For the past 60 years or so, African masses in most of the continent have been duped and fleeced by selfish leaders and their cronies.
The latter two have used every manipulative trick to portray themselves as revolutionaries, patriots and reformists who’re only fired up by a sense of selflessness and undying love for their people.
The first generation of African leaders in the post-colonial era took advantage of popular resentment against oppressive colonial rule to pursue their own interests. Many of them promoted divisive politics and actively eliminated dissenters, whom they always labeled traitors, villains, agents of the West, foreigners, among other demeaning descriptions.
In Rwanda, Gregoire Kayibanda discriminated against and killed many Tutsis thinking he was building a base within the Hutu community, to whom he preached that their only enemy was a Tutsi. However, by failing to deliver the public goods and instead exacerbate the pain of decades of colonial misrule, the majority of these presidents were practically digging their own graves.
It was this inept leadership that largely led to such cases where even the most undisciplined lieutenants rose to prominence and eventually hounded their former bosses out of office.
Many of those who staged military coups did not regard the presidency as a challenging position, largely because the person occupying it had exhibited no exceptional virtues, other than stealing from the public, promoting patronage and menacing their own people. It happened in Rwanda, and in many other African countries. The rising to power of the likes of Juvenal Habyarimana in Rwanda and Idi Amin Dada in Uganda was facilitated by the very men they removed from power.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a higher percentage of the next generation of African leaders followed in the footsteps of their predecessors. The only thing they knew was to sustain the hostile environment they inherited from the former regimes to try to keep themselves in power forever. This led to accumulation of serious public frustration, resulting in liberation struggles in some countries.
In Rwanda, the RPF struggle of 1990-94 was born out of the endemic extremes of the Habyarimana regime and Kayibanda before him. Yet, there was no guarantee that the RPF government would itself not fall in the same trap as its predecessors. I am sure there might have been fears among the masses that, once again, we were likely to witness another era of political exclusion, elite politicking and inaction of government in the face of a horrifying socio-economic destruction following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Homeless and traumatized orphans, widows infected with HIV/Aids and enduring the unimaginable consequences of gang rape, emptied state coffers, filthy and smelly streets littered with bodies, and a complete breakdown of basic infrastructure, presented such an uphill task for the new inexperienced government. One would, indeed, be forgiven to think that, even the most committed of leaderships would have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the reconstruction task in its early stage.
Of course at that time no one had an idea what Rwanda would turn out to be, just a few years after the Genocide. I am unsure the liberators themselves knew how far they would take this country. Seventeen years after Rwanda shook hands with the Devil, it has fast emerged as a world model in as many areas – education (about 95 enrolment rate), healthcare (at least 90 of Rwandans have medical insurance), gender (including the fact that the country leads the world with the highest number of women MPs), nearly corrupt free (according to Transparency International), unprecedented levels of social harmony, and a sense of hope among the Rwandan people.
Besides the rest of the world, Rwandans are themselves still wondering just how they have since turned their fortunes around! In President Paul Kagame, they have discovered that all you need is commitment and selflessness to achieve your dream.
In North Africa, frustrated masses have recently taken to the streets to demand their rights. In Libya, peaceful protesters were greeted with live bullets from the military, sparking off the ongoing crisis.
On a continent where leaders are known for covering each other’s sins, at the expense of people’s rights and aspirations, Kagame has chosen to stand with the Libyan people, and not with their emperor, Col. Muammar Gaddafi. He has come out to show his unequivocal support for the cause of Libyans.
The author is a training editor with The New Times and 1st VP of Rwanda Journalists Association