Alluding to his journey to the Presidency of the United States of America, President Barack Obama titled his bestselling autobiography, The Audacity of Hope. Spare a thought then for Philippe Mpayimana who is asking Rwandans to elect him to replace President Paul Kagame.
If Mr Obama’s hope that he could plan his way to the presidency was audacious, Mr Mpayimana’s needs must be as fathomless as the deepest sea. The two men have a bit in common of course.
They are both Africans, and…well, they are both Africans anyway. A fair judge however must acknowledge that Mr Mpayimana does have a slight edge on President Obama when it comes to reliance on hope.
For while it is true that like Mr Mpayimana, Mr Obama too was a relative unknown before embarking on his campaign for the presidency, he had a bit of a track record in community organising, a best seller in the aforementioned book, a brilliant mind, charisma to burn, soaring oratorical gifts that come but once in a generation.
Mr Mpayimana, with all due regard to him, can claim none of these things. Not yet anyway, it’s never too late, after all.
He did write a book or two, Between the hammer and the anvil for instance, but, we don’t mention that. Like many self-exiled Rwandans, Mr Mpayimana was at some time an advocate of what is now popularly known as alternative facts to the truth, something else for which we have an American presidential campaign to thank.
It is of course something about which the electorate has the right to know, but, it is perhaps unfair to mention the book, as we shall henceforth discreetly refer to it. While Mr Obama’s book propelled him to greater national prominence, Mr Mpayimana’s opus may not be so helpful.
Little wonder then that he seems to want little to do with the book. He now swears blindly, that it was his publishers who embellished it with those alternative facts. He claims to have no truck with such perpetuation of such falsehoods. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must accept his word.
All this makes him far superior to Mr Obama in one respect: it is unlikely that Mr Obama would have had the confidence, unlikely that his hope would have had the requisite audacity to try for his nation’s presidency, had he had such a poor hand to play.
Not so the plucky Mpayimana. Look what he’s up against: a twenty-two year record of such unparalleled achievement that even he has to acknowledge that great things have indeed been accomplished.
This is what he has had to say, “Today, thanks to its struggle [Rwanda], against great evils, the great nations of the world envy its courage and covet its influence.”
Just imagine, you stand before an electorate, their lived experience means that to gain some credibility, you are obliged to declare that the other candidate has delivered extraordinary service to the nation, but, why not vote for you instead anyway.
Risk all the gains which have been so hard won. Over a million lifted out of absolute poverty, near universal healthcare, universal primary and secondary school education, equality for all under the law, policies for decent housing, and the list goes on.
Risk all this and vote for me, because...because...Let’s come back to because, perhaps when he has had a chance to think about it and share his thoughts with us.
What audacity of hope indeed, what belief. Yes I can, he no doubt whispers to himself at those quiet moments when perfidious doubts creep in. And why not, what need of such slogans has the Hawaii water skiing Mr Obama now after all.
Yes, I can because...he will let us know about that too in good time, we hope. And who would begrudge him a few catch phrases. He needs all the help he can get.
All the same, one does have to wonder, why is he bothering? Why not get home and take advantage of all that the new Rwanda has to offer? Start a business, spend time with your family, sit in the sun, after so many European winters.
Of course, Mr Mpayimana may simply have decided to exercise the right of every Rwandan to contest for the highest office in the land. It may be a little galling for him that for even that inalienable right, he has the man he wants to replace to thank.
For while Mr Mpayimana may rightly claim that right, it had to be fought for, and leading the charge in that struggle, was, annoyingly for Mr Mpayimana, the other candidate.
Life can be unfair. For let’s face it, Mr Mpayimana is going against not only one of the most respected statesmen in office today, he is in every sense of the word, going against a national hero.
But perhaps most discomforting of all for Mr Mpayimana, is that until his recent Damascene conversion, he was at content to stand with the cheerleaders of the ideology that had to be defeated, not only so he could exercise his right to contest for political office, but, for other Rwandans to exercise their right to life itself. Without being picky, one expects better judgement from a would-be head of state.
And there is a recurring pattern with Rwanda’s self-exiled presidential candidates: call as many of the world’s media as will pay any attention to you, tell them what an irredeemable dictatorship Rwanda is, where there is nothing but despair and eternal gnashing of teeth, where your life would be in grave peril if you so much as set foot at Kigali International Airport, then come election time, announce to the same media that you are courageously venturing into “the dictatorship” to save the Rwandan people, by declaring yourself a candidate for the presidency.
Once the election is over, and you have managed your ten votes or so, mostly from friends, you have a bit of a holiday with your family. You haven’t seen them for some time, after all, since you are an exile who dares not set foot in Rwanda, then head off to the airport, back into exile, until the next election cycle. But, we mustn’t generalise, Mr Mpayimana deserves the benefit of the doubt.
So how about the policies? We know some of them from his much heralded news conference. He wants all Rwandans abroad to be able to come home, and the Rwandan Embassies and High Commissions to facilitate this.
Perfectly fair demands. Except, once again, somewhat annoyingly for him, as he himself acknowledges in one of his many encomia, other than perhaps the state of Israel, no other Government has done more to encourage its citizens to return home than the Rwandan Government. “The President goes out to meet Rwandans abroad, and invites them back to the country.”
And he wants freedom of expression; again an important demand. We are after all told by almost every media outlet that such freedoms do not exist in Rwanda, especially for political opponents.
Except, well, there’s Mr Mpayimana in Rwanda, giving a news conference, exercising his right to oppose the Government of the day, and offering himself up as a presidential candidate no less. So not that either. Back to the drawing board on the policies then!
And let’s hope the pesky journalists are not too bothersome about the book. After all, are we not informed by the likes of Reporters without Boarders that journalists in Rwanda are all but muzzled? Alas for Mr Mpayimana, again as he himself acknowledges, the reality is somewhat different.
The supposedly muzzled journalists are as raucous as is their wont. It is true the book’s revisionism is in the publisher’s note, but, still some explanation is due. He is at the very least guilty of questionable judgement.
But, let’s be generous, and resist the temptation to look under the carpet where a few horrors may have been discreetly swept. After all, whoever is responsible for the alternative facts, Mr Mpayimana’s conversion may be genuine and sincere. In which case then, congratulations to him on freeing his mind from the dark side, a warm welcome into the light, and the best of luck for 2017, he’ll need it.
The writer is a media expert based in Kigali