The Kagame effect at the African Union

Members of the public react at an intervention of an MP supporting wishes of millions of Rwandans to amend article 101 of the constitution and allow President Paul Kagame to lead the country beyond 2017. File.

‘And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.’ - Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900); Epigraph in ‘Rwanda Tomorrow', by Jean Paul Kimonyo (2017).

Democratic principles advise against changing constitutions to keep incumbents in power. Which is why I published many articles on my blog and went to the supreme court to challenge constitutional amendment in Rwanda for many, I believe, valid reasons.

However, when four million citizens petitioned parliament demanding that Paul Kagame doesn’t leave, parliament heeded their requests and the Rwandan constitution was amended and President Kagame reelected with over 90 per cent of votes. I understood them, but people outside Rwanda thought we are mad, or that we were intimidated and coerced to keep Kagame as our president. They also suspect that the Rwandan government doctors figures and frequently lies about Rwanda’s impressive statistics; I understand them too.

I do, because experience from our continent agrees with them. Reasons that Rwandans advance for keeping Kagame as president defy political orthodoxy. The percentage with which they elect him looks suspicious and the achievements frequently reported by the government sound too good to be true. Also counter-intuitive is an African human rights activist such as myself, publishing pieces praising incumbent presidents. So it has been difficult to explain what it means to have a president like Paul Kagame to non-Rwandans, let alone human rights colleagues across the continent, without sounding like a sycophant.

Today though, I feel a bit vindicated:

In less than one year that Paul Kagame has been Chairperson of the African Union (AU) its self-funding improved by 17 per cent;  from 43-60 per cent. In 2016 when he was appointed to lead AU reforms, total contributions by African states were at 36 per cent. The self-funding mechanism suggested a 0.2 per cent levy on eligible imports, have made possible a dramatic 24 per cent jump in self-funding by Africans. The levy will generate around 1.2 billion USD annually and cover most of the AU activities, including programmes, operations and peace and security missions.

Now, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was established on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. On July 9, 2002, it was replaced by the African Union (AU), and on June 10, 2013, upon celebrating 50 years of existence, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 was launched. On that day, British newspaper ‘The Guardian’ published a story titled: ‘African Union at 50 – will the dream of unity ever be realised?’

To the question by former colonial masters, conventional wisdom suggests the answer: ‘Never!’ But that’s without factoring in the ‘Kagame effect’, whose function is precisely to upset conventional wisdom. To this day, Western media refuses to register that Rwanda has cut aid dependency by half every ten years (from 86 per cent in 2000 to 45 per cent in 2010 to 16 per cent in 2017). They still report 40 per cent, because this is unheard of.

Again, I understand them! In 53 years of existence, before Kagame was called upon, the African Union had managed only 36 per cent of self-sustainment. In other words, our union was the source of pity by other continental blocs and a laughing stock of the African youth. Going by the graph below, AU funding was increasing by merely 2.4 per cent annually, while other data shows that in some years it has even decreased:

In Kinyarwanda, our national language, we have a philosophy called ‘Agaciro’: Dignity. Although we are a poor country with intractable, systemic problems, we must not let the problems define us or our aspirations.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah said ‘we must unite or perish’. Other African Union founding fathers and experts enumerated a set of prerequisites to the success of the African Union. Some said we must have one federal state: The United States of Africa; others say we need one African currency, I have argued that for Africa to succeed, it requires a strong media network.

There is no doubt that all these things are potentially critical to Africa’s success, but that’s not how President Kagame functions. Having observed him through the years, I can tell that for him there is no question about whether Africa must and will succeed within its current state. To him, success requires no prerequisites, ultimatums or preconditions. That’s how he managed to defeat mighty armies with a few, ill-equipped soldiers and that’s how he manages to harness the limited resources in Rwanda to achieve impressive, unexpected results; and that’s how within two years, he has worked with his peers and the African people at large, to wean our continental body off foreign aid.

The seven-point aspirations of the Agenda 2063 envision an African Union that is ‘integrated, prosperous, democratic, peaceful, strong, resilient and influential global player and partner.’

Those sound like unanimously magnificent goals! Unhappily we must wait for the next 45 years to see them achieved in the year 2063, after we are all dead. Shame that Paul Kagame’s term as AU Chair ends in three months; Africans wouldn’t have had to wait for that long; ‘coz’, to end this piece with a quote from 2018’s Nietzsche on this youthful continent, rapper Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z, ‘men lie, women lie, numbers don’t !’ – ‘ya know w'am sayin'…

Blog: gateteviews.rw
Twitter: @gateteviews
Website: www.ipar-rwanda.org

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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