Protecting what this country has achieved so far in economic terms when compared to the state of affairs two decades ago; maintaining peace and security that all Rwandans enjoy - both of which are the envy of the continent; upholding the newfound sense of dignity that twenty years ago would have seemed unimaginable: whose job is it anyway – do we need to rely on governments, businesses, experts, or does it come down to us – individuals?
Well, the truth of the matter is that to maintain all the above and even push for some more, there has to be a combination of effort from everyone. Every single one of us must have a role to play to ensure that whatever has been realised thus far can be protected without complacency, and that there remains a genuine appetite to go after even bigger and better things. That much is clear, at least I hope it is.
What isn’t as blindingly obvious sometimes however, is the key role played by a leader to coordinate all the combined efforts, which in many ways can mean the difference between the successful protection of what Rwandans have achieved since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and the deterioration of those milestones. Therefore, come August 4, choosing the right candidate to lead us for the next seven years will perhaps be more critical than we care to imagine. To put it bluntly, the next Rwandan president cannot be just any leader. That leader must be carefully chosen.
But while you prepare to lend your ears to our numerous presidential aspirants in the coming weeks, let me share with you a short story that my postgraduate supervisor shared with me over three years ago. His intention was to try to make me understand that while building something (a career, a house, and in this case a country) can take a long time, destroying that very same thing may take just a few seconds. He wanted to inspire me to focus unequivocally after realising that I was in fulltime employment at the same time as I was about to embark on a demanding postgraduate thesis.
He told me that one evening, a small boy who was about six years old wanted to ride his older brother’s bicycle. He had taken his turn, but wanted to ride again before his older brother had his turn. But because his older brother didn’t let him have his way, the six-year-old got very spiteful and plotted to destroy the bicycle that their poor parents had worked so hard to buy.
For the next few minutes, the six-year-old boy sat quietly and observed his older brother’s riding routine. He perfected his plot. Next, he went and sat right next to where his older brother would ride next. And as the older brother pumped the pedals, suddenly, the six-year-old pulled a stick from behind his back and put it straight through the front wheel. It only took roughly three seconds before the older brother was rolling down on the ground in agony, and the bicycle, well it was useless junk.
Of course, the little boy could not have foreseen the devastation, that amount of wickedness is reserved for a much older human being. Nevertheless, in under three seconds, the six-year-old had not only injured his older brother, he had destroyed a bicycle that when you look back, had required a combined effort of the coal miners who dug coal to melt the iron that made the bicycle; all the men and women who made the rubber tires, breaks, pedals, seat, handlebars, wheels; and more importantly, the six-year-old had greatly undermined the sacrifice his parents had made to buy them a bicycle. So much had been sacrificed to buy that bicycle and yet, all of this took less than three seconds to destroy.
So, why did my supervisor choose this particular story, and why am I sharing it with you? The truth is that my supervisor saw and understood what I couldn’t see, or at least he hoped to remove all doubt. He wanted to make sure that I understood that all the work I had put in before and during my postgraduate course could be wiped out by one reckless action or inaction.
He wanted me to understand that while my day job was important (necessary to pay for my fees), all the effort I had put in my studies would be for nothing if I didn’t focus and go through the next phase successfully. He wanted me to be in a position to make the right call, if for instance, I was faced between choosing to work overtime or spending a day in the library. He wanted me to distribute my limited resource (time) efficiently.
And so, those are the same reasons that compel me to share the same story with you. The presidential campaign is about to kick off – which means that in the next few weeks we must maintain focus of our priorities. This is because, while we hear from various presidential aspirants promising to deliver this and that, we will also hear from observers, experts, and political-fortune-tellers who will almost certainly use this event to try and resurrect their fading careers. And noticeably, many of their stories aren’t meant to help you remain focused on the bigger picture. Most of the rhetoric will be meant to destabilise your thought process. In fact, you might as well begin to prepare for stories of human rights abuses, ‘untold stories’, etc – all of which, if you look closely, are the same stories that were printed a decade ago albeit given a new dramatic twist this time around.
But whatever happens, here is what I hope you take from this piece: given the context of Rwanda and where we were a little over two decades ago, we cannot afford to be distracted by naysayers or people who can destroy in a day or week, what has taken us decades to build. The achievements that we have made are as a result of a combined effort of many people, including many unsung heroes, but crucially, those efforts would probably not have yielded the results that you and I see today had it not been for a proven leadership at the helm, that of the incumbent, Paul Kagame.