Rwanda to the world: All people have right to dignity

It is not often that world media report positive news coming out of Africa. But sometimes positive things happen and cannot simply be ignored because of their potential impact and must therefore be reported.

It is not often that world media report positive news coming out of Africa. But sometimes positive things happen and cannot simply be ignored because of their potential impact and must therefore be reported.

Most times, however, the news paints a picture of utter pessimism. It is about the horrors of Al Shabab, Boko Haram or other terrorist groups that are brought to us in all their gruesome graphic detail, or the unending fratricidal butchery in Burundi, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

We are presented with pictures of emaciated, starving and dying people and livestock in dry, bare land laid to waste by prolonged drought. If it is not about blood and destruction, it is about theft – of public resources or elections.

It is a long list of horrors that appears designed to create despondency and show up African governments as hopelessly inept or brutally repressive.

A lot of this is true, but some is also exaggerated by the tellers of the stories. You get the impression that those reporting the misery actually enjoy it and do not want it to end.

And so it seems unusual when we get reports of positive developments in Africa as happened this past week, albeit as response to bad news.

Most of it has to do with Rwanda’s openness to the world.

The first was the announcement that visitors to Rwanda from anywhere in the world would get their visa on arrival. No more long waits before anyone can think of travel here.

This news got wide coverage, perhaps because it was unusual, bucking the current world trend of countries increasingly closing their borders to outsiders, for any number of reasons.

Some, like President Donald Trump of the United States, cite security concerns. In our region, the leaders of Tanzania fear that their land will be taken over by hordes of immigrants from land-pressed neighbours.

Nationalist, religious or cultural puritans see closed borders as an insurance against unwanted external influences.

All of this is, of course, nonsense. Technological developments, especially what goes on in cyber space, have made borders nearly irrelevant. Influence, desirable or not, knows no boundaries and is spread through cyber space.

Even those intending to cause insecurity do not require physical presence to do so.

In fact, there are obvious benefits to open borders. That freedom of movement is good for business has never been in question.

Some of the greatest advancement of human civilisation are a result of a level of curiosity that leads people to wander away from home, discover new places, interact with other people, and create new things.

Also, the breakdown of barriers leads to greater understanding and removes grounds for insecurity.

The second was Rwanda’s offer to take in, or facilitate repatriation of, fellow Africans stranded in such places as Libya on their way to Europe, some of whom are being sold as slaves.

Again, the news was widely reported, perhaps because no African country had ever made any move to rescue these emigrants from certain death or demeaning life, although it has been going on for some time.

I am sure Rwanda is not doing this to seek attention. Nor is it making the offer because it has the ability to give migrants the sort of life they think they dream of in Europe.

Rather, it is because it can give them something much bigger – human dignity. It is to rescue fellow Africans from the ultimate indignity of being auctioned or sold in the marketplace, their price like that of cattle being haggled over by prospective buyers and owners.

That sort of thing is supposed to have ended a long time ago, and so, by offering a home or means to return home, Rwanda is affirming the right to a dignified life to all human beings.

Of course, it will take more than giving them a home in Rwanda or elsewhere to stem the flow of migrants prepared to brave the harsh desert of North Africa or the perilous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea in search of a supposed better life overseas. The solution must be found in their respective countries and in a more caring world.

And herein may lie another reason for Rwanda’s action. It is to prick the collective conscience of the world that has turned a blind eye to this scourge and urge it to act, especially those with the means and power to make a difference.

As it is, many of these are indifferent and have shut their doors to migrants. In some instances, they are responsible for the conditions that cause the exodus.

Anger or indignation about what is happening is clearly an inadequate response. More openness, like Rwanda has shown, may be a more lasting solution. Greater contact and interaction is in the self-interest of all humanity.

All human beings have a right to a decent and dignified life. Dignity is not the preserve of some, nor is ensuring that we all have it the responsibility of a few. It is the collective responsibility and, indeed obligation, of all humanity.

These are only two of the positive things coming out of Africa that have been widely reported. So it is possible to report on Africa without drawing attention to only horrors.