Rwandans to define their own freedoms: political or otherwise

Indeed, like the Kinyarwanda adage; “One does not get liberated for free; he/she has to struggle to liberate himself/herself!” In his message at the 17th Liberation day celebrations, President Kagame referred to yet another old and wise Rwandan saying, that “When someone chases you for so long, he/she ends up freeing you from any form of fear!” He added that, Rwandans have faced enough hard times, and are now immune from fear.
The net enrolment rate in primary schools is over 96 percent, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) programme aims at availing all Rwandan primary school children with laptops by 2012. (File Photo)
The net enrolment rate in primary schools is over 96 percent, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) programme aims at availing all Rwandan primary school children with laptops by 2012. (File Photo)

Indeed, like the Kinyarwanda adage; “One does not get liberated for free; he/she has to struggle to liberate himself/herself!” In his message at the 17th Liberation day celebrations, President Kagame referred to yet another old and wise Rwandan saying, that “When someone chases you for so long, he/she ends up freeing you from any form of fear!” He added that, Rwandans have faced enough hard times, and are now immune from fear.

I could not agree more and the follow-up cheers that he received from the crowd in attendance tell it all.

Why am I saying this! I am a Rwandan, living in Rwanda today, enjoying the fruits of being free from fear.

I am old enough to having lived through the so-called “1959 social revolution”,  the 1963-64 tormenting of those labeled cockroaches, the 1973 other so-called “revolution” (was is it cultural or rather developmental?-MRND-), the 1990-94 liberation struggle, the 1994 genocide against Tutsi and I am still striving on in new Rwanda.

I can also pretend without pretence that I am learned enough or rather have read through the history of our shared humanity as human beings on this earth to know how bad humankind can be even to its kind.

To move to my real subject of discussion hereafter, I have to confess to you, dear reader, that I have, for too long, been shocked, irked, repulsed and revolted by stories circulated about Rwanda - that’s about me as a Rwandan, by self-appointed “experts of Africa” some of whom have either never even stepped a foot in this country, were here during or just after the 1994 genocide or have visited for a day or two and claim to know Rwanda more than Rwandans in Rwanda!

To highlight the point I am making, I will just mention a few recent such wild statements about Rwanda, not withstanding that it is just a small sample of what has been a pattern since the RPF movement started delivering on its set objectives including freeing Rwandans from fear.

On July 8, 201, during an interview, Jennifer Cooke, the Director of CSIS, Africa Programme and an “expert on Rwanda” stated that “many Rwandans are willing to give up political competition for the level of stability and sanity; the level of economic growth and development that the county has since 1994; but I think as you move forward away from 1994 you will likely have voices of dissent, it’s natural…

The one thing is, people who do disagree with where the country is, almost all of them are either silenced by imprisonment, by death or living in exile.

So, within the country you really don’t have people who are standing open and criticizing the regime or voicing their grievances openly…”

Political competition! The big word. Again the recent presidential election where four candidates competed for the privileged position is dismissed as a sham one wonders on what grounds if not for sheer arrogance of the author. 

The latter who is said to have traveled to Rwanda in February 2011 considers herself an excellent “expert on Rwanda” to belittle Rwandans for allegedly “giving up political competition for the level of stability and sanity, the level of economic development”. 

Even if it were so, who logically wouldn’t prefer sanity to an unhealthy competition that she seems to adore and advocate for given what this kind of competition in the Rwandan context before the 1994 Tutsi genocide led to. 

Rwandans learned from their history a made home-grown choices including how constructive political competition would be carried out for the betterment of Rwandans and not for any foreign “expert” benediction.

Thus, the genesis and evolution of the current consensual democracy in Rwanda is deeply rooted in two fundamental and interlinked philosophies.

The first refers to the political bankruptcy that characterized Rwanda before 1994.

The second one refers to the post 1994 leadership commitment to meet the challenge and to set a firm foundation for national reconciliation and reconstruction.

