Kinzer didn’t get it

Whenever I read about Rwanda or Africa for that matter in the western press, the views expressed by the various ‘observers’ never cease to amaze me; whether good or bad, their analysis never seem to go beyond the stereotypes of fatality and predictability.

Whenever I read about Rwanda or Africa for that matter in the western press, the views expressed by the various ‘observers’ never cease to amaze me; whether good or bad, their analysis never seem to go beyond the stereotypes of fatality and predictability.

According to these commentators, the problems of Africa can be summed up in her failure to follow the ‘12 step program to democracy’ designed for her by western powers.

Such pessimism, can be noted in a recent article by Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times reporter and renowned author. In his analysis of the current state of affairs in Rwanda, published in The Guardian, Mr Kinzer once again credits President Paul Kagame for turning a seemingly ‘failed state’ into an ‘African success story’.

He later goes on, however, to warn about the possibility of another descent into genocide should the President refuse to talk to the four Rwandan fugitives.

The individuals, whose credibility the author fails to question, are the four former collaborators to the regime who were recently handed prison sentences in Rwanda.
The fact that they were part of a system they now accuse of being dictatorial to its very core, should at the very least raise suspicions in the minds of the wise and the prudent.

In other words, the credibility of a man whose efforts brought forth peace, stability and prosperity to a country and a region could be threatened by self-styled political opponents whose only merit is to put together baseless accusations in a document devoid of any factual evidence, denouncing purported failures of a system they took part in building.

Stephen Kinzer’s failure to put their credibility into question comes as no surprise to us; we have grown accustomed to the attitude of those who believe that the price to pay for longevity by any African Leader is to talk to any Tom, Dick or Harry who calls him or herself ‘opposition’.  

His analysis, though well articulated, hardly touches the realities of Rwanda’s troubled past and thus fails to understand her chosen path to a brighter future.

To put it bluntly, Rwanda’s ‘post-genocide renaissance’ is nothing short of a ‘revolution’. Contrary to the expectations of most, President Paul Kagame clearly understood that the only way to heal a country so wounded and divided was to set in motion the mechanism of sustainable development to raise an entire people’s standard of living.

With less poverty and more prosperity, it would be harder for any ill-minded individual to translate the misery of many into the good fortune of a few. It is a complete upset to the way things were done in Africa since the liberation movements of the Cold War era, when freedom fighters turned dictators in the blink of an eye.

The leadership that stopped the Genocide also kept the country afloat in the year long absence of any international cooperation. They developed a much needed “national” strategy to cater for the challenges of a society where survivors and genocide perpetrators had to live together and reinvent their common future; Building a new national brand soon became the motto. And after stabilizing the country, they designed a strong development strategy with a clear roadmap and targets for the whole nation. Not just for “some”, not just for an elite few.

And instead of doing it the classic way through lots of aid and foreign assistance adopting foreign templates, they decided to adopt and customize assistance for homegrown targets. Instead of just forcing “democracy” top to bottom overnight, they had the wisdom to work their way up from the grassroots level one step at a time.

This was done with the aim of decentralizing as broadly and as widely as possible, the decision making mechanisms to be coordinated at the national level to meet the country’s development goals in a faster and more efficient way.

In this framework, the leadership takes the responsibility to provide the needed tools for the actors to decide and perform. And that is why there is, in Rwanda, this “frenzy” about development. That’s why the country has social medical care for more than 90% of the population. It has the biggest enrolment numbers in school, it has become the most cabled surface in Africa, it ranks so high in the “doing business reports”, it has a positive and high economical growth index and so many Rwandans went to vote and elected their president with a landslide majority.

But this is not about Kagame as a person; this is about Rwanda and its people. Yes, indeed, he is a very mature politician who projects a clear vision on where he wishes the country to go in terms of human, social, economic and political development. And, he also rallies around that vision. He gets the needed support from the political party he belongs to, as he gets it from the others. And certainly from the Rwandan people in general. But there’s nothing personal about this. It is him … inside the institution he serves.

Rwandans have chosen to build a consensus around the twin ideals of peace and prosperity, and it works; in spite of those who believed, and still do, that ‘power sharing’ between the illusive ‘Hutu-Tutsi’ equation was the only way out of trouble for Rwanda.

Rwanda is on the move, spearheading Africa’s quest for freedom from dependency on self-serving foreign aid. Some might call it ‘biting the hand that feeds us’; we call it ‘revolution’, baby… and contrary to popular belief, this one will be televised!


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