The making of a new Rwanda

When you read the book; Rwanda: Rebuilding of a Nation (edited by A. Ndahiro, J. Rwagatare), you understand why Rwandans voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to let President Paul Kagame lead them beyond 2017.

Like the late Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, who transformed his country from a third or fourth world malarial swamp to a first world country in under thirty years, Paul Kagame, too, can convincingly account for the time he has led Rwanda.

Both show that it is not the time one spends in power but what he or she does during that time that counts.

In 1994, Rwanda emerged from the 100-day Genocide against the Tutsi which claimed over one million souls; the genocidaires using elementary tools: - pangas, clubs spears and axes.

Adolf Hitler and his motley crew of genocidaires who took over six years to dispatch six million Jews in sophisticated death factories erected for that purpose, would indeed have been envious of their Rwandan fellow travellers.

Like the Jews the Rwandans said ‘never again’ and to ensure this they have to be strong.  This is why they have emerged strong from the ashes.

Colonialism thrived on dividing her subjects.  In Rwanda the Hamitic Myth was specifically created for this purpose.  Thus, occupational categories became races overnight, one superior and the others inferior.

This colonial classification was the cause of the Genocide against the Tutsi.  Presently, one of the major achievements of the New Rwanda state is their pursuit of the politics of consensus and inclusion where winners do not take all.

“Political Parties are not enemies but political partners.” In the New Rwanda, a sense of belonging by every Rwandese is being nurtured.   This is the stuff great and effective nations are made of.

It is clear from this book that the world failed Rwanda.  This is further empasised in General Remeo Dallaire’s book, Shake Hands with the Devil:  The Failure of

Humanity in Rwanda, in which he shows, perhaps with a feeling of shame, that the UN mission, UNAMIR which he commanded, failed Rwanda when it failed to stop the genocide.

He writes; “Instead of enforcing peace, the peacekeepers watched the devil take control of paradise on earth and feed on the blood of people they were supposed to protect.”

The Rwanda tragedy calls into question the purpose of UN peace keeping missions which are notoriously expensive but almost invariably ineffective.  UN peace keeping missions should be looked at again with a view to strength their mandates and to streamline their command structures.

Even better, the UN should have its own army to deal with such situations decisively because peace keeping and peace enforcement is its core function.

When the genocidaires fled Rwanda in late 1994, they fled in good order; retaining their military structures took command of the refugee camps in the DRC, recruited refugees into their ranks and taxed he rest.

They were intent on returning to regain power and keep their genocide machine on the roll.  This was, perhaps, the greatest challenge the post-genocide government of Rwanda had to face.

Hundreds of thousands were in refugee camps in the then Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the time, Kigali called for the demilitarisation of the refugee camps and the separation of fighters from the others to no avail.

When these calls were ignored, Rwanda decided to pursue the genocidaires in DRC until 2002, when under the Pretoria Accord, sponsored by the African Union, war ended in the DRC after an international commitment to disarm the Ex-FAR and Interahamwe genocidaires there and to bring to book the genocide  suspects within their ranks.

Rwanda single–handedly put a lid on this dangerous situation and moved on to the hard tasks of reconstruction and development.

In her pursuit of political and socio-economic development, the New Rwanda uses a healthy mix of the traditional and the modern.

Traditionally inspired initiative such as the Umushyikirano (national dialogue), the Umuganda (basic community service), Gacaca, (Community courts), Umudugudu (communal settlement) among others have contributed greatly to the overall development of New Rwanda.

In the New Rwanda, human beings are at the centre of the development agenda and their overall physical and intellectual development is emphasized in the county’s development plans.

Rwanda is a tiny, densely populated country, with meager natural resources.  So like the Japanese, the Rwandans have chosen to focus on the development of the human capital to the utmost.

They envisage the development of a knowledge-based economy and that is why ICT is at the centre of their development plans.

That is why they rolled out the ambitious one laptop per child programme with an aim of equipping children as young as in primary school with computer skills, which has so far been a success.

In the goodness of time, Rwanda will become an ICT centre of excellence in our region.

Visions may be great, plans may be excellent, but these cannot deliver development without the will, integrity and determination to move them to fruition.  Rwanda seems to have both.

For example, it is a plastic-free nation.  In 2006 a law was enacted banning the manufacture, importation and use of non-degradable plastic bags and that was it.  This is a demonstration of the will of the Rwandan leaders.

Thieves, left to their own, are capable of stealing everything.  New Rwanda has zero - tolerance of corruption and in 2013 the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer ranked Rwanda the least corrupt country in Africa.

Rwandans are fetching water in a pot and, therefore, getting it home but many other countries fetch their water in baskets and therefore fail to get it home.  That seems to be the major secret of Rwanda’s rapid development.  This means integrity amongst the leaderships of Rwanda.

Rwandan leaders appear to have succeeded in the greater use of authority rather than naked force to establish discipline required for the good governance of society.

Rwandans seem to understand the use and misuse of freedom.  For instance the misuse of press and media freedom in Rwanda – Kangura Newspaper, Radio and Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) in the immediate pregenocide period – greatly contributed to the genocide in 1994.

That was a blatant misuse of press and media freedom.  So, out of this experience, New Rwanda has learnt the demarcation of the boundaries of freedom.

Rwanda is exceptional in many ways but the prominence her women have assumed in the political and socio-economic life immediately comes to mind in a continent where there are so many organisations seeking the rights of women.

For example, 64 per cent of the members of parliament in Rwanda are women.  The world and especially developing countries must learn that you cannot suppress or deny opportunity to half your population and expect to develop rapidly.  It is too big a percentage.

The pursuit of prosperity and happiness requires that nations engage their youth effectively.  In pre-genocide Rwanda the youth, who formed the bulk of Interahamwe militia, were used to torture, maim and kill.

A nation which wishes to put the boundless energy of its youth to productive use must create jobs for them.  In Vision 2020, Rwanda aims to create 200,000 jobs annually mainly for young people.  

When young people are gainfully employed, they will not agree to be engaged otherwise. From the Interahamwe experience, Rwanda has learnt important lessons about the need, through rural and urban job creation, to engage her youth positively.

Rwandans are fully engaged in their own governance at all levels.  This broad-based governance is driving their development.  But whatever developing countries do, the developed western countries are never satisfied with these efforts unless they actually supervise their development all the way.

It is their democracy we must embrace and not ours; it is their economic models that we must religiously follow and so on.   Rwanda is doing well and should be allowed the policy spaces they need to continue with their journey to prosperity.

‘Rwanda: Rebuilding of a Nation’, states clearly where Rwanda, has come from, where it currently is, and where it is headed.  In many ways it is a political and social - economic manual which those interested in development, and especially leaders should study.

The writer is a historian and author.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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