Why Rwandans can sleep easy: they have a statesman as leader

Individuals have problems in relations with others. It is the same with states. This is almost inevitable where there are conflicting ideas, positions or interests as there will be in any human society.

And so it is almost self-deception to imagine that they do not exist or cannot happen. What matters is how these conflicts are managed and resolved. The starting point is to acknowledge that they exist.

Rwandans recognised the wisdom of this a long time ago and coined an apt saying. They said” ushaka gukira indwara arayirata (if you want to be cured of a disease, you expose it). In other words, you seek help.

What they did not say is equally true. If you want to be healed, you do not hide the disease or pretend you don’t have it or ascribe your affliction to a malevolent neighbour.

The wisdom of this saying can be extended to matters of state, statecraft and statesmen.

States, just like individuals, have differences. They may be of varying magnitude and complexity, but often they can all be resolved. But first they must be acknowledged and for this you need leaders with certain qualities.

You need sober and reflective minds, and steady hands, able to weigh different options, foresee their consequences, and avoid those likely to escalate conflicts. You do not need hotheads, impulsive or the incompetent sort who will exacerbate matters.

You need people with an abundance of certain virtues, such as humility and modesty, because they are likely to be temperate and deliberative in their actions, not rash or driven by personal credit.

These emphasise shared responsibility, collective action, even if leadership is needed to guide these.

You do not want those who boast and have more bombast than common sense. They are prone to hasty and irrational action that may be regretted later.

You want leaders who are firm in their convictions, resolute in action, but flexible when circumstances dictate.

The qualities mentioned here describe the characteristics of good and effective leaders, statesmen who build countries and alliances or cooperation with others. They also talk about bad and incompetent ones with destructive tendencies.

We have seen these qualities among Rwandan leaders, and indeed citizens, in the years following the Genocide against the Tutsi. Rwandan leaders and people have been able to check their anger, justified though it is, hold back basic instincts such as the settling of scores, though an easy option. Instead, they have channelled these emotions into reconstructive energy – to rebuild what the genocide had sought to destroy.

They have also been evident in bringing together victims and killers, the hunted and their hunters.

The statesman in President Paul Kagame was clearly evident during the commemoration of the genocide on April 7 and at a press conference on April 8.

At the commemoration he was able to acknowledge our painful history, but resisted the easy temptation to show anger, call for retribution or simply apportion blame.

He paid tribute to ordinary Rwandans for their incredible efforts to put the past behind them and move on. HE did not thump his chest for this out-of-this-world character. Rather, he marvelled at their almost limitless capacity for bearing pain and resisting bitterness and willingness for forgiveness and reconciliation.

He was firm in vowing to defend the gains the country has made, the integrity of the nation and to protect the youth, its future, from any harm. He stated this simply as a duty, not as a threat to anyone.

At the press conference, he was asked repeatedly about the state of relations with East African Community partner states and with other countries. He did not shy away from saying things as they are.

Yes, there are problems and they will always be there, but they are not insurmountable, he said. Nor did he pretend they were not there, or that they were insignificant, or even wish them away. Those that are there can be resolved, through dialogue.

Here was the reasonable leader, keen on finding the best solution and avoiding confrontation, although not afraid of it. He was not the sabre rattling type we see around too often.

He had the right answer to the war mongers. War is never the first option, not even the second or third in resolving differences. War has a heavy cost and only those who have not experienced it or are callous enough or indifferent to its destruction can contemplate it. It is only the result of lack of other alternatives.

These are the words of a statesman aware of his responsibilities, options and consequences of his actions, able to act with deliberation and restraint even under provocation.

Of course there will always be differences between individuals and even between states and sometimes they can escalate into open conflict. That is why people elect leaders in whom they see the capacity to manage and resolve these differences, and more importantly lead them to prosperity.

Rwandans must feel a sense of satisfaction that they have in President Kagame such a person, not just a leader, but also a statesman.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.