The Rwanda Patriotic Front celebrated its thirtieth anniversary last week. That is as important for political formations, as it is for individuals. Thirty is an age of transition from steps of early change to transformation. From youth to adulthood. From mere theories to tested philosophy, from irrational exuberance to tempered action.
The Front at 30 has come from far, very far, between yesterday and today. Chairman, Paul Kagame, reflecting on this journey, crystallised for me why the Family is ready for tomorrow. Even today, he is acutely aware that the RPF’s margin of error is extremely narrow. There is still a sense of urgency, a relentless focus on delivery, and a bunker mentality that sharpens the mind and prepares the body for actions beyond the expected.
His admonition that members refrain from chest thumping about past and current achievements and instead focus on solving the challenges of tomorrow is a reflection of a political formation that has been forced to come of age, perhaps precociously.
With a few notable exceptions, the mortality rate for political formations is extremely high. Those that do not die lose their focus, ideological clarity, capacity for transformational service delivery , or a combination of the above. For many, early degenerative dementia sets in, space for policy dialogue disappears, and, except for the slogans,intra party innovation becomes history.
At thirty, the RPF bucks the trend. Maybe because of the unusual circumstances of its birth. The Inkotanyi were born at a time of a unique window of opportunity in global affairs. In Africa, the immediate post-Colonial era with the independence leaders’ claim to legitimacy only being Liberation from the Colonial yoke, with no attention to the bread and butter issues of society had shown its limits. Young people were looking for States that worked for them, not a post independence elite in the pay of their masters of yesterday. The image of African Presidents, flying off to Western Capitals to shed tears at the death of their political godfathers as self styled ‘Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa’ of the Central African Republic did at the funeral of French President Charles de Gaulle, shedding tears and wailing that he had lost his father, dramatically revealed a public secret: Ours was no independence, but in the main, continued tutelage of our countries by the colonial masters. Rwanda’s Gregoire Kayibanda and Juven
al Habyalimana were in this mold, deriving legitimacy not from delivery, but from patronage.
The quest for patronage also affected Liberation movements. At the height of the Cold War, many movements derived their success from the support they received from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), China, or the West, all involved in their own ideological struggles and looking for African client States, or Liberation movements. Africans were pawns in a strategic competition for global dominance they neither understood, nor controlled.
A brief window in the struggle cutthroat global competition after the breakup of the USSR and the apparent victory of the West provided a unique opportunity for the birth of a liberation front free of patronage.
The RPF was born fatherless. Her mother, Rwandans across the world determined to regain their country, their dignity, and chart their own destiny. The idea of an African political formation without a foreign ‘father’ proved deeply unsettling to foreigners, and many Africans. They predicted doom, destruction, and quick failure. Many still do, although the Front has proved them wrong, time and again. Like many fatherless children, the RPF is precocious, independent, determined, vexing to outsiders, knows its existential challenges, takes major risks to secure its future, assumes its own failures and rejects paternalism.
Now at thirty, the RPF celebrates its birthday at a time of another window of opportunity, both for continued growth, and African renaissance. The post Cold war world order is in flux. The West is facing widespread angst over its institutions, deepened inequality, popular disatisfaction with elite consensus on governance, militant neo-liberal prescriptions and the idea that elite values are universal applicable everywhere, to all peoples at all times.
On the other hand, we are witnessing the rise of the rest, China at the forefront. This is a time of transition, and such times bring with them dangers of instability, as well as opportunity. Rwanda and Africa, in general, now have a chance to forge our destiny, without the mirage of a protective umbrella and patronage provided by others.
We seem to have come full circle. The conditions that obtained at the birth of the RPF thirty years ago, are similar to the world we are living in today. Therefore, it is the time, as President Kagame has reminded us, to recommit to the historic ‘Mission of Liberation and Transformation’, hopefully with those on our continent facing similar challenges.
Ambassador Dr. Richard Sezibera is a Senator, former Cabinet Minister and Secretary-General of the East African Community.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.