President Paul Kagame’s prizes’ cabinet must be full to bursting. The awards keep coming in and there is no sign that they will stop any time soon. I suspect their flow will increase even when he has left office. Even Mo Ibrahim might belatedly and grudgingly acknowledge Kagame’s leadership role. I am not sure this particular award would be accepted. But just in case I am proved wrong, I am certain it would not occupy any place of pride in the cabinet.
Most of the prizes have in the past come from outside Rwanda. The majority of the present ones are being given by Rwandans. But they all have one thing in common: recognition of the president’s exemplary leadership.
The occasion for the awards is the election victory celebrations that now take place almost every weekend.
We are in partying mood, and so we should, after confounding all manner of pundits and putting to shame doomsayers. If they had any self-respect (wishful thinking, surely), they should put themselves out of business. We will not press the point, though, given that we are in generous spirit, too, ready to forgive those who trespass against us.
However, it is not the partying that interests me. I have been attracted more by what is said at the victory celebrations. It is well-known that awards are accompanied by citations which extol the virtues of the recipient and thereby justify the award. Invariably President Kagame’s sterling qualities are crammed into a short citation. Believe me, it is no mean feat getting them all in.
Then other speakers give testimonies. These are more personal and detailed illustrations of the points raised in the citations and they are so touching that all who listen are moved.
It all sounds like a cause for canonisation. Only the man who would be saint is not keen on that. There is still work to be done and in any case all the honours for canonisation (in its secular form) are shared by all Rwandans, he insists.
One gets the impression that he is embarrassed by the accolades and adulation and would as soon shift it to or share it with others. This is his self-deprecating manner that we are all used to. For some reason, the “experts” on Rwanda fail to recognise this trait.
He carries on in this manner when it is his turn to speak. He does not speak like your usual politician – put on an act to rival Hollywood stars, give a rousing, earth-shaking speech full of memorable lines, or talk about himself. No, he does not. But still he gives a memorable and inspirational talk that has everyone gripped.
The president’s message is about service. You would think you have heard all this before. But wait till you hear the passion in his voice as he goes on about everyone’s role in moving the country forward; how we owe it ourselves and how that should be our common goal and collective legacy.
He talks about setting targets and delivering on them. He extols the virtues of hard work, dedication and discipline. These will be the basis of our collective evaluation by posterity, he stresses. At such moments, the president sounds like the CEO of a company setting out performance strategies to his staff in order to get a competitive advantage over companies in the same line of business.
Or he is like a coach spelling out tactics to his team to go out and get the victory. In either case the intention is the same – communicate a winning formula and then go on to win. In our case, that means propelling the country forward.
This is how to win the argument with our detractors and critics - the self-ordained high priests of anything stretching from governance, human rights to economic development, pseudo intellectuals stuck in an ideological rut and criminals masquerading as protectors of the common good – not by bandying words with them or engaging in a shouting match, but through results.
This is how to respond to all manner of reports, briefings and indices gathered by people with too much time on their hands and a lot of malice in their hearts.
President Kagame invariably talks about leadership and patriotism. There is a new dimension to this usual subject – continuity in leadership whether one is in government or out of it. We have seen how people in many African countries react when they are dropped from their positions or are defeated in elections. All too often, they grumble and gripe about unfair treatment, threaten to disrupt the state with rebellion and even flee the country.
He explains patiently and clearly why this should not be the case. The common good is greater than the ego of an individual. Patriotism demands that one puts the national interest first. Succession is a normal process of continuity and renewal and nation-building. The one who gives way another has other roles to play.
In the recent past, the issue of continuity has led to another question. Will he or won’t he? The question is about a possible third term. The exasperation and annoyance with the question are clear. But so also is the emphatic answer.
There would be something seriously wrong with a society that cannot find within itself good leadership material to perpetuate itself. And if that were to happen, that would be a personal failure. That is a very strong statement from the president and should put the question to rest.
And so the victory celebration turns into a pep talk on individual and collective performance, patriotism and continuity. Everyone enjoys the party and walks away with an inspirational message to do their bit for one and all. The foundation for future celebrations has been laid.