This article was submitted to The Standard of Kenya the same day they published Makau Mutua’s Sunday column titled “Love him or hate him, Kagame could be Africa’s Lee Kwan Yew”.
As common courtesy, I had expected the newspaper to allow a right of response from a fellow academic from Rwanda for the debate not to be one-sided.
Gatete Nyiringabo’s rejoinder in The New Times that trigged a rather debasing and self-effacing reaction from the distinguished professor reinforces my desire to publish this piece.
Mutua’s reaction - like his piece - was rather revealing. For one thing, it’s perplexing that Mutua doesn’t believe he can make his point without throwing his friend under the bus, “I don’t give a flying fig about so-called benevolent dictators, although my dear friend Donald Kipkorir, the estimable lawyer, seems to love them.”
It is an amoral point of departure that implicitly calls into question Mr. Kipkorir’s intellect as someone who is at once an “estimable lawyer” but unable to measure up to Makau’s intellectual prowess because the former “seems to love” dictators. This is someone he patronisingly refers to as “my dear friend.”
What is even more bizarre is how Mutua, a university professor, takes a serious subject and treats it casually in the hope that his reference to Harvard University - appeal to authority to mask an otherwise weak argument - is a sufficient substitute for credibility and rigour.
Prof, I quoted Sartre and Fanon, you are just insulting. Please respect yourself.— Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza (@gateteviews) February 26, 2019
I didn't know that this is how you actually sound, I wouldn't have engaged you.
Obviously I do not wish to trade insults with a senior, so I'll leave you to it. I am not angry, I am disappointed.. https://t.co/JqZGtFnss8
What is clear is that Mutua is part of that African “intellectual breed” that doesn’t believe in Africa. He doesn’t see it as a continent with a people who are capable of crafting their own destiny.
He doesn’t believe an African country can craft democracy and development outside a foreign yardstick, the reference point to his analysis.
This gaze is the trouble with Africans, particularly within the educated class that’s ever throwing around academic credentials of elite Western universities in the same way a rapper from the hood throws around dollar bills, glittering gold neck-chains, luxurious cars, and all other bling-bling items that are a reflection of internal emptiness and self-loathing that comes from exclusive self-absorption and realisation of being out of touch with reality, an acceptance that they can no longer be of value to their community.
Mutua is not conscious of the relevance of context. Consider his view on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda that claimed over million people in just three months.
While he acknowledges that, “rarely has there been such an intense genocide in human history” his subsequent analysis assumes that everything after that catalysmic event should happen smoothly and without a sense of conviction and undeterred determination.
Similarly, his preoccupation with the reference point of “benevolent dictatorship” blinds him to the possibility that institutions do exist in Rwanda – regardless of his view of their adherence to his preferred reference point.
Most importantly, he ignores the fact that institution-building – especially in the ‘rare’ context that he acknowledges – requires strong and determined leadership.
Where does Mutua think the forces that occasioned such “rare” and “intense” genocide went once they were stopped? Did they just wither away or did they remain lurking around for an opportuning to complete “unfinishedbusiness”?
Because the gaze won’t allow him, Mutua doesn’t recognise that he makes a strong case against himself. In fact, the case he makes against himself is the most congent of his entire article.
Apartheid did not bring development to the people of South Africa. It never built homes for the poor. Neither did it offer free education and health insurance to all.
Elsewhere, Mutua waddles into NGO-hyped incidents to deny what he has acknowledged. For instance, the idea that something is wrong with Rwanda because it’s streets are clean, “There’s no litter in the streets, the sort you see everywhere in Nairobi, he writes rather dismissively as if co-existing with filth is the preserve of Africans, one they should wear as a badge of honour; the he chides Kagame who “has been credited with stamping out corruption, creating much needed infrastructure, reviving the economy, and attracting massive foreign direct investment.” Sounds like issues that any serious presidential candidate would wish to identify with.
But Mutua has his own inspirational figure in mind: Ms. Diane Rwigara, who he thinks should be a political opponent with impunity from judicial processes when in reality she is a fanatic who has largely been ignored by the Rwandan populace, much as what likely awaits Mr. Mutua as he ventures into electoral politics. Methinks so – at least that’s what my crystal-ball tells me.
But I will give him some advice – albeit unsolicited. If he believes that democracy and term-limits are all Kenyans need, then he shouldn’t be running at all because Kenyans already have these.
However, if he believes there is systemic institutional failure, corruption, and tribalism that require strong leadership, then he may need to revisit his premise. This with would make him a formidable candidate to reckon with because they would reflect an injection of substance rather than cosmetic window dressing.
In 2007, it was not the election cycle that saved Kenya from total anarchy; on the contrary, it set the stage. Neither did it help two years ago when the country’s seams came undone.
Makau would have to be vain – irredeemably obsessive, narcissistic, messianic – to ignore all this and remain thinking that civil-society activism is the same thing as the practical management of society.
Finally, if he were to allow himself introspection freed from the captivity of the foreign gaze, then my dear brother and estimable lawyer Makau Mutua would discover that his potential contribution to Kenya – beyond catchphrases and high-sounding degrees – is a governance model that builds dialogue and inclusiveness in society. It is a governance model that recognises that one does not need to be a dictator to do the right thing, to ensure the nation’s laws are respected by all, including those who may think laws should be strongly imposed on some and merely treated as suggestions to others.
If Makau can run his presidential campaign on such a promise to Kenyans, he gives himself a chance.
Lonzen Rugira is a political analyst
The views expressed in this article are of the author.Follow https://twitter.com/LonzenRugira