A democratic solution to Rwanda's devt equation

Ray Charles Robinson was an American legendary musician who pioneered the soul music during the 1950s. On a lighter and artistic note, he accurately depicted an otherwise substantive expression in a hit titled, 'It takes two to tango'.
Nyiramandwa poses for a group photo with her daughter (left) and neighbours Photo/ Nadege Imbabazi.

Ray Charles Robinson was an American legendary musician who pioneered the soul music during the 1950s. On a lighter and artistic note, he accurately depicted an otherwise substantive expression in a hit titled, “It takes two to tango”.

And it goes like this:

“You can haunt any house by yourself

Be a man or a mouse by yourself

You can act like a king on a throne

There are lots of things you can do alone

But it takes two to tango…”

Metaphorically, you can do all by yourself except in politics, because politics is like a dance and not one that can be danced solo. It’s like tango; one cannot pretend to ignore the partner as, sooner than later, one might find themselves dancing alone in a large theater with their narcissist ideas.

They would be fooling themselves, daydreaming, believing they are real politicians and believing they are the best. We unfortunately see time and again a plethora of such pseudo-politicians today, in our country or elsewhere, dancing tango without a partner.

The people and the leader

Nyiramandwa is an elderly woman today who is past 100 years. She recalls when she was a teenager, before the age of wearing garments, with just a piece of bark cloth around her, carrying food to her next of kin at the road digging site.

She witnessed how colonial masters treated them harshly and remembers with a sigh of sadness how adults were forced to undress, told to lay down on the dusty or muddy ground and generously whipped for having failed to till the imposed size of food crops acreage.

She lives in Gasaka Cell, Kamegeri Sector, Nyamagabe District. She can still stand a prolific yet fairly well informed conversation on governance throughout Rwandan history. Nyiramandwa holds that President Paul Kagame is the best leader she has ever seen.

She is one of the happy beneficiaries of a public social shelter programme.

In an inter-district twinning programme, she was also awarded a cow through the ‘One cow per family” (Girinka) scheme contributed by Bwerankori Cell, Kigarama Sector, Kicukiro District.

“None can lead this country like Kagame does, she says. Leading Rwanda is not an easy task, but Kagame has succeeded where previous leaders failed, because he loves his people. I would like Kagame to lead this country until he gets old and tired.

I will vote for him every time he wants to contests. He raised the poor to a decent life…”

She said this before the August 4, presidential elections in which Nyiramandwa voted and encouraged her neighbours to vote for Kagame as President, so she says. 

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The 107-year-old with President Kagame at a campaign rally before the August 4th presidential elections.

A long standing citizen-centered tradition

The Arusha negotiations between the then Government of Rwanda and the RPF liberation movement led to an agreement on August 3, 1993.

Through the instigation of RPF, the accord stated among others that:

“… parties recognised that the unity of the Rwandans cannot be achieved until a definitive solution to the problem of Rwandan refugees is found and that the return of Rwandan refugees to their country is an inalienable right and constitutes a factor for peace and national unity and reconciliation”.

This once again was consecrating RPF commitment – and indeed Kagame’s ­ to the ultimate goal of securing the good of all Rwandans. 

All along, RPF never faulted on this and President Kagame personally showed, at different occasions, that his focus was on the welfare of the people.

On the occasion of the 21st Anniversary of the country’s liberation in 2015 at Gishambashayo, Rubaya Sector, Gicumbi District, President Kagame publicly recognized an elderly woman who, during the liberation struggle, had offered RPA combatants shelter in her house soon transformed into a dispensary for wounded fighters. No secret… he earned their trust through such long standing relations!

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RPF supporters in jubilant mood during the August presidential elections. President Kagame was voted overwhelmingly to another term of office. (Courtesy)

He also underscored this commitment while addressing an immense crowd at Bumbogo, Gasabo District where he reminded that for him “…people always come first, since for a long time…whatever we do, we do it for the ultimate benefit of all people without distinction, and this ever since the liberation struggle in the bush .” How can these people not trust him back?

All through the dark period of the liberation war, the prime focus of President Kagame has been to secure people’s lives, be it in military encounters where collateral damage could have been excessive, or in militia besieged safe havens, where evacuations were negotiated and secured.

Rwanda Patriotic Army went as far as repatriating millions of refugees held hostages and used as human shields by the genocidaires on the run in the Congo forests. Even during the war of attrition afterwards, special care was always taken to avoid involving civilians in the fights, and this is recognized by people in North-West Rwanda. 

While recounting his experience during the electoral campaign in Mudende region, north-western Rubavu District in July 2017, where he met a very large and enthusiastic crowd, President Kagame made the following comment:

“During the [electoral] campaign, there was a Gospel song that an ordinary Rwandan adapted. It captured the joy of being together after having survived so much. It goes on to say: When we are fighting for a just cause, there is no reason to fear anything whatsoever, because God is always on our side. […]. Translating the song into English, it is called “There Is No Fight That Scares Me”. [Nda ndambara yandera ubwoba!…].

