At the very end of his book “A Thousand Hills” Stephen Kinzer asserts, correctly, that Rwanda’s story is still unfolding. Then he adds;
“If Kagame can achieve half of what he has set out to do, he will go down in African history. If he can achieve it all, leaders of every poor country on earth will look to Rwanda for lessons, and bands of angels will sing in heaven.”
In those last pages President Kagame tells Kinzer why his Government needs to achieve progress for the Rwandan people;
“Rwanda cannot have the majority of its people living on less than a dollar a day. It is simply unacceptable. You cannot have progress or a future when most of your people are barely living. Yet apart from the mistakes of governance, leadership and politics, we have within us what we need to develop. WE ASPIRE TO BE LIKE OTHERS, LIKE THE DEVELOPED WORLD.
There are countries that forty or fifty years ago were at the same level of development as our country. They have moved forward and left us behind. Why can’t we achieve that? That’s a question I constantly ask myself”.
Mr Kinzer then fathoms the enormity of the challenge thus;
“Kagame has set out to do something that has never been done before: pull an AFRICAN (emphasis mine) country from misery to prosperity in the space of a generation. To accomplish this, he must hack a path through his country’s centuries-old social and political overgrowth. Because that overgrowth is so dense, and because he is working without a model (western, I suppose), and because like all human beings he is the product of his past experiences, this is as great a challenge as faces any leader in the world.”
This was five or six years ago. On the Asset Register was one item: Aspiration. The Liabilities Register was chilling. The dense social and political overgrowth included a ruthless genocide ideology that had produced a genocide a few years before and was capable and ready to produce another, a conflict and insecurity torn and prone country, a population in extreme mutual suspicion, poverty and want, a shattered, heavily indebted economy, raw and undeterred corruption down to the country’s marrow, a culture of impunity, shattered and forgotten health, education and justice systems, a shameful level and mindset of dependence on foreign resources, ideas, social and political direction, serious capacity constraints to mention but a few. Rwanda was worse than any nanny state in existence. The Baseline.
Who thought Rwanda would be a viable country again?
I wish this could be an international referendum question for the next UN General Assembly.
Asked by Kinzer how he thought he would surmount challenges of herculean proportions, a feat African country have tried, failed and are still in misery, in the face of local resentment for hard work and fast change and foreign negative influences and attacks on his leadership model, President Kagame’s response was;
“We have to work on the minds of our people. We have to take them to a level where people respect work and work hard…. You have to push and push…..There is nothing to be complacent about. We are poor, and being poor is bad. If being pushed hurts, it cannot hurt as much as poverty, as much as being hungry and sick. I make no apologies for pushing people hard……they come up in the end as winners… You can’t say that people must not be touched or must never be told to do things. I push people to work----- what’s wrong with that?.....We should be able to feed ourselves and feed others.” The Approach.
In short President Kagame knew he could not achieve progress alone and he did not have to. Rwandans were convinced of one thing though, that he would drive them well on their journey to progress, equality and dignity. They overwhelmingly entrusted him with the task. But the journey was not about him alone. Ethnicism, poverty, corruption, sectarianism, inequality, hunger, sickness, dependence and indignity were/are about each and every Rwandan, individually and collectively. We had to own up! Change and progress would be delivered by leaders, a critical mass of them. These would need to be found and inspired to change their mindset and embrace “work and hard work” to overcome the bad situation. They would in turn inspire more people, who would inspire more and more people. Like a flywheel inspiration would beget more inspiration and together we would “come up in the end as winners”. This, in my humble view, is the how and what President Kagame set out to do for and with his people. Second item entered on the a
sset register; inspiration.
The State of the Nation Address, this week, was facts and figures to the hilt; Security is granted, the right to be governed well is inalienable, impunity is eradicated, equality before the law restored, rule of law is an automatic expectation, citizens’ reconciliation barometer is above 60%, unconventional, participatory and reconciliatory forms of justice have fast tracked conflict resolution, free and peaceful elections are the norm. The Economy has recorded over 7% annual GDP growth for three years now, revenue collected stands slightly above 50% of national budget, per capita income at 500$, food self sufficiency has been achieved, 80% of the population have access to clean water (up from 41% in 2003) and 13% to electricity (up from 4% in 2000), tourism was at 666,000 visitors and over 200 million $ in 2010, foreign direct
Investment is ever increasing. The country has recorded 17 times more university enrollment since 1993, with over 62000 university students as of 2010, 44% of them women, the state provides 9 years basic education free. Health insurance is at 96% of total population up from 7% in 2003, 77% of those in need of anti retroviral therapy access it, up from 35% in 2005, malaria related deaths are 16% down from 40.6% in 2000. Optic fibre backbone is now laid throughout the country. Rwanda plays a key role in promoting regional stability bilateral relations and regional integration.