Combination of both aspects led to the search for homegrown approaches to the very dramatic challenges facing Rwanda in the aftermath of the three-decade old divisive politics that climaxed in Genocide.

This has further configured Rwanda’s political system by making it contextual based and consensus driven.

Given the role of political parties in the genocide and the destruction of social fabric by distorted politics, taking also into account the necessity of bringing on board a variety of political actors to the national reconstruction agenda, it was found imperative to craft a new strategy that could help better manage the various contradictions arising from the post genocide situation.

The key pillars of that new face are threefold: The first one is defined by the elements of political responsibility and accountability.

On this ground, political parties which participated in the genocide were excluded from participating in the transitional institutions.

The second one is built on the conviction that political parties are key players in any pluralistic system and that the Rwandan society could not be well managed without involving political parties to benefit from the diversity of ideas.

And it is on this basis that political parties were allowed to operate at the National level. The third element was driven by the necessity of healing the society from the trauma caused by political parties with the ultimate goal of rebuilding social cohesion and national unity and reconciliation and classifying them as top priority of the political agenda.

Ignoring or overlooking this particular context and just making a sweeping statement that “people who do disagree with where the country is, almost all of them are either silenced by imprisonment, by death or live in exile or that despite overwhelming and claim of near universal popular support, Kagame and the RPF have continued to stifle any possibility of genuine opposition…” is utterly dishonest and clearly in bad faith.

Instead of confrontational political competition, Rwandans deliberately chose a consensus-geared competition that is constructive and not destructive.

It is in such a context that one of the most pertinent political instruments in as far as political pluralism and power sharing is concerned in Rwanda is the Consultative Forum of Political Parties.

However, the existence of such a forum as an innovation of Rwanda has again courted controversy in the class of these so-called experts. The most advanced argument against such a forum is that such mandatory requirement by the Constitution is a recipe for limitation of competitive political pluralism.

A viable argument in favor of the forum is that it is a platform for dialogue and exchange of ideas among political organizations on the country’s problems and national policies.

It has further been advanced that “the forum provides space for expression and participation in the political management of the country to all the Political Organizations- including those that could not raise electoral votes to be represented in Parliament (a minimum of 5% of the votes cast).

This is the principle of the pursuit and promotion of national consensus which is equitable and inclusive, where all the Political Organizations constituting the Forum have equal voting powers. 

Another target of strong criticism against the current regime in Rwanda is its alleged lack of freedoms of speech and press among others.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights watch and other so-called experts have been relentlessly accusing Rwanda’s leadership of being responsible for “a series of grave press freedom violations”.

With a few notable exceptions, a great deal of what appears in international media is negative. If it is not President Kagame being criticized for suppressing media and dissent, human rights violations, suffocation of political groups critical of his government and other very irresponsible allegations suggesting murdering of opponents and exiling former colleagues, it is the Rwanda army being accused of plundering the Democratic Republic of Congo and of involvement in mass killings.

However, these accusations often spread by these analysts of all kinds and human rights and media groups, among others, are manufactured by genocidiares and their cohorts scattered around the globe motivated by a desire to hide from justice, hate, jealousy and a refusal to accept and get used to Rwanda’s rapid, remarkable, almost miraculous transformation.

They are mainly proffered by the planners and authors of the genocide as well as their supporters and sympathizers to malign the post-genocide government and undermine its reputation and standing and other so-called experts/researchers in this category recycle the same ideas under their own packaging.

All in all, the country’s unexpected quick recovery and success at propelling itself forward, government’s self-assuredness and no-nonsense attitude towards patronizing outsiders that seek to determine direction of the country’s evolution may be the motivation behind the repackaging and recycling of propaganda material of Rwanda’s negative forces by this select group of so-called experts and human rights advocates. 

Arrogance, ignorance, and indifference to victims including in this case of genocide and bias against independent minded personalities have long been hallmarks of these organizations.