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Martin Habimana who composed the popular song ‘Nda ndambara yandera ubwoba’ which means that nothing can scare Rwandans with President Kagame in charge. (Courtesy)

What did Kagame teach his people?

In all his speeches and conversations, President Kagame never gets tired of repeating the slogan of unity, dignity, self-reliance…

Speaking at Rwanda Day 2012 in Boston, in the US, in a get-together with the Rwandan Diaspora, he engaged the audience in these terms:

“… we belong to a country of dignified people, that we have a definite identity as Rwandans…. We should not allow anybody to define us, we have the ability, we have the desire and we have the right to define ourselves.”

President Kagame has always advocated for inclusiveness of all strata of the population in the quest for development. Should the motive be his past military experience always teaming up people to working together, or as a leader who has known the avatars of exclusion and constantly fights for inclusiveness, in either case, Kagame has drawn practical lessons of unity he proposes to his people. 

On his first electoral campaign day in Nyanza District, he delivered a golden precept to his supporters: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go as a team. RPF does both, by going far together and fast…” And at all campaign sites, he always called on this togetherness to achieve rapid and sustainable results. And the people believe in him.

The pendulum swings back.

When in 2015, President Kagame’s second term of office was nearing its end, Rwandans rose in unity to petition the review of constitutional provisions preventing his re-election.

He reluctantly engaged in a series of consultations both within his political formation and with the citizens in other sectors of life, where he invited them to reflect on how to introduce change while ensuring continuity. 

The tug of war between the demanding citizenry and the reluctant President ended up with the people’s victory: a constitutional revision was approved by the Parliament, which allowed their President to run for a third term of office.

The symbiotic relationship between President Kagame and his people once again proved strong. During the electoral campaign, the people’s candidate stated amidst a cheerful crowd at Bumbogo, Gasabo District that “the duty of a leader is to be a shock absorber for those he leads.

I have accepted the challenge. As long as we are on this journey together, I will always stand in the way of any harm directed at Rwandans.”

Like in unison, an enthusiastic supporter in Muhanga District in a poetic presentation assured him: “Tuzagutora tukwiture ntiwitangiraga intashima !…”, assuring him that they shall vote for him  to thank him in recognition of his dedication to the people’s welfare!

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107 year-old Nyiramandwsays that President Paul Kagame is the best leader she has ever seen in her lifetime. (Courtesy)

What did the people teach Kagame?

They embraced President Kagame’s reconciliation appeal and trusted his words, this with an extraordinary resilient spirit. I dare posit that nowhere in the world have we seen a people so firmly united behind their leader to accept even the unacceptable.

When the Genocide against the Tutsi was put to an end, many speculations were uttered by the so-called well-wishers. Among other suggestions, solutions were proposed to balkanize Rwanda and split it into Hutu and Tutsi communities, each settling in a different part of the country, or else to relocate them to neighbouring countries with similar social communities.

Braving the dangers, Kagame took a deliberately tough stance against possible retaliatory and revengeful reactions within the Rwandan community and brought people to engage into reconciliation and co-habitation. 

Today, the Genocide victim and perpetrator live side by side, sharing the same fate and healing wounds of a society that was torn apart that are still open, a challenge that no odd could predict. They showed an extraordinary courage and incomparable resilience before the incommensurable task of mending a destroyed social fabric. The people learnt the lesson, trusted him and it has paid off.

It takes two to tango

This idiomatic expression is defined as an activity in which more than one person or entity are paired in an inextricably related and active manner; something that needs two people who are willing to take part for it to happen, involving active cooperation of the two parties. 

President Kagame and the Rwandans are inextricably engaged on a developmental journey and everyone is willing to make it happen. The last election was not a wedding party as was popularly sung; it is the result of a long lasting partnership that took roots through the shared trials and tribulations of the past out of which a new Rwanda emerged.

His spectacular landslide victory that left many observers speechless was really a no-brainer. To critics of the overwhelming votes proportion, it was reminded that “denigrating the process to glorify the old politics of division, only made Rwandans more defiant and more determined to express ourselves through the vote”, said the President.

In the same vein, as it transpires from his inaugural uniting discourse, President Kagame reminded his people of the past: “Together we have lived a life, which at every turn has been unexpected, unprecedented, and often shocking.

“Yet we have made progress, thanks to the distinctiveness of our choices and the resilience of our people. We have worked incredibly hard to rebuild our nation in a spirit of consensus, while leaving no one behind. […]”.

It has taken two to build a climate of confidence, trust and mutual appreciation in Rwanda. It has taken two to restore unity, dignity and integrity for Rwandans. It will take two to build this country stronger, to take it to a middle income level it aspires and to realize its global vision. It will take two, President Kagame and his people, to lift Rwanda to the next level!