On July 4th, 2011, President Paul Kagame told the nation that during the country’s liberation process, Rwanda conquered the peak of a steep mountain and is now running downhill.
He, however, advised that the downhill leg of the journey, though not as exhausting, nevertheless requires fully serviced brakes to prevent unnecessary nose dives. One cannot agree more.
A glance over the shoulder at the Rwanda fact sheet of the uphill leg is chilling. A decades old entrenched dictatorship that would not yield to responsible exercise of political power except under pressure and force.
A unique brand of an ethnic extremist ideology that resulted in the worst genocide in living memory and was prevented, in the nick of time, from committing a “final one”.
A mutually suspicious population traumatised by decades of exile, successive smallscale genocides, war and a needless post genocide mass exodus into neighbouring countries, a crushing national debt with little to show for, on the ground. Perennial famine in over half of the country, corruption among the elite.
Poor and/or nonexistent education and health, and infrastructure conspicuous for its massive absence, were among several mishaps.
Rwanda was the epitome of a failed state. The majority of her population was a listless lot that had simply succumbed to the mercy of the elements. Mistakes of governance, leadership and politics had conspired to fasttrack the country to the lowest known levels of indignity in centuries of its existence.
What a climb! What a task! Was this a Kilimanjaro or an Everest or was it a live volcanic mountain spewing hot molten lava?
The climb was not just steep. The climbers were pushing an old truck, loaded with toxic material, whose brakes and vital parts had malfunctioned for long and would, at the slightest stumble, roll back with disastrous consequences.
For 21 odd years, day and night, the climb meant exerting not equivalent but probably thrice as much force against an equally relentless, even violent, opposite force to be where we are.
It is this eternal contest of will, the will to prevail against all odds, that non measurable input called POLITICAL WILL, to change one way of thinking and replace it with another, that explains how we got to the peak. Failure was just not an option.
The President was brief and crystal clear. The contest was justified though neither light nor cheap. To conquer the peak was hard and costly work. The price paid ranged from life, resources, time and more.
To sustain the conquest means relentless hard work-no two ways about it. Conversely, all that is needed to lose the contest is to lie back, relax and bask in the glory of success, get complacent, corrupted or both.
To lose the contest, now or in the future, would be folly of everlasting consequence.
An examination of how far the country has come provides an insight into the contest of will that defines the past 21 years of our liberation process.
There was the will to construct a political nation from scattering ethnic groups in the geographical space known as Rwanda.
This gave rise to the will to stand up to a brutal and fortified regime, contest its illegal hold on power, wrest the country from its grip and establish badly needed security and stability, the preconditions for nation building.
The will to make ethnic and other forms of discrimination part of our painful history gave rise to the will to ensure unity and equality before the law and equal opportunity part and parcel of our present and future existence.
The will to rid masses of blameless Rwandans of the scourge of “refugee status” and turn the country that had for decades been described as a glass full of water to accommodate no more of her own citizens, gave rise to a will to repatriate all Rwandans living as refugees and as burdens literally in all countries on earth especially neighbouring ones.
In 17 years, Rwanda has repatriated more citizens than probably any country on earth. Out of roughly six million refugees, approximately 70,000 of them, a good number for any amount of personal and legal issues, are yet to be repatriated.
This year, Rwanda enters the list of UN member states where political refugees would cease to exist.
The will to turn Rwandans into a formidable resource rather than a burden and set the country on the path to knowledge based socio-economic development gave rise to the will to educate Rwanda’s children on a massive and qualitatively evolving scale.
The will to lift a people from socio-economic abyss gave rise to the will to take them to a point where their mental aptitude would process their situation, discard aged attitudes and prejudices and produce a new template fitted with a modern outlook and mindset.
The will to recover centuries old but lost dignity and place it in the sun gave rise to the will to make a poor, populous, landlocked, aid dependent nanny state emerge from the ashes, rise and eventually stand up to be counted.
Finally, the will by the country’s leadership to voluntarily assume such a herculean task, not because it was easy or popular but because it was the right thing to do, has slowly but surely produced a massive will by the population to act, individually and collectively, to assert their democratic rights, improve their welfare, clean up their minds and surroundings, reject discrimination, corruption and injustice and generally perform their civic obligations.
The list can go on and each contest can be textbook material.
Against each will above was (and still is at varying degrees of failure) another will, relentlessly pushing in the opposite direction intent on preserving the status quo.
Conquering the peak therefore amounts to a resounding rejection of the status quo, a large vote for unity and progress, a resolute march into a better future.
More specially, it tells volumes about the role political will played and continues to play in Rwanda’s socio-economic transformation. Resources are essential but resources alone, vast resources at that, have not delivered similar transformation in a long list of countries, and would certainly not have delivered it in Rwanda, a relentless factor in our transformation.
According to the UN, Rwanda is on the way to achieving the MDG’s on time, the economy is valued at US$5.5 bn from empty coffers in 1994.
The poorest of the poor are assured, with no stigma of discrimination, of medical treatment and free nine year basic education. Our mothers and sisters have acquired their rightful place in national life.
This is a clear result of correcting the mistakes of governance, leadership and politics and building a people-centred governance focusing on optimisation of resource utilisation, a product of Rwandans efforts.
Others made it, we could also do so! What then it takes is the million dollar question. It is not aid and handouts. It is not discrimination. It is not intrigue.
It is not hate mongering, nor is it not stealing from the people. If it took these, we would be a first world nation. It takes the will to think big, to aim higher, to shoot far, to rise beyond self, to concert efforts towards national development.
Above all, the will to imagine the kind of Rwanda our fallen comrades paid the ultimate price for and one that we want to bequeath our children.
There is now empirical evidence that we Rwandans can achieve the ideals we believed in and fought for. We can go forward.
The author is a member of the Rwandan Senate