As an example, to them, Rwanda should never arrest anyone, particularly a journalist, no matter what crime they commit. They also know that some of these journalists are actually not doing journalistic work – that’s why they sometimes refer to them as ‘opposition journalists’.

If anything, these so-called press freedom defenders have only helped stifle the growth of professional journalism in Rwanda, by encouraging this so-called ‘opposition journalism’.

Even then, opposition is not borderless, it follows established rules. I believe if the ongoing investigation against UK’s News of The World, would, if it were in Rwanda, have attracted enormous criticism by these groups!

On a brighter side though many well intended personalities and organizations recognize the enormous progress registered by Rwanda across the board.

As an example the World Development Report 2011 acknowledges that “following the 1994 genocide, Rwanda’s new government created a remarkable vision for the re-making of the country.

The economy is the centerpiece of this vision and the regime has made impressive strides to re-build and to re-structure it to meet an ambitious developmental goal. Vision 2020 sets out the regime’s strategy for Rwanda to transition from a low-income, agricultural-based economy to a lower middle-income, more knowledge-based economy by the year 2020.

There is certainly the political will to achieve this dream. The country’s President, Paul Kagame, appears genuinely committed to transforming Rwanda’s economy. He has for example taken firm action against corruption, liberalized sectors such as telecoms and banking, lowered taxes to attract foreign investment, stabilized inflation, enhance
d Rwanda’s trade within the region, and reformed land rights.

Underlying these impressive pro-growth policies which have been met with approval by Rwanda’s donors, is the government’s belief that economic prosperity is a cornerstone of social stability and it has pinned much on this assumption.

Rwanda’s leadership does recognize that this ambitious economic transition remains potentially vulnerable. In recognition of this fragility the government’s vision incorporates an ambitious goal for social change.

The civil war and genocide had powerfully re-inscribed the division between Rwanda’s ethnic majority Hutu and ethnic minority Tutsi.

It was a divide that had been activated on several other occasions in Rwanda’s history to violent effect, and following the genocide the Rwandan government took the bold step of outlawing ethnic identification altogether in the public sphere.

It instead promoted the narrative of a single national identity within the Rwandan society. The remarkable character of this strategy becomes apparent when one remembers that the paradigm usually favoured by international mediators following conflict is to explicitly balance the interests of ethnic or sectarian groups in the constitutional re-design of the nation.

The regime’s intention in the short-term was to silence the ethnic rhetoric which had driven the genocide, thereby creating a space for inter-ethnic healing, and in the longer-term to minimize ethnicity as a force in public life.

The Rwandan government then appears to be aiming ultimately for a post-ethnic society in which a Rwandan national identity would become the primary form of collective identification.

Clear evidence that co-existence is indeed taking place and that government institutions enjoy significant legitimacy has been highlighted by different surveys, including the World Values Survey that reports that Rwandans have very high trust in state institutions, including trust in the National Police and the Army. In addition to the World Values Survey, another international survey, the Legatum Prosperty Index 2010, according to which 95% of Rwandans expressed confidence in their national government, 98% in the military and 84% in the judiciary, placing Rwanda in the top 10 of all the 110 countries ranked in 2010 for these scores”.

In conclusion, in the absence of a past culture of political pluralism and power sharing and some collective values that would have shaped democracy as a reference to Rwandans, reality on the terrain and the results of the survey suggest that something novel and positive is being felt by the population.

This could also be proven by the maturity that characterized the campaigns as well as the results of the August 2010 Presidential elections. That “novelty” may or may not reflect political pluralism or power sharing as understood by the critics some of whom clearly have a pre-determined negative agenda while a few could be misinformed because of their different history and a much longer period of stability that has put their countries where they are.

But most importantly, in the opinion of Rwandans and other well wishers, it is so far yielding stability and political maturity, economic development and social cohesion. And indeed, attaining and sustaining such a nexus between democracy, peace and development is
the most important purpose for an effective political system in any society, especially in a post conflict situation.


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