Jean-Jacques’ (of last week) did not only teach me how to appreciate catch phrases that I had otherwise dismissed off-hand. His illustrations gave me an insight into the working methods of today’s leadership in Rwanda. The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government seems to have chosen collaboration and ownership as the hallmarks of its character.
When RPF stopped the 1994 genocide and ascended to the helm of this country, Rwanda was not a country. It was an expanse of destruction where everything was dead: people, institutions, infrastructure, name it.
The few Rwandans who were now inside the country were held together by an assortment of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
To lead the country, RPF had to work with these NGOs. The NGOs, on the other hand, seemed to have swallowed the Habyarimana line that the new entrants were foreign invaders. They, therefore, treated the RPF government suspiciously and preferred to feed ‘their’ people (those in Rwanda who’d not fled) in ‘protected’ internally displaced persons’ camps, while encouraging others to flee.
The new government kicked out the NGOs that were not willing to co-operate or involve it and only worked with the few that were willing. That way, it was given a free hand to deal directly with its own people and be one with them, with the NGOs coming in only to give a hand when necessary.
They had reason. After all, these former refugees as a small group had seen that by organising themselves and pooling their own energies and resources, they were able to sustain themselves in a confined ‘bush’ and even defeat a government that was supported by a number of African countries, as well as a superpower like France.
Now all together, what couldn’t Rwandans do?
It is this togetherness, or collaboration and ownership, that the RPF government has sought to pursue with singular determination. And the dividends are showing.
By bringing Rwandans of all categories together in the Gacaca court system, the government has managed to try the multitudes of perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, while initiating reconciliation and identifying with the process. For refusing to collaborate with Rwanda, on the other hand, the ICTR is yet to try a paltry score.
Collaboration has also helped overpopulated Rwanda in land and other small disputes, a common feature. Some of these disputes are petty cases that may not need sophisticated knowledge of law to settle. The ‘Abunzi’ system was created, where elders of integrity in the neighbourhood come together and speedily settle such disputes, to thus unclog courtrooms and prison cells. The neighbourhoods solve their problems.
As in the judiciary, so in health. All Rwandans have a stake in the health service they access. So far, 97% of them subscribe to the different medical insurance services that are available in the country, like ‘mutuelles de santé’ for low-income earners, RAMA for civil servants, MMI for the forces and many others for the well-to-do.
In education, parents contribute by building classrooms wherever possible. Considering that the leadership’s intention is to project Rwanda as a knowledge-based economy, however, education must be dished out to the youth. Therefore, basic education is free and compulsory. In the end, Rwandans together will decide how far up they can extend that free education.
Where peasant-farmers used to work their land and sell the produce as individuals, today they come together in co-operatives and are able to push for better prices for their produce. Also, working together enables them to determine which crops are best suited to which soils. Wherever they need government intervention, they decide together with the leaders on the type of intervention.
It’s the same with religious denominations. While churches and mosques used to work in isolation to set up projects aimed at helping the people, today they sit together with lay folk and government to identify areas where that assistance is needed.
Also, knowing the important role that the private sector plays in tax revenues, the government has gone out of its way to engage its collaboration. Even if the private sector started from a low base, with the active support and involvement of the government it is beginning to take off.
Since all the above stakeholders – and the many others – will benefit from a strong and stable environment, they must all work together to realise their common objective, which is nation-building. It is the same with opposition political parties – they cannot but be collaborative.
Every energy and every resource must be applied to protect and advance this country and its people. That’s what drives the leadership in this land.
It’s not surprising, for instance, to see soldiers patrolling the streets of Kigali. The army, the police, the local defence personnel and the rest of Rwandans all have a stake in their country and must work together to protect and advance it.
No ‘observers’ should be surprised that ‘autocratic’ Rwanda can turn round and so democratically gather all Rwandan heads together in a National Dialogue (Umushyikirano) where they so openly ponder their fortunes and iron out differences.
The ‘observers’ should wonder where they went wrong in their ‘observation’ process and recharge for better ‘observation’.
Even I am still observing. The true Rwanda is still unfolding.