Last week, I tried to define universal freedoms in a way we can all agree, I concluded that freedom cannot be defined universally unless in a very abstract or vague way. What we call “Freedom” is made up of smaller freedoms that make a framework of freedoms that vary in different nations, but are largely the same.
Freedom of thought requires freedom of speech to express these thoughts; freedom of speech requires freedom of association so people with similar views can unite. Freedom from fear is also a fundamental right but sometimes free speech incites fear.
The four freedoms as defined by FD Roosevelt are freedom of speech, freedom of worship and lifestyle, freedom from fear and freedom from want. Even 70 years ago FDR saw that fear and poverty are enemies of freedom, the two often go hand in hand.
A poor person is often uneducated and prone to fear and manipulation, even if they are educated but poor then their rights can be bought off. For all that human rights campaigners say about lack of rights, few will admit that economic factors are largely to blame.
When they talk of fear they ignore the poverty that incubates and perpetuates that fear. I have seen Africans selling their voting cards, accepting waragi liquor for votes, and I wondered what freedom fighters died for.
That is the perverse side of freedom, an American Marine returned from Iraq to find hostility at home. “What are you fighting for? We don’t give a damn about Iraq!!” shouted the protestors. “I am fighting for your right not to care and not to give a damn.” That is the price of freedom, a price that few value unless it is earned with blood.
So if we say freedom is “Ubwisanzure” then it is nothing without “Umudendezo” or stability, it is also linked to justice “ubutabera” and development is essential to maintain all three because poverty destroys all of them.
Sometimes I think Rwanda has not spent enough time explaining her system to the world, western campaigners have lambasted us without truly examining our history and current situation.
I believe that Rwanda has all the ingredients to build a truly world-class democratic and free society. What westerners demand are mostly cosmetic changes, a vocal anti-government newspaper, a “viable” opposition, and the occasional arrest of top leaders who have transgressed.
Would those cosmetic criteria make us more democratic? If it looks like a dog, then it is a dog, simple as that? There is a saying that two men on opposite sides of a river can never meet halfway, two fundamentally opposing outlooks can never compromise.
We will never develop African democracy if we are always copying the western model. We are always looking for trends in the west to copy in our politics but we neglect our traditions, our historical social institutions that ensured stability.
We already had equivalents in ancient culture, of parliaments, senates, prime ministers, MP’s and so on. Our democracies must reflect our vision of freedom.