No one can doubt that today Rwanda is a confident country and Rwandans confident people. Anyone who knew the Rwanda of two decades ago cannot help but be amazed by the transformative power of such confidence on individuals and the nation.
It is also well-known that self-belief can lead to tremendous feats previously unimagined, leading to admiration and hatred in equal measure. But, of course, this is the nature and price of success – attracting praise, envy, jealousy and loathing, all at the same time.
How often have we heard people say both in compliment and disparagement such expressions as: “Rwanda is a little country with big ambitions” or “Rwanda punches above its weight”? There are two opposing suggestions here. One, held by Rwandans is that Rwanda is not content to be little. The other, held by critics is that it is ridiculous to wish to rise above its station.
Whatever the suggestion behind the above statements, they acknowledge that Rwanda has the self-assurance to do things one would not ordinarily associate with its size or means.
So, where does this conviction come from? In general we can identify several sources. Belief in one’s ability is one of them. It derives from the successful accomplishment of a given task, which is proof of that ability. We have done things right.
I need not repeat the spectacular achievements of the last seventeen years – end of the genocide, refusal to be a failed state, reconstruction of the state, national reconciliation, a growing economy and successes in education and health – enough to give one sky high confidence.
The general well-being of people that in turn derives from good leadership and correct policies is a tremendous boost to self-belief.
Other sources of confidence are exposure to external experiences and examples.
Confidence of a nation is perhaps best seen in the choices its people make. People with a strong belief in themselves make choices and decisions based on what is best for them, stick to them and are prepared for their consequences. Of course they can take advice, but that does not mean that they blindly accept others’ prescriptions. In this sense Rwanda has given concrete meaning to the concept of ownership so central to modern development discourse.
In our case, for instance, this choice has meant treading a uniquely Rwandan political path – one in which consensual rather than adversarial approach to management of society is the preferred option.
Now, there is something positive to be gained from this approach.
Contests in which a supposed opponent is denigrated in order to gain political advantage often produce two negative results. They sap the confidence of the demeaned individual and bring to the fore the baser instincts of both – neither of which contributes to the collective well-being of the people.
On the other hand, because they do not dwell on differences but commonalities, consensual politics builds a collective confidence in the ability to make common choices for the common good.
Needless to say, Rwanda’s unique political arrangements are not universally admired. In fact they attract very strong criticism from those who, either benefit from polarised situations or those for whom adversarial politics is the only norm.
But this does not really matter because in the end it is the choices that Rwandans make that determine their place in the world.
It would not therefore be an exaggeration, and both admirers and detractors will admit it, to say that Rwanda is today among the better known African countries, with perhaps the exception of the current conflict zones and what may be termed the African super powers.
And it is not because of such negative things as the genocide that Rwanda is well-known. Recognition has come from other sources as well.
Take sport, for instance. Twenty years ago, Rwanda was unknown as a sporting nation. It is different today. Although we have not won any major international sporting honours, there is hardly any sports tournament that we have not participated in. In such sports as basketball, volleyball, football, cycling and increasingly cricket and rugby, Rwandan teams are not also-runs but serious contenders for honours who have earned the respect of fellow competitors.
Similarly, there is hardly any international conference on a variety of issues in which Rwandan counsel has not been sought.
I submit that all this is the result of the decisions Rwandans have made and which are both a product and source of confidence.
It has not always been like this. There was time when Rwandans lacked self-belief, were isolated and unable to do much on their own. You didn’t see them in international sports competitions or hear their voice in world councils. They didn’t punch at any weight. Nor did they have ambitions, big or small. Self-doubt and the attendant dependency kept them back and these can have debilitating effects on a nation as we found out.
Do we now punch above our weight? Punch we do, but out of conviction and ability. Do we have big ambitions? Certainly, but those we believe we can achieve.
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