On a recent visit to Beijing for a graduate conference, I was privileged to meet Chinese researchers from different Chinese “think tanks”, one of which was the Chinese Communist Party school in China’s capital. We engaged for a couple of hours on the topic “ruling with the consent of the people”.
In the Chinese political lexicon, there is a classic saying that an emperor must have the mandate of heaven to rule and he rules only “with the consent of the people”. In today’s political context, the right to govern goes to the political party winning the most number of votes in a general election.
But whether the mandate to rule is won in a general election or by force of arms, when one dynasty overthrows another, no emperor or government can rule without the consent of the people.
In my view, it is too simple for “democrats” to argue that the only manifestation of consent is through the ballot box. We all know that the ballot box can be stuffed and the will of the people be perverted by bribes and corruption. That mentioned, I am told that the basic tenet of Chinese political philosophy goes so far as to advocate that it is the duty of good men to overthrow a bad emperor.
The point is Chinese thinkers, through the age, believed improving the livelihood of the people is the duty of the state. So it is with us in Rwanda. Had we not concentrated on creating opportunities for our people, Rwanda today would not be very different from countries much larger and better endowed than ourselves, but which are wracked by massive unemployment and racial or ethnic conflicts seeded in poverty.
Rwanda, like most East Asian countries or economies such as China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, believe that improving the livelihood of their people is the most important way to achieve social harmony. In turn, harmony provides choice in selecting leaders. Choice through universal suffrage is one, but not the only manifestation of choice.
Linking the political context to economics, I recently read the works of two development economists, Professor Arthur Lewis of Manchester University and Professor Rostow of Columbia University – a must read for practising economists in finance and trade ministries.
Professor Rostow’s five stages of economic growth serve better as the theoretical underpinning of how countries develop. As he rightly points out, agriculture is the basic foundation of most economies providing a livelihood to the larger part of the population.
Only when agriculture produces an economic surplus will there be demand for the goods produced by the craftsman. Only when the craftsman produces a surplus will there be demand for the services of a teacher, the physician and the entertainer.
So, economic development in Rwanda must begin with the modernization of agriculture. Self-sustaining growth takes off only when agriculture with its vast rural heartlands raises their productivity, producing more than they need for subsistence - something that MINAGRI is effectively championing.
Unlike our starting point in 1994, when Rwanda was staring the failed state status in the face, we can today proudly boast of a rapidly growing economy underpinned by strong macroeconomic fundamentals and a tight social fabric. With intellectual skills and savvy, the young Rwandan today can hold his own with his counterpart in New York, London, Beijing and Tokyo with relative ease.
The Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) has governed Rwanda, winning every general election convincingly along the way. It can be said that it has obtained the “mandate of heaven”.
After overcoming ethnic politics that led to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the RPF (which, by the way, chose to govern along with other political parties) has governed with the consent of the people by delivering on sound public policies.