They have eyes but choose not to see the evidence before them. They have ears but plug them so that they do not hear the sounds of content coming from across Rwanda.
This generally sums up the attitude of detractors of the country’s policies. Mercifully, they are a small, though vocal, group.
President Paul Kagame has been urging the people to shout their successes so that the power of their combined voices can filter through the cotton wool in the ears of people determined not to hear beautiful sounds.
He has asked them to display their spectacular work so that even those unwilling to look will be compelled to take notice. This is the message he has been giving at his campaign rallies. It is message he has given on many occasions to those willing to listen.
“Let us rejoice in the progress we have made. Let us sing about our successes so that even the people outside our borders (who do not wish us these things) can hear us loud and clear”, Kagame tells his audience at the rallies. “Whether they like it or not, they will have to notice our progress”, he goes on.
Kagame is doing several things at once. First, he is telling the “professional” detractors of Rwanda to let the blinkers fall off their faces so that they can see what is there. It is too big to miss, nor can it be wished away.
This category includes “analysts” in the traditional media, the anonymous commentators in the new social media, rights groups, academics who want confirmation of their theses, and attention-seeking politicians.
It is this group of self-trumpeted authorities on Rwanda, who have predicted (wished) doom and chaos, and reported tension and fear on the streets of Kigali, to which Kagame asks the people to respond.
And they have responded in the most emphatic fashion – with visibly enthusiastic crowds and a story of success to tell.
Kagame gave his answer at a press conference on July 20, 2010 when he said, “We need to stay the course, do our thing, do what is good for us and build on our values”.
Second, he is telling this bunch of critics, and Rwandans alike, that citizens of this country know what their development needs and priorities are and how to attain them.
They are able to make their choices – politically and economically – and need no instructions or permission from anyone. Again, Kagame told the same press conference that “Rwandans are able to determine for themselves their own future”.
Third, Kagame is reminding the people that the choices they make and the progress they have registered by their own effort, or in partnership with people who are prepared to respect their choices, is an expression of their dignity as human beings. Nobody can, or should, take it away from them.
Finally, he is asking those who arrogate to themselves the right to tell other people what they should do to respect Rwandans and the choices they have made.
This is the answer he gave at the July20 press conference when asked where he wanted to see Rwanda in the next five years or so.
“I would like to see Rwandans increasingly taking charge of their own affairs in a more dignified way”. The message he gives Rwandans at the campaign rallies is the same: take charge of your lives, build your country; prove the detractors wrong by what you produce. Or to use another biblical allusion, they will be recognized (and respected) by their fruits.
And it goes down well with the people. It is the encouragement they need.
But it is not all rhetoric. There is action to back it and evidence in many places. Take for instance the matter of money flowing into people’s pockets or bank accounts.
In the coffee growing areas of western and southern Rwanda, the number of ordinary people with more than a million francs in their bank accounts is estimated to be in the thousands. The same estimates apply to potato farmers in Northern Rwanda.
The money in the banks or pockets has translated into improved quality of life. People are building better houses. They are eating and dressing better. Their consumer habits are changing and increasing consumer demands are fuelling economic growth.
Increasing access to clean water, intensification of rural electrification programmes, medical insurance and extended basic education are doing wonders to rural life. Citizens are taking advantage of the available opportunities to better their lives.
It is all there. It is visible, except to the willfully blind. Even if they do not want to come to see for themselves, they cannot miss the evidence of the progress the people of Rwanda have made. It can be picked up by satellite, and they can get it on their desks.
To conclude with another biblical allusion: it is easy to understand the thinking of people who will not believe until they see. It is difficult to read the mind of those who will not believe what they see.
The comforting thought is that refusal to see does not alter the existence of a fact. The fact is that Rwanda is on the move and Rwandans are making it happen.