The list could have gone on.
More decentralization, less and lesser Government, Rwanda’s child mortality is one the lowest in Africa, one cow per poor, family has transformed nutrition and income for the very poor, the decent shelter program will, by the end of 2011, ensure that every rural citizen is in a decent shelter, in a decent settlement in close proximity to a school, a health facility, a passable road and connectable to electricity, piped water and the internet. Heavy private and public investments in infrastructure, agriculture, environmental protection, trade and services have resulted in thousands of full and part time jobs, land redistribution, especially in the Eastern Province resulted in the permanent settlement of thousands of hitherto landless families who can now produce feed and finance their families. Millions of peasant refugees are back and
Rwanda is almost off the list of UNHCR’s refugee supplying countries.
Renowned world economists, Sachs, Zoelic, Newfarmer, Paul Coller are engaged in and are happy to be associated with Rwanda’s unfolding story.
Kidney transplant and heart bypass operations can now be carried out in Kigali, thanks to capacity built and medical partnerships. Rwanda is now among very few African countries that boast of the latest models of high resolution CT Scan and Magnetic Resonance Imaging equipment.
Thousands of ex FDLR fighters have broken free from a causeless, deceptive and largely lost war against their own kith and kin, decamped and returned to settle peacefully and resume fending for their families. Many of them got integrated in RDF.
A surge in sports enthusiasm has seen our under 17 football team qualify for Mexico this June. If this is not investment in people then what is? This, to me was the evaluation of the performance contract (imihigo) President Kagame entered into with Rwandans in 2003.
The definition of success is subjective, it depends on the beholder, but there are not a few in Rwanda for whom this is already a success story, if not a miracle.
What explains these achievements? Is it massive internal and aid resources? Is it massive internal capacity? Is it because there are no spoilers hell bent on destruction? Is it luck? The answer is elsewhere. These are results of politics of national unity, politics of coalescing on a common vision, of transparency, of zero tolerance for mediocrity, of equal opportunity for and accountability from all, of empowering women, of mobilizing youth and rejection of intentional spoilers whatever their shade or colour; in short, results of conscious choice and discipline, as Jim Collins call them, in “Good to Great”.
Is it then possible to pull an AFRICAN country from misery to prosperity in the space of a generation? I think so. Is it possible to develop models of growth? I think so too. True the journey is long and it can even get tough but can we abandon it because it might get tough? The alternative is worse. When Kinzer pressed President Kagame on what powers his engine his response was;
“Why wouldn’t you find it despicable to live in this situation? Why should we be a country that depends on other people? What’s wrong with us? Why do we live off other people’s money, off the taxpayers of other countries? How can it be that people who lived in this country 200 years ago were better off than we are today? What happened? We have been put in a position of being despised, of being held in contempt. We don’t deserve that, and we have within ourselves what we need to stand up to these challenges.” He challenged Rwandans to insist on their dignity, not on his. And insist we did.
Another asset, dignity, was entered on the register. The model for achievement, which Kinzer thought President Kagame was working without, existed! A people who aspire to occupy their rightful place in the sun, are inspired to act to get there because that will proclaim their dignity as a natural inheritance are simply unstoppable. They will overcome any liability on the register. Kinzer just didn’t get it. Empowered people can liberate themselves from misery.
Prophets of doom:
Rwanda has had its share of prophets of doom. The genocidaires who fled the country after the genocide in 1994 grouped and regrouped, in Africa and beyond, under various names and aliases, with one common aim; to destroy the regime that stopped the genocide and dislodged them from power, so they continue from where they stopped. For 16 odd years they have done whatever was in their power to do to achieve this objective, but in vain.
The ranks of this fringe were recently joined by Kayumba, Gahima, Rudasingwa and Karegeya, spineless self exiled elements who, after failing to achieve the accountability threshold while in senior government positions, falling foul of the law, succumbed to the country’s zero tolerance policies and bolted out of the bus one after another. The fate that joined them was enough “political cause” to make them opposition politicians overnight! Last August they advocated for “The New National Partnership Government” and referred to themselves as the legitimate opposition. Later they claimed to be armed to the teeth and ready to march on Kigali anytime to free Rwandans. Recently they teamed up with FDLR, FDU, RUD and a host of similar briefcase, lunch hunting organizations and formed “The Rwanda National Congress”. They claim that everything happening in Rwanda is conceived and carried by or for one man, President Kagame. They claim that he has put Rwanda firmly in his pocket hence their struggle to free us afresh!
