On Saturday, June 25, President Paul Kagame gave an interview on one of the most comprehensive and inclusive topics and issues on RBA. The interview covered his personal history and the manner in which he has rebuilt Rwanda from ashes into one of the fastest growing economies in the world despite her numerous structural and geographical constraints that should have hindered such a progress.
During the interview, Kagame again challenged the youth (some of whom had been invited to the studios, including guild presidents at universities) to seriously engage in politics or else politics will negatively affect them. Considering that 70 per cent of our population is youth, this call should be taken with the seriousness it deserves. He said, “the youth should participate more and better. You have to challenge yourself and ask what is my role, how can I play my part?”.
For starters, President Kagame demystified politics which is usually seen as corrupt, dirty, hypercritic, self-serving and interest based (politics of eating) elitist, paternalistic, cronysitic, entitlement oriented, ethnicity/tribal based, exploitative, and egoistic. People who go into politics are often viewed from one or a combination of the above negative traits. The adage that in politics ‘you live by the sword, die by the sword’ is not akin to modern Rwandan politics and President Kagame has remodeled (like he did in our defence, economy, social/unity and reconciliation areas) and gave politics another face and substance that’s unique, admirable, and more civilised than what has been traditionally known of politics. Like many other sectors of the country, he built a political culture void of self-serving, a unique model of politics that is a case study too if only western political construct of democracy can be viewed in contrast. No one expects this for now, for vested interests in such ‘democratic’ and political systems are mountains to move.
The election of President Donald Trump in USA and President Emmanuel Macron in France is a rejection of the established mainstream elitist and interest based political democratic construct that faces serious existential threat across the west.
For us, politics is about management of a society towards a shared common good, which is service delivery and development of the country. Unlike in many countries, in Rwanda no one goes into politics to make money (it is not there anyway), or enrich your kin and kith etc. I was briefed of this much earlier (and made a decision to serve and forgo my foreign lucrative job, which was crazy to my peers) – that for Rwanda politics is about serving the country without counting the cost, nor looking at personal benefits. It is a sacrifice for the greater good.
This may sound bizarre to some in the region who see joining politics as a self-serving adventure, and a time ‘to eat’. This is one of the many reasons why Rwanda has out-performed many countries many times richer in resources, and more so larger in size. Which is why the call to our youth to join our politics is a call of duty and to serve. A call that should be heeded to given that the next crop of Rwandan politicians have to be prepared for this task if we are to sustain our development, without which this would pose a serious existential threat to our nation state.
As pointed out in my earlier article, an election in Rwanda is like no other, it is contextual, and not a mere change of guard. All rational Rwandans are aware of the existential threats posed by not sustaining our stability and exemplary leadership we were fortunate to have, and without which we would be another Somalia, Liberia, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan. What is unique with Rwanda though is that, unlike the aforementioned countries, we are both a post-conflict and post-genocide country (an extreme terrible state no country other has been gone through). We are a country in transition from both and at a takeoff stage of our development in the modest sense of the term. In transition stage you don’t gamble or try/test the management of the country if you are lucky to have an exemplary one in place. Countries which have tried such model have regressed so much that, they only wish they did not. But its often too late. And so the existential threats posed by such risks as possibility of recurrence of genocide given that genocidal FDLR militia is protected by strong interest groups which either were party to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi or sympathetic to them. The risk of reversal of our reconciliation model is real, and so is that of our socio-economic transformation that are both work in progress. The risks of reversal of our unprecedented peace and security model that addresses both internal and external threats is equally real. There is also a huge risk that, our untold story will certainly be told differently with the consequence that genocide and its impact on our social fabric will be diluted or even reversed by the aforementioned powerful interest groups. Elements making noise in western capitals over our choice are not party to this discourse neither are they exposed to these threats.
What we are today as a country is the handiwork of President Kagame so much any change in his leadership would certainly pose an existential threat to Rwanda and Rwandans. Kagame’s moral authority, charismatic leadership, hard work and discipline has ensured high standard of performance that is trusted both at home and abroad and has earned Rwanda a unique place in the community of nations. As Mr Tee Ngugi well put it in his article in The East African edition of July 4, 15, 2016, “to build a nationhood… President Kagame had to inculcate a sense of shared values, and to inspire all to work towards a clear vision, to practise inclusive as opposed to exclusive politics, to give all citizens access to resources and opportunities… Rwanda has taught us important lessons: it is possible to reinvent yourself, and a visionary leadership is the difference between life and death…we ignore these lessons at our peril”.
These are observations of an informed commentator on regional politics that reminds us that these lessons are for us Rwandans as they are for the region. We cannot discount such at the altar of convenience and or emotive critics whose model of imported governance systems have failed flat in Africa with priceless consequences to our economies.
For us Rwandans, the forthcoming election, like others to come, is about our destiny, fate and future.
To be continued…
The writer is an economist and financial expert based in Kigali.