We are our brothers’ keepers

In one of his recent speeches, President Paul Kagame made reference to people who make reckless comments with no thought on the potential meaning and consequences of what they are saying.

In one of his recent speeches, President Paul Kagame made reference to people who make reckless comments with no thought on the potential meaning and consequences of what they are saying.

Reading through my timeline on Twitter earlier this week, I realized the president was addressing a bigger audience than I initially understood. Among that audience, there was a fellow Rwandan blogger who took it upon himself to undermine a gesture of good faith from Rwandan Diaspora.

 

A group of Rwandans living in Belgium, donated their hard earned money to help pay for health insurance subscription for their less privileged fellow citizens.

 

This what the post had to say of the noble cause:

 

There is an entrenched 'mental emancipation' issue within the African Diaspora. The reason they still live in misery in the West is because they haven't begun to see Africa as the land of opportunity that it really is, and not a source of self-gratification. So they accept to do humiliating work, to live like second class citizens in the West and compensate by sending a pittance home every once in a while, and justify their existence to themselves..We don't need your poverty money, you are our own children. The harvest is in abundance here, being eaten by birds, the harvesters are scarce. Come back home, children of Africa.

I find it baffling that an individual takes it upon himself to minimise the efforts and contributions put forth by Rwandans living abroad (whom he refers to as “second class” citizens).

Whether or not he sees their contribution as an effective or sustainable effort is totally up to him. However, to paint a group of people with one brush is unbecoming for someone who claims objectivity.

First, I do not see how this act of generosity leads to a conclusion that it is some sort of pittance to justify their existence. I personally believe that whoever looks to justify their existence in the amount of money they can make or give away has missed the point of their existence all together.

Second, it is important to examine who the people being referred to in the story are – both the ones lending a hand and those needing a hand. To make this short, I will use Ubudehe classification to try and stress just how many people need that hand. (Ubudehe refers to the long-standing Rwandan practice and culture of collective action and mutual support to solve problems within a community) – side note, one only needs to attend monthly Umuganda meetings to learn about these facts.

Rwandans are in 4 categories and these are the percentages as of 2015:

·        1st Category: The poorest of the poor – neighbours in the mudugudu place people in this category fully being aware of their financial means – or lack thereof (16%)

·        2nd Category: Usually composed of “ba nyakabyizi”, barely making ends meet themselves (29.8%)

·        3rd Category: This is the category where most public servants below the level of Director General and Permanent Secretary fall into (53.7%)

·        4th Category: These are the PS, DG, consultants – and really all those who can be considered to have “made it” (0.5%)

Considering how many government ministries and other public institutions we have, there are a lot of people that fall into category 3 (although not many at all when taking into consideration the 11+ million Rwandans).

And, given that, you have surely heard them discuss how difficult and expensive life is in Rwanda even though they are technically placed pretty high on the chart.

Now imagine the lot of Rwandans who fall far below that…Reducing whatever contribution towards their health insurance to insignificant because it comes from “poverty money” is blinding yourself to the reality that many people currently live in. It simply reveals a disconnect from over half the Rwandan population.

Moving on to the so-called diaspora in need of “mental emancipation”, again…gross assumptions are made here. The first being that all those who contributed to this effort are doing “humiliating work” in order to afford their pittance to less fortunate Rwandans.

How many Rwandans in Rwanda are reduced to doing “humiliating work” in order to survive and provide for their families? And so what if all those who contributed to this effort do humiliating work?

Shouldn’t they be the ones to cherish their hard-earned money and be more concerned with saving every penny rather than trying to impress a country they are not interested in settling in?

Not only is it condescending to assume and assign labels to what members of the diaspora do and what their motivation is, it is quite frankly foolish not to realize the impact that this “poverty money” will have in the lives of so many compatriots.

I do believe that more sustainable efforts are required in order to better the lives of all Rwandans, but short term solutions and interventions are also required in order to alleviate the lives of those who need it most.

The One Dollar Campaign and Agaciro Fund are two of the many interventions that started out of the generosity of Rwandans (living in Rwanda and abroad) and have had lasting impact. Other community building efforts (Ubudehe, Girinka, Umuganda) are proof that generosity and compassion are deeply embedded in our culture.

The fact that Rwandans abroad still feel the pull of this culture should not be mistaken for a guilty conscience but instead be recognized as a commendable act of solidarity; a gesture that should not be taken for granted in the sea of complacency that our world has become.

Is the harvest plenty in Rwanda? Absolutely. Rwanda is a young country, young economy, with a lot of untapped potential. Is it enough? Clearly not since there are still so many people in need.

I doubt that stirring controversy and pretending to be holding up the mirror to society resolves the issue at hand.

Rather it distracts from the real issues (such as real poverty, not poverty money) and the conversation we could all be having about how we move from occasional fundraisers to creating jobs and other opportunities that will allow those in need of a hand to no longer need that hand.

The author is a social commentator based in Kigali. 

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