The question has to be asked. Why is the Rwandese Patriotic Front-Inkotanyi so successful? How is it that a revolutionary Front forged in the crucible of a violent struggle for Liberation has managed to withstand the vicissitudes of genocide and difficult Nation building without so much as a change in names, -- and continue to grow?
History is replete with political movements, of revolutionary fervour, some of which were born with a bang but exited the scene with a whimper! Others limp along, basking in the reflected glory of yesterday, a mere shadow of their past, their eyes firmly fixed in the rear mirror, unable to confront the challenges of tomorrow.
The RPF and its Chairman, Paul Kagame, are rightly credited with remarkable achievements. From stopping Rwanda’s slide to below the abyss in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, building National Unity and Reconciliation against incredible odds, defying economic orthodoxies and charting a unique path to development with equity at its core, and becoming an unlikely beacon for all those struggling with Post-Colonial Nation and State building.
What has not been given proper recognition is Kagame’s role in answering that age-old question among peoples involved in struggles to emancipate themselves from oppression and the shackles of self-actualisation. How to build a strong, resilient, self-regenerating political formation, true to its core fundamental beliefs and values, and yet capable of confronting the challenges of the future.
Here are some reflections;
For starters, the RPF-Inkotanyi are not a Political Party. They are a Political Front, and a family.
Their current success is anchored in this innovative beginning. With a Political Front, one avoids the potentially divisive ideological schisms that dog traditional political parties. Within a front, one only has to correctly identify the fundamental issues, design a clear programme to address them, and invite as many people as possible to the Front, their petty ideological differences notwithstanding. This is why the RPF can bring together committed socialists, mercantilist capitalists, monarchists, the greens, employers, and trade union activists all in support of a national agenda they have helped to design.
It is also why, with all confidence, Chairman Paul Kagame can enrich the old paraphrased adage that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with others , to say he wants Rwandans to go far, fast, together!
Second, the Inkotanyi are a family (Umuryango), committed patriots who see Rwanda as their family and all Rwandans as their family members, some of whom might be temporarily disoriented as those who continue to try to wage an insurgency are.
That is why the insurgents’ return to the Family is treated as the return of the Prodigal son or daughter, with celebration and speedy and complete reintegration.
This conception of political formations and competition is extremely rare in the world.
Certainly, for most of Africa, the notion of the Party is a notion imported from the colonial mother country. Many parties are founded and led by an intellectual elite class deeply suspicious of the people and speaking the language of the former colonial master.
They rely on a small core of a tiny class of skilled workers and civil servants in towns, whose bearings are only in the foreign universities and schools they frequented.
The Parties are seen as having their owners. In some cases, the owners literally sell them to the highest bidder.
In many cases, the Parties are in open conflict with the sturdy core of the cultural values on which the nation rests. To them, the people in rural areas are alien, in thought and deed, only forming a deep inchoate reservoir for votes at the right time, and manpower for the army in times of conflict.
The RPF’s core values and principles are a result of rigorous intellectual thought, common sense, and a reality informed by its total dependence on the people.
From the beginning of the Liberation struggle, military and political leaders lived with the people on the land – actually, in many cases, under it, in trenches. Financing for the struggle was from Rwandans wherever they were, whatever their socio- economic conditions. This was not a struggle financed by an elite with their wealthy foreign backers.
Whenever the going got tough, the leaders did not run away to save their ‘precious’ skins. They dug in and fought. Their wavelengths were not tuned in to the West or the East but to the districts and villages in the country, where the cry for help was deafening. The Rwanda Patriotic Army developed a deep respect and affection to the people. It witnessed countless acts of incredible bravery from unarmed individuals willing to join battle as ‘commandos’ to civilian nurses, and ordinary citizens braving bullets to save people. The bonds between the Front and the people became organic.
The Rwandan family has dignity as an innate value. Inkotanyi exemplify this dignity. Dignity within the family means there is no space for destructive individualism, lack of discipline, a quest for the easy life or easy solutions, cheap popularity, or indeed propensities towards waves of deep discouragement, whatever the external circumstances may be.
The RPF does not believe in the politics of mystification or fear. Its detailed manifesto may contain diagrams and statistics, but it is not a technocrat’s document. It is a reflection of the heart of the people, if a political movement can be said to have a heart.
And, the default position for the RPF-Inkotanyi is to take all important national decisions back to the people. Need to deal with a recalcitrant neo colonial genocidal regime? Mobilise the people. Need sophisticated arms and ammunition to counter heavy regime support by the foreign masters of yesteryear? Rely on the people to seize it from the enemy on the battle field.
Stumped by the challenge of post-Genocide justice? Take it to the people through Gacaca courts. Need to finance an election? Go to the people. Time to produce the National Budget? Begin with the people. The examples are myriad.
Finally, the Rwandese Patriotic Front-Inkotanyi is a self-regenerating entity. It does not allow outmoded ideological rigidity to determine it’s future. It is true to its basic principles, knows that as long as it sticks to the truth, no matter how difficult, it will go through all political fires unscathed, but is always ready to accept new ideas, practices, technologies and people.
Every Presidential campaign season, and I am now participating in my third, I am amazed at this juxtaposition between stability and change. I see the shared vested interest in stability, economic growth, and the people’s continued participation in government and governance. I see that intangible, sometimes ephemeral, but always critical Unity of purpose among the members of the Front and I cannot fully explain it.
For a Revolutionary Movement and leader to survive and thrive, they must have a Je ne sais quoi!! The RPF and Paul Kagame have it!
Amb Dr Richard Sezibera is a Senator, former Cabinet Minister and Secretary-General of the East African Community.