In the midst of the usual debate, drama and intrigue that often characterize UN General Assemblies as global power dynamics play themselves out, there is a picture that caught my eye.
A picture that perhaps was a radical break from what we were being fed in the international media on the proceedings at the UN Summit.
President Paul Kagame, sitting as the only male leader, surrounded by the who is who in women’s global leadership. Her Excellency Tarja Halonen the President of the Republic of Finland, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, and environmental activist Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangai Maathai.
Also present was Her Excellency Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalisation Initiative, among others.
It was His Excellency Kagame sitting there at ease, cool, calm and collected in the midst of Her Excellencies and the subject under discussion? Peace and Security through Women’s Leadership.
It is his fearlessness to tackle head-on issues to do with women’s emancipation and gender equality, among many other qualities, most male leaders still shy away from, that I hold in total admiration of Kagame as a leader.
It was a historic portrait as Kagame cut a fine figure in the midst of these much revered women.
This perhaps was his political statement in practice , when he talks against mediocrity and instead emphasizes radical transformation and innovation in politics – Kagame does not leave the women’s role out.
Women have cried and screamed about being minorities in important gatherings usually dominated by men, and here is one Head of State quite comfortable to be a minority among women leaders – albeit for the right reasons.
Kagame made a smart break with the ‘old-boys’ club choosing instead a pragmatic approach to political transformation, one underpinned by the realization that unless the other half, we women are part of it – then hallo it aren’t worth it.
But then there is the slogan be the change you want to be. Kagame has officials he could have delegated to this forum, he has an able women’s leadership which could have sat planned and gone through the usual lamentations with fellow sisters, on all issues including their desire to change the face of politics not just on the African continent but globally too.
Kagame’s presence perhaps tells you how serious he is in acting on that which he talks about, women’s emancipation a burden not to be left on their shoulders alone.
One hopes that in the process he has challenged other leaders globally to take up the responsibility of women’s emancipation not as something they discard to small units within under funded ministries, but something they stand up to and publicly say – It has to be done.
The women Kagame engages at the forum are known for their courageous and remarkable leadership in the previously exclusive male domains as Heads of State or key players within the international community in their own rights.
This is against a background of the dominant picture of any peace brokering initiative being of high level male delegations clad in suits carrying laptops, at times accessorized by the female assistant on their side.
Breaking from the past was the essence of this forum with Rwanda and Liberia being examples of the best practices in the inclusion of women’s leadership in post-war peace negotiations and nation-building efforts.
They have both recently adopted national plans of actions on the full implementation of UN Resolution 1325, which calls for the full participation of women in peace-building and reconstruction efforts.
Resolution 1325 is the first Security Council resolution that specifically looks at the impact of war on women, and their contribution to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.
Since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda under Kagame’s leadership has seen women as major players in the country’s miraculous economic recovery, having been at the centre of nation building and reconstruction efforts they have also secured influential positions in government.
They are pace setters, leaders in their own right, as peace brokers or peace makers, points that you can’t help but attribute the overall success in other areas of life in the Rwandan society.
However, the story here is not about these worthy women but the man among them – Kagame.
One would then be at liberty to ask how Kagame fits into this group of otherwise fearless women, what is it that gives him the tenacity, courage and ease of comfort to be among women who have been at the centre of transforming gender relations in their own constituencies or countries – albeit not necessarily on an easy to win women’s sympathy ticket but as politicians in their own right.
One does not have to go far to understand the man under whose leadership Rwanda rose to become a global epicenter of radicalized gender relations, with the highest figure of 56.25 women’s representation in parliament in the world.
Figures aside, let’s agree Rwanda is on the move, be it in anti-corruption rankings, Doing Business or in the provision of basic services.
It takes radical political transformation to achieve the kind of results, going hand in hand with the leadership quality and discipline.
The point being we African citizens are simply tired of leaders who speak more and deliver less, under Kagame the opposite stands.
Former President Bill Clinton could not have summed it better when he said, as he awarded Kagame with the 2009 Clinton Global Citizen award in the Public Service category : “The great victory of Rwanda was a victory of the mind and the spirit. And Paul Kagame freed the hearts and minds of his people to think about the future.”
We want leaders who have the courage of their conviction to lead the radical transformation of our politics, it means going that extra mile in an area many are still not at ease with - women.