Twenty-one years ago, things did not only look gloomy for Rwanda, they simply did not add up. The madness that engulfed this country leading to the brutal slaughter of 1 million people is a filthy part of our history that we will always live with.
But much as we take stock of this history, we also acknowledge the resilience of Rwandans and their determination to take the path of redemption as opposed to the path of self-destruction.
The results of this endurance are beginning to show and even our foreign friends are taking note. Take the example of the recent Gallup poll that ranked Rwanda as home to Africa’s happiest people.
The poll, dubbed ‘Positive Experience Index’, measured and quantified characteristics such as ‘respect, laughing, smiling and learning or doing something interesting’ and found Rwanda had those values in abundance.
Specifically, Rwanda was ranked the world’s 15th happiest, out of 143 countries and the best in Africa. These results were released to coincide with the United Nations’ third annual International Day of Happiness on March 20, 2015. It covered a sample space with a minimum of 1,000 adults in each of the 143 countries.
Some people could easily brush this off as a middle-page story that needs no serious attention.
Yet, as we mark 21 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, this simple but quite relevant poll debunks many lies that have been peddled out there on this nation.
This is why
First, that a country where hatred, anger, rage, despair and barbarism were at the peak 21 years ago is the same country that turns around to be home for Africa’s happiest lot, begs some meditation. This is not only a stamp of approval for the leadership of this country but offers hope for many Africans that are still trapped in the web of turmoil, war, disease and political hopelessness.
Second, and probably most important, we all know the praises Rwanda gets for its economic turnaround. But this praise is often accompanied by misguided criticism on how Rwanda remains a “police state”. That the fundamental principles of free speech and free expression are absent.
The irony exposed by this Gallup poll is how a country that allegedly stifles people’s rights is the same the country where happy minds flourish. Isn’t this a pure contradiction?
How can a country where its leadership polices everyone – is so eager to shut whoever opens their mouth, becomes, at the same time, the country whose population is characterised by ‘respect, laughing, smiling and learning or doing something interesting’ as Gallup Poll’s indicators revealed?
If this poll was done by one of our institutions, I would probably lend half my ear to the critics of its findings. But this is a survey carried out independently by credible international pollster without the hand of any government agency.
Therefore, it makes its findings not only credible but rather authentic, undisputable and reflecting the true picture on the ground.
Thirdly, as they say, a hungry man is an angry man. Simply put, you cannot afford a smile on an empty stomach. What this poll, therefore, confirms is that Rwanda has not only delivered on its homework of stabilizing the economy and dealing with issues like food security that had been chronic for decades but also deployed inclusive macro-economic policies.
Finally, and in relation to the 2017 debate, a population can never be happy if its leadership is one characterised by incompetence, corruption, nepotism and underperformance. A population can only be rated as ‘happy’ and ‘eager to do something’ if they find happiness in the leadership of their country---if they appreciate what their leaders are doing.
What is at fault then if this same population says, we are happy with our leaders and we can only be guaranteed of greater happiness if they remain here with us for as long as they continue to put smiles on our faces?
Bottom line, for Rwandans to emerge as the happiest lot on this continent is not only a testimony to the renaissance of this nation but a vindication on some false rumours constantly perpetuated by rights groups about democracy and freedoms in this country.