You heard the story: ‘Rwanda’s poverty is increasing rather than decreasing.’ The figures that the country has been publishing have all along been ‘doctored’ to paint the image that progress was taking place. Rwanda’s success story is not real. There is no development taking place. It’s all a lie.
At this point one has to pause and ask a question why Rwanda’s untold story always seems to come from the same sources. However, as before, this most recent ‘discovery’ has, yet again, been roundly dismissed as much ado about nothing, a ‘tale … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’
As before, the underlying motive remains the same: to delegitimise the government. More specifically, to create the perception among development partners that the ‘regime’ is illegitimate, that they should ‘reconsider’ their support, mostly financial but also diplomatic, and where possible, they should instead ‘divert’ such backing to efforts geared towards causing regime change.
Now, a state is considered legitimate when it has a government that represents the interests of the governed – it exists at their service. Such a state is likely to enjoy internal and external support because it is perceived to have fulfilled its obligations. Moreover, such a government earns the right to direct the course the country takes and, for the most part, it can do as it wishes as long as it retains this legitimacy.
Let me say that again. A legitimate government has earned the right to do as it wishes. Rwanda is one of a handful of countries in Africa that, by virtue of its commitment to fulfil its obligations, enjoys both internal and external legitimacy.
Therein lies the rub. Why? Because the reality in the preceding paragraph paints a picture that doesn’t sit well with some who, for reasons that have rendered them prisoners of history, must do anything to tear at that legitimacy, by hook or crook.
Point to anyone currently pressing the argument that Rwanda’s poverty levels are increasing rather than decreasing and I’ll show you someone who is a prisoner of that history. It is a self-imposed life sentence without a chance for parole.
But it shouldn’t be like that. Rwandans are magnanimous people – going by the social reconciliation that has taken place – who are prepared to forgive because they refuse to be bogged down by historical baggage. They seek humility, not humiliation. A show of contrition about one’s role in that history would just about do it.
But arrogance leads to projecting. This is done through a double strategy. First, is to develop amnesia, the defensive strategy, about their role in Rwanda’s tragedy. Second, they have sought, as an offensive weapon, to deny any progress the country is making.
Both strategies, complimentary in substance, are intended to accomplish this: if the government is illegitimate, its authority – moral, legal, or otherwise – to demand for accountability is undermined.
That’s how the cookie crumbles (or how it is supposed to crumble). The rest are details. Consider the following arguments that have been deployed over the past twenty-some years to achieve that objective. There was the one in the aftermath of genocide that the RPF was a Ugandan-installed regime. Therefore, illegitimate and shouldn’t be supported.
That argument rang hollow. It was replaced, toward the late 1990s, with its variation that said that the Kigali government was entirely made up of Tutsis, an ethnic minority. Therefore, illegitimate and shouldn’t be supported.
That didn’t stick, either. It was time to get a bit more sophisticated: there were some ethnic Hutus in the government but these were ‘turncoats.’ It was, therefore, illegitimate and shouldn’t be supported.
Neither did that argument win any backers. That was in the mid-2000s. By the end of that decade, ‘Tutsis were being targeted,’ they claimed. This undermined the previous argument, which meant that it was time to pivot yet again: the regime is undemocratic and repressive. Therefore, illegitimate and shouldn’t be supported.
Which leads us to where we are today: the government lies about making socioeconomic progress. This time, however, considering the timing, this accusation seeks not merely to damage the legitimacy of the state; it seeks to pull the rug from underneath the citizens that have petitioned parliament to amend the constitution in order for President Kagame to run again.
The objective is to undermine the entire constitution-amending exercise because citizen demands are grounded in their claims that under President Kagame’s leadership they have seen their lives take a turn for the better, and that his continued stewardship of the country offers them the best hope for improved life chances.
Now, the Kagame administration enjoys strong internal legitimacy largely because of what the citizens are saying he has done for their lives. It also explains their actions in wanting to retain him.
By claiming that the country’s poverty figures are ‘doctored’ the message being sent out is this: ‘The people don’t know what they are talking about or what they are doing.’ Consequently, the basis upon which they are petitioning to retain Kagame is null and void. Therefore, the entire thing is illegitimate and it shouldn’t be supported.
Let’s cut the aid and cause regime change. Then we can install a government made up of those with whom we share a history of discomfiture, regain our little playground in Central Africa, and I may also get to write their constitution. Who told them that they could write their own constitution, anyways?