of Gacaca courts to tackle genocide cases; and remarkable economic development.
This success is reflected in the numerous awards President Kagame, and Rwanda as a country, continue to receive in areas that include good governance, gender equality, tourism, technology, telecommunication, environment and doing business.
Despite the self-evident reality of Rwanda’s transformation, critics do not tire in their efforts to mislead. They have been quick to point out that the government is tightening control over the flow of information when, on the contrary, our country has changed from a closed society where news was heavily censored and where the media was used to incite killings before and during the genocide, to one where much work has gone into reversing this trend.
This so-called ‘repressive government’ has privatized media organizations and taken the country from one publicly owned radio station to 13 privately owned stations in country where majority of the 11 million citizens rely on radio for information. Similar expansion has also been realized in the print media.
The continuous reference to the Rwandan leadership as “Tutsi-led” blatantly ignores the fact that all Rwandans including Hutus and Tutsis have equal opportunities based on merit rather than ethnic identity.
My political career beginning in late 1994 follows a trajectory of many other Hutus serving in an inclusive government. I have had a fulfilling career in which I have served as Director General of the Post Office, Director of Cabinet in the Prime Minister’s Office, Director General of the Rwanda Development Bank, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, and currently Ambassador of Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo and many other countries in the Central African region, with residence in Kinshasa.
I have worked in various capacities, worked with all people and never felt discrimination, insubordination or exclusion just because I am not a Tutsi. In every position I occupied I took decisions and exercised my powers within the limits of the law.
I take offence at remarks made by the likes of Victoire Ingabire and Paul Rusesabagina who have claimed that being a Hutu in a government leadership position makes me a “puppet” or “empty suit” merely executing others’ decisions.
I find such views an insult to the system and all Rwandans who remain determined to leave behind these outdated notions that have divided our society for so long, and that are used intentionally by foreigners and a few misguided Rwandans for political gains.
Ms. Ingabire who declared her intentions to run for President earlier this year is one example of a Rwandan who has been out of touch with the realities of her country.
She showed up, a few months before elections, making blanket unsubstantiated statements, deliberately aimed at undoing the reconciliation that the Rwandan people have worked hard to achieve in the last sixteen years.
As Rwandans we must transcend all these artificial divisions and work together to build our country, one fit for all Rwandans and all humanity. Indulging in politics of identity or contemplating destabilizing current peace by throwing grenades or otherwise is a waste of valuable time.
I may not be from the same ethnic group as President Kagame, but I am certain of one thing - the forthcoming elections will be a critical moment for all Rwandans. It will be a defining moment in our history where we choose between unity and division.
In my 47 years I have experienced both – today I am certain of what it is that matters and that is what I will vote for, come August.
The author is the Rwandan Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo.