Rwanda’s size is often invoked in denigrative terms. Critics of the government tend to bring it up when they want to dismiss or to minimise socioeconomic progress and to avoid giving credit where it’s due: to those who have overseen the progress.
When they don’t invoke size they, without fail, turn to the ‘but’ or the ‘however’ that accompanies coverage of Rwanda’s socioeconomic progress. And so it goes: Rwanda is not a country, it is a district; it can ban polythene bags and have clean streets because it is small and is a dictatorship; it is a ‘benevolent’ dictatorship because it is small; it builds roads because it is small, etc.
The variations are many. But there’s some solace from a small country. Here’s why.
It is always a bad look when it is Africans who are denigrating Rwanda because of its size. No African played a role in determining the size of their country. Everyone knows that the modern state is a colonial construct whose logic should make every African ‘no longer at ease’ with the size of their own.
Consider this. During the Berlin Conference that created African states, Europeans agreed to divide Africa along borders in a way that would avoid conflicts between colonising powers; every single day Africans live with the effects of the inverse of this logic: avoiding conflict for the coloniser meant perpetual conflict for the colonised.
In other words, the logic of Africa’s borders is at once to prevent and to intensify conflict.
From the point of view of the Europeans the borders were (are) logical and essential. From the perspective of the African the borders were (are) arbitrary and problematic. Ironing out this contradiction should be the only preoccupation of the African when it comes to the size of a country.
At any rate, there’s nothing inherently good or bad about the size of the country. It is content, not size, that counts. Content is the ability to substantiate the state, to forge a mental estate of cohesion, coherence, and a sense of common purpose upon a piece of real estate, large or small. Moreover, the state is substantiated by the ability to narrow its existence to improving the lives of this collective.
That Rwanda is a state with content is not because of it is small. There are smaller countries that have even given up trying. Here next door Burundi is almost as small as Rwanda. But it’s a mess. Indeed, if size mattered, the larger countries would be able to replicate Rwanda’s efficiency and effectiveness that to a small part of their territory – the size of Rwanda, for instance – as a sample of what they would otherwise be able to accomplish if they were not being held back by the gargantuan size of their country.
Of course every country wants to project its might. However, to confuse might with size is to error. Is it not ironical that the largest country in Africa is bulldozed about by one of the smallest countries in Europe and that one of the smallest countries in Africa makes this European country sweat in the pants?
And so, it is about substantiating the state. It’s the ability for the state to act as the vehicle for cultivating a sense of common purpose and to underwrite the pursuit of the individual and collective aspirations, and the dignity of its people.
A state – large or small –that is unsubstantiated only exists in name only. Its survival is underwritten by its membership at the United Nations; the recognition of its flag at the UN Headquarters in New York assures it some privileges including the prerogative to draw loans at the IMF and the World Bank.
Because it exits in name only there are no collective aspirations. Invariably an amoral raison d’être prevails over a state without a sense of national cohesion and collective destiny; every aspect of social decay, moral and material corruption, becomes a natural outcome. Vice is elevated to a state of nature.
This is the difference between a state that acts swiftly to rescue human beings from auctions in slave markets, even when its citizens are not at risk, and those that act indifferently or continue to dither. Yet, they will not be deterred from talking down the small countries.
It is a cognitive dissonance where large is devoid of largesse, especially when pushed by people whose ancestors were never invited to Berlin.
And so, for the Americans Rwanda is the piece of land the size of Maryland. For the Europeans it is the Switzerland of Africa. The African can choose to mimic such imaginations or choose to create his own based on what Rwanda is doing for her people both inside the county and on the continent.
Think about it.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.