I read with wonder and bemusement an article by Mr. Derek Ingram titled Should Rwanda be allowed to join the commonwealth? Mr Ingram ably articulates the justification for Rwanda joining the Commonwealth as being adjacent to Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda and teaching English in its schools and playing cricket among others.
Although I never knew that cricket is an exclusive game to the Commonwealth nations, I don’t fathom its relevance to poor African states.
That said, Mr. Ingram faults Rwanda on her democratic credentials, a reason why he strongly argues that Rwanda should not be allowed to join the commonwealth.
It is on the basis of this argument that I radically disagree with Mr. Derek Ingram. I feel that the concept ‘democracy’ has been used, abused and misused to suit the interests of particular interest groups.
Many elites in Uganda claim that Rwanda is an authoritarian state and Uganda is a democracy. Without necessarily going to the philosophical underpinnings of the democracy concept, let us use the commonly used definition of democracy according to Abraham Lincoln who defined it as the rule of the people, for the people and by the people.
If we are to read between the lines, this definition doesn’t necessarily mean what the Eurocentric school of thought takes the term to be.
Democracy is a twin sister to human rights. There is such a thin line between democracy and human rights that no country can genuinely claim to be a democracy when its human rights record is poor.
This takes me to the crux of my argument. Why should Mr. Derek Ingram fault Rwanda’s democratic credentials yet he makes no comment about Uganda’s democratic deficit, a country that hosted the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) only two years ago?
The author of the article said that the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) sent an eminent international lawyer Yash Ghai on a mission to Rwanda to discover whether Rwanda fulfils the commonwealth requirements and that his report found that Rwanda doesn’t measure up.
Maybe the CHRI confines its standard measures to Civil liberties and political rights and has nothing to do with socio-economic rights.
According to Yash Ghai’s report, Rwanda’s government “has not hesitated to use violence at home and abroad when it has suited it.” The question whose answer I earnestly desire is: haven’t some of Rwanda’s neighbours used force both at home and abroad when it favours them? Rwanda is not as aggressive as Uganda yet Uganda is not portrayed in such a negative manner.
The article smacks of double standards and dishonesty on the part of the Commonwealth states.
The author of the article says that Rwanda should wait for next year’s presidential elections and that their fairness is the one that will give the country a green light to apply for joining the commonwealth at the next CHOGM.
Why wasn’t CHOGM hosted by other countries after the opposition rightly raised the concerns of 2006 rigged and violent elections?
To begin with, Rwanda doesn’t have to beg to become a member of the Commonwealth. After all, most members are no better. “Commonwealth” members display common opulence, profligacy and corruption on the part of the ruling oligarchies. The commonwealth label is only applicable to the rulers.
To the majority citizens however, what is common is misery, neglect, despair and complacency. Thus, I feel Rwanda has little to gain by joining the “Commonwealth” members.
Why should independent third world states desire to pay allegiance to the Queen of England? Is Rwanda targeting donor funds from Britain?
Although I don’t believe that we should de-link ourselves from the north, as much as we need them (the capitalist north), they equally need us. We need their money, they need our raw materials. So it is quid pro quo.
That said, I wish to use this as an opportunity to share my views about the cherished concepts of democracy and human rights from a Pan African perspective.
I know that these concepts are universal but the Eurocentric scholars typified by Derek Ingram want to bamboozle us by confining democracy and human rights to the terrain of civil liberties and political rights. Whoever does such is utterly wrong.
To Africans, genuine democrats are those concerned about bread and butter issues and not the drama and rhetoric of freedom of expression, when all you have to express is anger brought about by hunger.
Accordingly, the current Rwandan leadership is an embodiment of genuine democracy. Democracy doesn’t mean going to the polls every five years where leaders use taxpayers’ money to bribe the voters and buy the votes from them whence politicians sit and raise their emoluments in total disregard of the ordinary citizens.
Rwanda with President Paul Kagame at the helm is fighting corruption root and branch; has ensured access to education from kindergarten level to the university level; jobs are given on meritocracy as opposed to clientelism exercised in the current chair of commonwealth states; there is health insurance for every Rwandan and one gets treatment in any hospital if they fell sick; the Rwandan roads are in no way comparable to Uganda’s potholes; Rwanda has even gone ahead in environmental protection, every person with land adjacent to the road is urged to plant trees; polythene bags that are known to endanger the environment are a thing of the past yet here in Uganda we cannot enforce policies for expediency purposes.
Although Uganda still remains an education hub, Rwanda is surely becoming a technological hub.
I know for a fact that there are many westerners who will feel envious of Kagame and would want to portray him as a dictatorial leader, but I have no doubt in mind that Rwanda is on a steady road to social democracy which aims at social justice, social welfare and human dignity.
While I don’t condone the suppression of critical voices anywhere, in a country where services are provided, criticism is minimal.
Accordingly, if democracy is to be judged on the basis of the amount of noise made by the citizens, then a country like Uganda will be deemed more democratic than Rwanda. We need, however, to take note of the French saying; La bouche qui mange, ne parle pas (a mouth that is eating doesn’t speak).
What would you expect the majority Rwandans to say when they have access to services? Here in Uganda, people will complain about unemployment, sectarianism, marginalisation, potholes, lack of drugs in health centres, road accidents, corruption, increase in school fees in public institutions among others. These are a rare occurrence in Rwanda and many would argue that it is only ingratitude that would make one complain.
Truly, Paul Kagame has made an indelible mark in a country that was once shattered by ethnic cleansing. The only challenge he has is to make sure he uses his next seven years building sturdy institutions that will outlive him so that the other leaders who come after him will be in a position to continue steering the country on a development path.
Rwanda’s leadership is transformational but not transactional. To label Rwanda an undemocratic state is to hoodwink the world that all democracies must focus on the so-called first generation rights at the expense of socioeconomic rights.
Rwanda should focus on the socio-economic development for her people and forget about joining the Commonwealth Mr. Derek Ingram, Rwanda is a shining star and not as undemocratic as you portray it.
Vincent Nuwagaba is a Ugandan based human rights activist.