Rwanda's political messiahs

A while back I wrote in this column about the difficulty facing the political opposition in Rwanda. I argued that it is too simplistic to claim that opposition parties are weak because they are suppressed by the government, as its critics often say.

A while back I wrote in this column about the difficulty facing the political opposition in Rwanda. I argued that it is too simplistic to claim that opposition parties are weak because they are suppressed by the government, as its critics often say.

Instead, as I argued then and now, it is the inbuilt rigour that is proving to be insurmountable for political actors many of whom are clearly unprepared to meet the standards it demands of them.


What I wrote at the time was a bitter pill to swallow for the older political parties. I pointed out that the key challenge they meet is that the fact that whereas being old implies that they are experienced, the kind of experience they had accumulated was of insignificant value in the new political dispensation because it was birthed, nurtured, and had come of age, when the only thing that mattered was ethnic arithmetic, an ‘advantage’ that had zero – or thereabout – political capital in the post-Genocide period.


Similarly, the tantrums thrown by the younger political parties to my observation that they lacked the maturity necessary to make the kind of inroads capable of eating into the moral capital that the ruling party had accumulated first, by stopping the Genocide and, second, by overseeing a system of governance built on accountability twenty years on only served as proof to the fact.


Moreover, the wisdom that led to the creation of a governance system based on power sharing and consensus eased some of the pressure of the opposition parties to learn a new kind of politics in order to survive.

Consequently, it allowed them the ability to make a smooth transition into the new political dispensation; crucially, this avenue of political power sharing also enabled them – by osmosis or otherwise – to share in the moral capital of the ruling party as partners in the governing coalition.

This is the ‘good’ side of the coin – the rigor. There is another not so good side to the story. It is how those unable to answer to the demands of this rigour have turned to political messianism: those unable to overcome this rigor have sought a messianic shortcut; it is a path that expresses their inability or unwillingness to play by the rules as prescribed in the law of the land, a choice that almost invariably leads them to treasonable conduct.

Consider Victoire Umuhoza Exhibit A. Ms. Umuhoza flew from the Netherlands with the single mission of freeing the Hutu from RPF bondage. While on the ground she found that there was nothing peculiar to the Hutu and that they hadn’t been waiting on anyone to rescue them.

It became clear to her that whatever predicament the Hutu faced was shared with many others beyond ethnic lines and that there was no group consciousness around whatever grievance she had imagined they held against the government.

She had nothing to mobilise around. Predictably – or invariably – she strolled into treason territory and found herself incarcerated. That the Dutch government from which she had gained citizenship did not lift a finger in her defence speaks to the kind of evidence that was against her.

Take Kizito Mihigo Exhibit B. A messianic persona rose around Kizito in the most inconspicuous way imaginable.

Few people wanted to believe what they were seeing even as Kizito admitted that he had undertaken treasonable acts because he had been promised a position of Minister for Culture in the government he imagined would replace the RPF.

It always defeats logic. Here was Kizito. At the time of his arrest his star had risen through his foundation so much so that he, for all intents and purposes, held relatively more influence and standing in society than the Minister he hoped to replace, Mr Protais Mitali.

I suspect all he needed to do was to share this desire with the appointing authority with whom it appeared he had the kind of access probably even Mr Mitali would envy.

But alas!

Consider the Rwigara saga Exhibit C. Audios have surfaced. In one of them a mutually reinforcing myth is developed around Diane Rwigara and someone in South Africa, presumably Kayumba Nyamwasa. Diane cannot afford to be perceived as a “coward.”

She is under a myth – or a spell – of a courageous woman, a role that she now must live up to at any cost; and she cannot afford to disappoint another figure of mythical proportions, in South Africa, capable of Houdini-like stuff like rescuing her from danger. (Mutual. Captivity).

It is Mihigo once again. Why Diane would accept that role also defeats logic. If, indeed, she were interested in mounting a challenge to the ruling party, she had the family name to do so; she had the money to create and sustain a political party as a vehicle to gradually build a political constituency.

But audio recordings suggest this would take “too long.” Too long, for whom? Diane is only 35. And, if convicted, the time she would spend in jail is far longer than the time she would have needed to do the things that take a long time to do.


The issue is not time, either. It’s more serious than that. Messianism is the manifestation of anxiety that is occasioned by political deficiency. It is the inability to marshal the political wherewithal to overcome the rigor that post-Genocide politics demands of its practitioners.

And when personal feuds are added, it is a condition that becomes combustible.

But the bar must remain high. Evidence suggests that it is working and that it has, time and again, been able to act as a firewall against the rise of political mediocrity and the clinically insane to positions of leadership as a means of averting the recurrence of tragedy.

It is never again in practice.

Follow: @LonzenRugira

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.

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