Early this week, famous American Pastor Rick Warren shared what I thought was a fine joke during the leaders’ fellowship in Kigali; that he, a man with mega resources at his disposal could have just a single suit! But that was before I thought about the underlying message.
The message is imbedded in a solicitous observation by yet another famous American, rapper Kanye West.
In one of his lines, the rapper says that while most wealthy black people spend their wealth trying to show off how rich they are, rich white men on the other hand spend their riches making more money; re-investment.
Here’s Pastor Warren’s joke.
“For the past seven years that I have come to Rwanda, Rwandans have seen me in only one suit, that’s because, I don’t really spend much on clothes. But this year, I thought maybe they have had enough of that monotony, so I shopped for two suits to use for this year’s Rwanda Shima Imana. Unfortunately, my luggage was stolen at the airport and now what I’m wearing is a borrowed suit,” said the televangelist tipping his audience into a pit of laughter.
The African tradition is to celebrate material wealth and impressive appearances as the yardstick for success so when the pastor shared his joke, I looked at a fellow journalist seated next to me.
He had earlier made a naughty observation regarding the Pastor’s attire when he said; “Look at his shabby slacks, unlike us Africans, these Americans are so carefree,” the journalist had observed earlier on.
Well, it’s not suede suits that made the pastor.
The man is the bestselling author of a book that has sold over 30 million copies, and is, reportedly, the second most-translated book in the world, after the Bible — the Purpose Driven Life.
When President Kagame read the book in 2004, he was compelled to reach out to the guy and has since become one of this country’s ‘real friends’, as the President described him on Tuesday night.
Lessons for Africans
The simple lifestyles of immensely successful men like Warren should not only challenge showy Africans with considerably meager resources but also be a source of lessons for those who want to really make an impact on society.
I read his book a couple of years back but it’s the question that the author poses in the book’s first section that challenged me to critically evaluate myself: what on earth am I here for?
This afternoon, the pastor will be leading the nation into prayers at the Amahoro stadium during the Rwanda Shima Imana festival but a good question for those planning to attend would be; what on earth are we here for? What on earth are thanking God for? What on earth have I contributed to the things the country is thanking God for?
All those questions point to one major question, have we found our purpose as Rwandans? It’s said that the President enlisted Pastor Warren’s expertise in order to help make Rwanda a purpose driven country, but how close to that are we?
This week started with news that over fifty SMEs have defaulted on their loan obligations for the money they received under Hanga Umurimo programme. By helping them get funding, the government had hoped that beneficiaries would build successful businesses that would help create more jobs.
Unfortunately, officials report that some beneficiaries have a ‘charity mindset’ that makes them assume the money is from the government so nothing would happen to them if they defaulted. As a result, BDF, a guarantee fund working closely with the Government will lose hundreds of millions as it compensates banks.
But what’s more shocking is that, some beneficiaries reportedly diverted the money into fancy acquisitions such as cars (or even suits?) just to suit appearances.
A friend of mine is always wishing that he could ‘find a bank that gives him a loan and leaves him alone.’ He hasn’t found one yet.
President Kagame says Rwanda can’t remain dependant on donors for ever and that for Rwandans to achieve self-worth, they should overcome dependency. But that calls for a lesson on identifying priority needs, financial discipline, saving culture and dumping the obsession for fancy lifestyles.
A friend knows a guy who drives a sleek Mercedes which he bought using a salary loan two years ago. Because he has to service the loan for the next three years, he rents a low cost house in one of the slums around town. At the filling stations, he amuses people when he pays for a litre of petrol to refuel the Benz.
Clearly, the car has become a burden to him.