Their stock in trade is ethnicity; it is the major factor of development, stability and political progress for Rwanda, civic life must be ethnicised to avert another genocide (which they predict with surgical precision), there should be ethnic quotas, ethnic rights, ethnic elections, ethnic economy, ethnic jobs, ethnic health, education, justice etc. Citizens born of mixed marriages, foreigners who acquire citizenship do not exist in their scheme of things. They argue also that by not putting a high premium on ethnicity President Kagame is formenting another genocide which, this time round, will finish his minority ethnic community. They further claim that a massive brain drain has hit Rwanda and retarded progress.
Going through the State of the Nation Address and other statistics as shown, I find this group, hopelessly out of depth on the country’s growth path. If the brain drain they are claiming has hit Rwanda includes their brains and similar ones Rwandans can rest assured nothing much has been lost because these brains are clinically drained themselves and in need of resuscitation. They served in senior capacities and fell by the wayside precisely because the wolf in them could not keep in the sheep skin forever. Their democratic and political rights credentials are but a hoax to dupe unsuspecting Americans and Europeans into lunch and dinner appointments. The real issues are the meals and the guilty conscience they struggle to cover up.
How is that the country can achieve such progress in the siege and authoritarianism they claim it is under? Do they, by the way, care to know the ethnic identities of those they tell Rwanda’s ethnic “imperatives”? If President Kagame’s talking to them constituted a major boost to Rwanda’s progress we would be a first world. He more than did that. His talking to them now would however require sufficient mandate because they are fugitives from justice as well as from public opinion. By the way, what is it they would begin with? Can they list the challenges they helped resolve while they held the public offices which they tout today for their CV? If they were prisoners of conscience sieged inside Rwanda, as they claim, can they explain why they stole from the public, defrauded banks, abused office, betrayed a cause?
Rwandans lets ignore detractors and focus on the challenges of our evolving story. Like others before them who predicted, fervently worked for and wished for another genocide, they will fail and be dumped onto the dungheap of history. Another genocide will not happen just because a few criminals so wish. Even if the issues of governance, rights and freedoms were real and not a figment of their infantile imagination, as is the case, Rwandans know better than to resort to a genocide to finish off the perceived “offender” as a solution.
Are there challenges ahead?
Yes there are and President Kagame admits as much but says that having resolved more difficult ones we have, as a people, gained the confidence and strength to face those that are ahead in order “to leave a worthy inheritance for future generations”. Lee Kuan Yew, reflecting on the future, at the end of his book “From Third World to First”, says;
“The future is full of promise as it is fraught with uncertainty………The new divide in the world will be between those with knowledge and those without. We must learn and be part of the knowledge based world. That we have succeeded so far does not ensure our doing so in the future. However we stand a better chance of not failing if we abide by the same principles that have helped us to make progress; social cohesion through sharing the benefits of progress, equal opportunities for all, and meritocracy, with the best man or woman for the job, especially as leaders in Government.”
A Great future? We want it, and we will have it.
The last question Mr Kinzer put to President Kagame was how much of what he dreams is really possible. In response, and it is the very last paragraph of “A Thousand Hills”, he said;
“Seeing everything, we can do it. We can reduce the number of people below the poverty line, reduce the level of dependence on donor funds, and truly develop our country. We can and we want to. We are convinced----very, very convinced. We want to do it, and we will.
The very last statement of the State of the Nation Address was; “There is no doubt that we will get where we want to be. We have already overcome more difficult challenges and, in so doing, gained the confidence and strength to face those that lie ahead. We have the will, we will find a way. We should not slacken, rather we should redouble our efforts, continue to work together to get to all that we desire, and leave a worthy inheritance to future generations. Let us continue to foster unity, continue to work hard and build a country we will be proud of”.
In short, once again, years later, success and progress are not about him, they are about “we”, “us”, “our”. His job is to drive us safely but reaching our dream destination will be a collective effort for which each of us will be a proud Rwandan.
As I carefully digested the Address, the first in 16 years, read the body language both of the President and of the leaders from the private and public sector seated in the House of Parliament, and compared this last statement with the last statement in “A Thousand Hills”, I vividly saw the book’s last chapter (“we aspire to be like others”) giving birth to the title of the next book on Rwanda; ”Wow, we are becoming like others!”