A response to an open letter to Paul Kagame

I read with interest the article by Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire and while it seemed more like a poetic monologue, I was fascinated by the reasoning.

I read with interest the article by Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire and while it seemed more like a poetic monologue, I was fascinated by the reasoning. In Rwanda, we are quite used to having people tell us what is best for us – it’s been the case for 20 years – but I am always irked when it comes from fellow Africans.

The discussion about constitution changes in Rwanda is an external debate and, in my opinion, one that focuses on the person of President Paul Kagame more than the choice of Rwandans – as if we have no agency.

Let me explain.

I have been traveling across Africa and I am always asked the question, after praise for President Kagame’s leadership and results oriented governance, “Will he run again?” But before I answer I always ask, “If all things remained equal, and there was no issue of term limits, would you not re-elect a leader who has delivered on his promises?” And the answer usually is, “Yeah yeah, I would vote for him, in fact give him to us.”

Twenty years ago, none of us would have dreamed that we would be where we are. The results in Rwanda are a collective effort driven by servant leadership that has re-shaped the way we think about ourselves. Rwandans are the very definition of ‘yes we can’ so of course we love our President.

‘Yes, yes, but what about 2017?’ you ask. My response is that the bottom line is about choice. If you are following discourse in the media, you would think there is a war going on. I know that many of those who are stirring the pot have personal interests – or more precisely deep foreign pockets – but the discussion has become short sighted and I’m sad to say that other Rwandans have fallen prey to this.

There is a growing discourse that says Rwanda isn’t really a miracle, it’s all propaganda and this latest third term discussion works within this logic. The wider goal, in my opinion, is to crush what Rwanda stands for – an African government that is working, and specifically, a leader who won’t bow down to the demand of the West. Imagine if that spreads across Africa – particularly Francophone Africa – and leaders start demanding that raw materials be processed in Africa with added value profits staying on the continent. What a wonder!

Rwanda’s reality is unique. For every decision that has directly benefited Rwandans, someone has preached doom. “Don’t spend money on universal healthcare… you can’t ban plastic bags…focus on primary education, you don’t need to invest in STEM education…” And you know what, President Kagame has always said, “Rwandans and their benefit, present and future, is more important than world opinion.” That is why we re-elected him in 2010.

His leadership has sparked a generation of young cadres who understand that Rwanda is more than their piece of cake. President Kagame has caused us to always ask, ‘Can I do something?’, even at the price of sleep, personal glory and gain. He leads by example.

Shall we change the constitution? Well, last time I checked, we can. The world may drown out our voices but it is our vote that counts. The discussion should not be driven by fear and doomsday prophecies. Rwanda faces very real security risks and we are aware of the many challenges we have in infrastructure and energy, growing the private sector, education and skills, specifically in STEM to name a few. One challenge we don’t have is a president.

So if term limits were removed, we would not be having this discussion. Do we have good leaders in Rwanda? We sure do. Good enough to run against President Kagame? Yes. It just so happens that President Kagame’s record is miles ahead of anyone else and he has the most precious of capital: Trust.

So let me leave you with two words: choice and delivery. Rwandans have the choice to make changes to our founding document like every other country in the world. Second, leadership is about delivery. If any leader in Africa, US or Europe had the track record of President Kagame, people would be saying anything less than re-election was robbery.

People may not like our democracy – consensus-based, people-centred, and results-oriented – but it has delivered for us in ways no external prescriptions ever given to us, did. Let’s drop the toxic self-serving doomsday predictions – if this is about the people, the people will decide. Rwanda is ours after all!

This article was first published by This is Africa (TIA) www.thisisafrica.me