The end of year is traditionally a festive season. The festivities start with Christmas, which is a period of goodwill, generosity and family reunion. There is a great deal of partying and exchange of gifts and presents.
The spirit of Christmas goes beyond the day’s limited Christian associations and embraces all. Humankind rediscovers, if only for a short time, its oneness, generosity and goodwill.
It is not Christmas alone that brings out the best in human beings. All the festivities of the world’s major religions – whether it is the Jewish Passover, Muslim Id EL Fitr, Hindu Diwali, or any other – are characterized by this temporary abandonment of selfishness and hostility, and instead are marked by a strong desire to share and reach out to others.
The festivities are time for reminiscence and nostalgia that, for a while at least, lift the stress of daily living and bring a smile to our lips. When this short spell of wellbeing passes we ask ourselves why we cannot keep the spirit for much longer.
The answer is as unsatisfactory as it is admission of resignation to an existence where the very best in us is absent. We say such things are too good to last.
Christmas celebrations go on into the end of year and New Year’s festivities. People look to the end of year and beginning of a new one in several ways.
Those who have been successful look back on it with a sense of satisfaction and therefore have a lot to be proud of. For those with little to celebrate, the just ended year is best forgotten.
Both, however, look to the New Year with anticipation and optimism. It holds the hope of a fresh start or the promise of reward for what is already in progress.
For whatever reason, humankind has chosen to mark our existence by breaking the infinity of time into convenient time cycles – hours, days, weeks, months, years, centuries or millennia.
The beginning or end of each brings out diverse responses from different people. There can be excited anticipation, joy or anxiety.
Whatever the response, people still pray that the beginning of a new time cycle either confirms their hopes or allays their fears.
And so, we in Rwanda can look back on 2010 with a reasonable feeling of satisfaction that many good things have happened in our country. There is a lot that has been done to feed our pride of achievement for a long time to come.
Undoubtedly the biggest of these was the presidential election in August. It is not so much that it was held, but the manner in which it was done that makes it significant.
The campaigns and the poll were so orderly and peaceful that they were almost boring (for those who like to scavenge in chaos), and the turn up very impressive except for people to whom apathy has become the norm and therefore anything that does not conform to this standard is abnormal.
Rwandans did what they had to do, did it well and without much fanfare. In this way they did not only reaffirm their democratic credentials but sent a strong rebuke to all the busybodies with an incurable urge to poke their noses into other people’s affairs.
Then there were the many awards the country got for doing the business of its citizens well. They confirmed what Rwandans knew, which is why their level of satisfaction and optimism in their government has been consistently high.
Towards the end of the year, three events happened that may have escaped the attention of the people whose antennae are constantly turned to Rwanda. Or perhaps they chose to ignore them because they exposed their biases.
Many Rwandans may also not have paid much attention – perhaps because they take for granted what happened.
First there was an international conference on the freedom of the media in Rwanda.
There were sober discussions on the role of the media in the country, not the tirade of accusations that had been anticipated by the usual suspects. There wasn’t too much to fault outside the usual shortcomings of any developing systems.
This was followed by a national dialogue on political space, human rights and media freedom. The dialogue was characterised by such openness as put to shame the professional criers about the supposed closed political space in the country.
To cap all this was the grand national dialogue (umushyikirano). The candour and openness that continues to mark the national dialogue is indeed remarkable.
It is reminiscent of democracy as practised in Ancient Athens.
All this is not to say that we have not had periods of anxiety. Earlier in the year, there were a number of grenade attacks, especially in Kigali, which were no doubt meant to throw us off balance and off course. They took the lives of innocent people, but otherwise failed in their intentions.
Then a group of criminals with no idea about the message of goodwill, ganged up with professional grumblers and gamblers, and even terrorists to destabilise their motherland.
Not much will come from an enterprise founded on ill will.
Some elements in the international community who hate to see progress in this country and who apparently prefer to operate in a murky environment made the most preposterous accusations against our defence forces.
They failed to draw us into the murk and must wade in it alone.
On balance 2010 has been a good year. Which is cause for cheer. We can therefore look to 2011 with optimism. Happy New Year to you all.