Stephen Kinzer, author of President Paul Kagame’s biography, ‘A thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man who Dreamed it,’ threw a bombshell, last week, in the UK paper that was not quite different from the routine criticisms on Rwanda but certainly a sudden departure from his previous work.
I have no doubt that Kinzer is a believer in what present day Rwanda provides for her people. And, no doubt that Kinzer is at least one of the few friends of Rwanda that have taken time to digest our history and fully understand where we are headed.
In his article ‘Kagame’s authoritarian turn risks Rwanda’s future,’, Kinzer, based his arguments on the document, ‘Rwanda briefing’, and also a recent Court verdict in which four former senior government officials were convicted on different accounts.
I want to believe that Kinzer meant no offence and is also entitled to his opinion. Nonetheless, he ignored some fundamental questions that should have informed his arguments.
To start with, I think most foreign actors engaged in this debate have either been hoodwinked or are riding on sentiments and possibly ill-intentions to distort or twist facts. And some friends of this nation are beginning to fall in the trap.
The four individuals that are a subject of Kinzer’s article have been portrayed as people who fell out with President Kagame because they differed on principles. They have wrongly been portrayed as individuals who stood up, raised their voice and opposed wrong policies only to become victims of their principled stand.
No, that’s not the situation. They crafted, endorsed, signed-off and implemented whatever policies that fell under their dockets with a free hand, including some of the policies that they are trying to smear mud today.
They only changed seats after losing the lavish positions they held.
I will want to be challenged, on who among the four stood up in any forum as a serving official and openly criticized any policy or direction that the country was undertaking and was denied a voice? Who among them was silenced for penning an internal criticism of the system, providing an alternative menu for some outstanding problems?
Something happened in Uganda in 1999 that has certain similarities with this debate. The current opposition leader, Rtd. Col. Kizza Besigye, while serving in a senior position in government wrote a document criticizing the party he served.
The document he wrote was meant to ignite internal debate within his party and provide solutions to issues that he deemed had gone astray. In his document he did not call for mutiny nor did he call for armed rebellion. He simply wanted an internal analysis of some critical issues that he raised.
The difference here, is the good intention of trying to provoke internal debate through existing structures. The intention of standing up to be counted and boldly speak whatever you deem ‘wrong’ in a system you still serve.
However, to only come up after the bread in your hands has dropped and criticize, is simply being egocentric.
I would want to know what a man like Theogene Rudasingwa did to promote internal democracy at the time he was Secretary General of the RPF. As a Vice President of the Supreme, what did Gahima do to make the judiciary, that he has lately turned into his punching bag, more independent?
True, Rwanda is not perfect. After all, perfection is an enemy of good. Rwanda aims to be a good democracy. But for democracy to flourish you need to build institutions, you need to empower people. You need to have healthy, literate and well fed population.
That’s why I would welcome a debate that questions this government’s policies on agriculture, education, health, transparency etc.
In other words, if Rwanda’s policies on the Health sector like Mutuelle de santé, where a rural folk pays only Rwf 1000 to access medical care for a year, are repressive or selective, then bring the debate forward.
If the 9YBE or free universal primary education system is malicious and unsustainable, then bring up the issues. If the current agricultural policies will not lead to sustainable food security for the future, expose these shortcomings and let’s debate. If corruption is rampant, then expose it.
To simply repeat the chorus of ‘repression, democracy, human rights’ is not what an ordinary muturage in Rusizi, Nshiri or Kagitumba wants. Decentralization has given them all the democratic powers they need. They now demand a better life and a hope for the future and they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Like the West African adage goes, ‘A river that forgets its source will run dry,” so will the current lies peddled by some of our very own do!