President Paul Kagame’s meet the press, is one of the few programmes I enjoy on Rwanda Television. The most recent (16th October 2009) appeared on my screen when I was reading renowned French scholar, Jean Francois Lyotard’s, seminal text, The Postmodern condition.
Unlike the President who felt his two hour dialogue with members of the press had been too long, I wanted some more of his ‘postmodern perspectives.’
Responding to a journalist’s concern for the conflicting reports emanating from various international organizations--some praising our progress while others castigate Rwanda government’s failures, Mr. Kagame couldn’t have been more postmodern.
He sought to subvert, the totalizing, essentialising, misleading, stereotypic perceptions about Africa in general.
Well, my friend Tony would ask, what do you mean! To some people, (even in those coveted institutions of higher learning) still hold the image of Africa as a place prone to and characterized by chronic corruption, violent conflict, poverty, bad governance to mention a few.
This is the grand narrative that informs the skeptics and it is wide spread. The narrative that portrays Africa as a toddler that needs a helping and sometimes whipping hand of an elder sibling.
You see, Africa is not the tabula rasa of the colonial epistemology but part of the global order, whether China, Chile or the West wish it or not.
Some may still want to talk down to us not with us. But I say; let’s trade, exchange ideas towards progress of humanity on equal basis.
Equality is not equalness. This, however, does not mean I subscribe to George Orwell’s “some men are more equal than others,” but to emphasize that you could be a heavyweight of 150 kgs but the weight of your vote carries the same weight as that of bantamweight.
What my friend Museminali and his fellow scribes should do, in the context of his question to the President, is to tirelessly educate the world about us.
By introducing ‘little narratives’ because as the postmodern discourse suggests, there is no absolute truth or moral beliefs but it is the plurality of small stories, contingent to local situations that yield meaningful interpretation of situations. And let’s learn from history rather than be tied to or tied by history.
When the global economic down turn was declared a global problem, China’s global profile surged. That did not make China utopian or a God sent gift to mankind.
It certainly must have been a consequence of the application of some ingenious economic concepts, as opposed to the economic grand narratives of capitalism. Should we not look east to China for ideas and goods, as did some American corporations?
With this “little narrative” the President put in place a basis for interrogating the grand narrative of ideological polarization of African nations along the axis of west-east.
Globalisation which today characterizes contemporary discourse, dismisses claims to universality of or fundamentality of values that have created and perpetuated marginalization of one form or the other.
Even for the western concepts of democracy and justice as believed, practiced and preached, some little narratives have emerged.
The Gacaca justice system is another little narrative from Rwanda just like Mittuelle de sante. That is what I call acting locally.
While on this fascinating topic of little narratives, I would like to comment on land distribution and management. Personally, I am a beneficiary (should I say a victim) of the recent land redistribution in Eastern Province.
I lost 12 hectares from the 22 I had owned for over ten years, but to landless neighbors. The process was democratic and the officers concerned exercised humility. In fact, abaturage were involved at every stage to ensure that the guiding principles were adhered to.
But every time a discussion about the land ownership among Kigalians (some of whom have never been to the farms), comes up with exaggerated accounts of Ibikingi ,Kwikanyiza assaults my ears.
The part of the national park which were degazetted to accommodate returning 1959/60 refugees who could not go back to their homes because their land was already occupied, is a semi- arid area.
Basing on a conversation with a researcher in 1992, with my 10 hectares I could happily exchange for two hectares around Rugende.
According to the research carried out in parts of Northern Tanzania similar to the area under discussion, one cow needed one hectare of pasture. So even with 50 hectares one can’t talk about ibikingi in Umutara.
Development officers would do well to consider small stories from abaturage erroneously referred to as bakonyine, for they too have embraced change and wish to own modernized farms.
How can we harmonize global theories and practices with indigenous ideas to achieve success in our endeavors, is a question that should guide national development.