It looks like right has suddenly become wrong and wrong is the new right if one is to go by the recent editorial opinion by The Economist regarding life in Rwanda today.
In a long piece that oozes slanted opinion, skewed reporting and analysis to make an indecipherable mix, The Economist writes in glowing terms about Rwanda’s socio-economic achievements under President Paul Kagame and then proceeds to conclude that citizens of the country are not happy.
This conclusion is not in any way supported by the facts so glaringly presented in the same story. It would appear as if Rwanda’s sins are exactly what many countries The Economist depict as democratic and free would only wish for.
By its own reporting, the magazine notes the peace and stability that President Kagame brought to Rwanda following the horrific genocide of 1994.
Peace and stability are good – and many countries yearn for them. Strangely, in the opinion of The Economist, that does not seem to be the case for Rwanda.
It describes it as a police state. How false! Which police state has 11 active political parties? The article insinuates that the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front is dictatorial because it has held power for all the years after the genocide. For how long has ANC in South Africa held power? Should they be referred to as undemocratic?
If the RPF is a dominant political organisation in the country, it is because of its good deeds – pure and simple.
Does The Economist know that in what it calls a police state, there are multiple avenues through which citizens hold its leadership to account which probably does not exist from where this outlet sits?
To mention only two: the National Leadership Dialogue (Umushyikirano) is a forum where citizens interact directly with the top leadership of the country through televised meetings, with live call-in and short messages (sms) services and all major social media platforms, which they use freely.
They ask all sorts of questions which are answered instantly by the President and his team. Then there is the office of the Prime Minister tasked with following up issues raised during Umushyikirano but whose answers were not immediately available.
Then President Kagame is known for making time to go deep down in villages to meet ordinary citizens in what his office calls Citizen Outreach.
These gatherings are known to cause fear among Government officials since citizens use this opportunity to raise issues that are of concern to their well-being and at times expose some officials who have not carried out their duties to the satisfaction of the people.
Another reoccurring accusation made in this write-up by The Economist is that the media in Rwanda is stifled. No evidence is given to support this claim.
Yet it is a known fact that under the leadership of President Kagame the media grew from one TV station to the current 16. Radio stations increased from one to 34, newspapers grew from practically zero to now 34, whereas news websites grew from zero to over 80. These are the people who are stifled?
The countrywide unrestricted rollout of internet access to every citizen has made it even easier for everyone to get across their opinion, even without having to go through the traditional media channels.
It is the RPF that liberated Rwanda from the genocide and it is the same RPF that has presided over Africa’s fastest growing economy by the reporting of the world’s key multilateral agencies.
How can this be wrong? There is also nothing wrong with a dominant party, if it is there by the free will of the people.
How many parties, for example, have ruled Britain or the United States over the last 200 years or so? Not more than two. But The Economist doesn’t call them dictatorial.
In December 2015, Rwandans decided to revise the Constitution to allow President Kagame to run for another term. It was their right to do so, just as it was the right of the people of Britain to remove themselves from the European Union, just last year. Nobody even suggested that Britons were coerced in that decision. Why should anybody insinuate that this was not the case with Rwandans?
The neo-colonial mentality that nothing can be done well by an African people if it has not been thought for them by the West reeks heavily in the article by The Economist.
To this magazine, even Rwanda’s achievement of having the highest representation of women in the national legislature is a source of scorn.
This has been the subject of many lectures that Western countries give to Africans but here where it has been achieved through an organic process, it is reported as if it were the result of malevolent official manipulation.
One wonders how much time the writers of such biased articles spend doing research. How many people across the country did they interview before coming to their pre-determined conclusions?
It is an aggression against the principles of fair and accurate reporting in journalism to disregard the visible achievements of Rwandans and their President just to fit a worldview that is inimical to the progress of the African people. This is what we in Rwanda, and Africans must reject.
We demand a very simple thing – respect. We have a right to chart our own destiny.
The Economist must understand that we are not envious of the Western way of governance since our own serves the purpose. We are committed to our own homegrown ways in which we listen to one another, foster peace and understanding and forge ahead with consensus.
We do not always agree with one another and this consensus sometimes takes a lot of mental application to arrive at.
But we don’t have to burn tires on our streets and fight with law enforcers or even form tribal or religious-inclined political parties just to satisfy Western notions of freedom of association. We know well what destruction of life has been wrought in the name of freedom.
Therefore, the article by The Economist is a false portrayal of life in Rwanda today. It does no justice to the principles of fairness, accuracy and equity.
I wish The Economist reporters could spend a few hours to witness the celebratory mood in which presidential campaigns that started just last week bring, especially where the incumbent is holding rallies.
But, well, this does not fit the narrative, so they conveniently looked the other way.
The writer is the First Secretary of the Rwanda High Commission in Nairobi.