Last week, ex-presidents of a number of African countries were in town. African luminaries of yore, evergreens of all time while still around, now unencumbered by incumbency, they are determined to go beyond the confines of borders and do their bit to push African renaissance.
If only all our countries knew that they sorely need their brains’ output. Alas, how many do?
Because if some did, they surely wouldn’t have sacrificed these luminaries at the altar of term limits. Term limits made as a Western democratic prescription, ordered for African societies no matter how differently these had been organising themselves.
Isn’t it true that when some of these personalities left, their successors sank their societies into the ground? But we need not name names. Ours is only to pray that the affected societies regain their resilience to come up again, led by those successors’ successors.
But as we were saying, former presidents graced Kigali with their presence.
H.E. Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania), H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), H.E. Mohamed M. Marzouki (Tunisia), H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Somalia), H.E. Joachim Chissano and H.E. Armando Guebuza (Mozambique) were here to wrack their brains on how to finance Africa’s transformation for sustainable development, in the fifth African Leadership Forum.
A number of equally bright brains could not make it and were surely missed but there will be time again.
And at any time, in Rwanda they will always find an eager host, as those who made it did.
Rwandans, a society that has risen from the ashes, understands the language of striking out through the jungles of human and economic development hindrances with determination and self-confidence. Pursuance of an “inclusive, collective and sustainable path to national, regional and continental progress” is a resolve that finds resonance with our mind-set.
African solutions for Africans, count us in. Western, Eastern or any other meaningful partnership, count us in.
Western or any other paternalistically forced prescription, count us out.
All men and women should strive to be the best they can, learning from those who were faster in making progress or didn’t encounter hindrances, on their journey.
It should never, however, again be development on the backs of others. History is replete with examples and we need not there again (naming those responsible for genocides, enslavements, colonialism, the inexhaustible dirty list). But, anyway, we digress….
Rwandans, as a society striving to be our best, in 2000 we changed our top leadership and got the leader we wanted, against an avalanche of warnings from patronizing Western do-gooders. They were sworn, they assured us, on protecting us from a dyed-in-the-wool dictator, who wanted to use us for self-serving purposes.
He was the strong man, they warned. He had all along been the power behind the throne. He would gag us; none would speak their mind.
Their sense of “strong man”, mind you, wasn’t the one we were used to, no Sir/Madam!
In “strong man”, they meant “warlord”, “warmonger”, “vengeful tyrant”. Any description of a frightful ogre, they meant that.
He is one of us, we mused. If we haven’t seen any sign of any such streak, does a Western eye have super powers to see better than we?
So we shrugged off their warnings, stuck to our guns and worked with the son of our soil that we knew.
And saw home solutions open up our intra-dialogue like never before, with our man hardly having time for a shut-eye. Enemies within, enemies without, none could interrupt our conversation. Forums for our conversation multiplied exponentially, all in total security.
Gacaca, umuganda, ubudehe, umushyikirano, umwiherero, too many to name, got on the world’s amazed lips as the nurseries where ideas could gestate for any society to self-advance.
Interestingly, I got the assessment of where we are from Willy Smith, an American impromptu friend visiting Rwanda for the first time, over a drink.
As he enjoyed the African landscape from the air on his flight, he was puzzled on attaining a tiny airspace before landing, he said. Then, suddenly, he startled me with a shriek: “Eureka!
“Yes, it was the difference! I recognized Rwanda at its borders immediately. No grass thatch, disorderly habitation or disorderly fields. The orderly murram and tarmac road network – even Akagera Park has orderly animals! And then Kigali; pretty and prim Kigali!”
Concluded he: democracy has everything to do with improvement in human condition; hardly any with term limits. Term limits should not determine the life of leaderships; relevance should. A leadership that converses and works with the citizenry and the world to identify, examine and find ways of solving problems, in open and frank discourse, who wishes for better?
And I say: Willy, Rwanda owes this modest progress as much to an exchange of home ideas as to that of those from such gatherings as The African Leadership Forum. All bright brains of the world, none should be relegated to the dustbin of history, with their experience-enriched ideas.
If term limits should set such leaders aside, it should not mean setting aside their ideas, too.
Down with shoving we-know-what’s-good-for-you ideas down anybody’s throat!
Three cheers to exchange! Intra-national, -regional, -continental and trans-world exchange.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.