Over the past couple of months a major theme of political discussion in local and regional media has been on Rwanda’s governance system and the actors in it. With news of the breakdown of social order in Burundi, and attendant refugee inflows, this discourse took a comparative form with writers, mostly Rwandans, pointing to the nearsighted nature of Burundi’s approach, arguing that the present disorder there is simply a manifestation of key structural defects.
But what exactly makes Rwanda’s governance model tick? The thing about history is that the present is difficult to understand in its entirety without some knowledge of the past; otherwise, the analytical trap would treat the present as if it were manna, fell from heaven.
Let’s revisit the Urugwiro consensus. In the middle of 1998 national consultations were held on how to organise society in the context of the apocalypse of genocide against the Tutsi and the massive consequences in relation to the collapse of the social fibre.
The challenges were enormous. The answers on how to address them would end up shaping Rwanda’s governance model. On the subject of the kind of political system that was appropriate, those who had lived in this country before and after the genocide insisted that they had seen for themselves the destructions of adversarial politics.
For them, the extent of the obliteration of the social fibre convinced them of the dangers of an imported model of democracy: it can easily lead to misinterpretation, exploitation, and its aspirations corrupted, despite whatever noble ambitions it may entail inherently or otherwise.
With such enormous challenges, it made little sense, they argued, that a political system would be established where different political actors consider each other as enemies who must be eliminated, as they had observed just a few years earlier. Instead, they pointed out, what was needed were political actors who imagined each other as partners working for the general welfare of the population.
What was appropriate, therefore, was for an internal reflection that would birth a governance model in line with the values that Rwandans wanted to see in their politicians and the systems that govern them. Deliberations on this subject produced the consensus building model of governance we have today.
Other areas of national concern were discussed. On the economic system that would work best there was general agreement that that country needed to pursue an inclusive development model that was pro-poor, with a strong social welfare system so that everyone could see themselves in the ‘national project.’
The place of women in the ‘new Rwanda’ was also discussed. As a result, the ascendancy of the woman in post-genocide Rwanda is also deliberate, not a serendipitous happenstance.
Therefore, Rwanda’s governance model succeeds because it is authentic. It is crafted to respond to internal challenges and realities. Closer scrutiny, in fact, shows that those areas where the model doesn’t work well, or struggles to cope, are those that are inauthentic, alien in nature, and wantonly copied from elsewhere.
Because such ideas may be effective in solving problems in the places where they were copied but do not do a very good job of doing the same outside their organic setting. In other words, they are non-responsive to the aspirations of those outside that setting.
One of the positive trends, therefore, has been that copying has been reserved a very limited role in the governance model and, therefore, its outcomes are generally negligible.
As a principle is this: Mimicry cannot be relied upon to provide any meaningful resolutions to fundamental problems afflicting any society. To emphasise, the more serious the social, economic, political, or cultural ailment the less likely that initiatives grounded in mimicry or parroting will help resolve the initial ailment; moreover, it may compound the problem.
This is where Rwanda has been different, separating itself from the gallery. Anyone who has insisted on imposing their reality on Rwanda has failed and has had to retreat with their tails between their legs.
But this has not been easy for Rwanda to do because some had grown accustomed to arrogating themselves the task of telling small countries what to do. Humiliated, they have often interpreted this independence of thought as (insert offensive descriptor) arrogance.
Internally, those who have operated outside the parameters of the Urugwiro consensus have also failed. They often found themselves politically, at times socially, excluded. For some, those people made a choice to exclude themselves because they were part of the crafting of the parameters and, therefore, had reason to know the consequences for trespassing.
What are the lessons? One is that state disarticulation anywhere, more so in countries with socio-historical circumstances of the colonised, is usually the manifestation of an alien nature of a governance model that does not speak to the aspirations of the people in a given polity.
Secondly, when a governance model is responsive to the aspirations of the people, they understand that the state exists for, not against, them. The state acquires a persona that must be protected and preserved because in doing so the citizen is involving him or herself in a degree of self-preservation.