One year ago, President Paul Kagame was sworn in for his second term as the President of the Republic of Rwanda. The President went through a vigorous campaign that saw him garner a telling 93 percent.
I call this telling, because the self appointed foreign-based pundits of issues Rwandan had attempted to paint the face of Rwanda’s political campaign, with colours of fear, images of intimidation and all illusions that could be mustered to put Rwanda at the pedestal of a country waiting to collapse in.
They were proved wrong—the mammoth gatherings that thronged the RPF/Kagame rallies, defying the glows of the burning sun and at times braving the cold mornings and evenings. The allegations of forceful attendance of rallies of course could not translate into forceful casting of a secret ballot. They could not.
Not to mention how Rwandans abroad voted. The Rwandan Diaspora, who went to the polls on August 8, a day earlier, voted Kagame with an overwhelming 96.7 percent, a whole 3.7 percent points higher than those who voted from within Rwanda? Were they also ‘intimidated’? Of course not! In fact, that was only a litmus paper of a democracy that is Rwandan, treasured and carried on by a people that know their history, where they have come from and where they want to be. They know who will help guide them to that longed for place of dignity and self esteem.
Just as charity begins at home, so does the tenet of dignity that begins from within the inner person. Kagame has led every Rwandan into restoring their dignity—proud but not arrogant of being Rwandans. He has unlocked that inner love of the self, the people around him/her and, indeed, the country—Rwanda.
You see, I believe, a person who runs low on self esteem and poise, feels ostracised and considered by him/herself and others as worthless, can spare no luxury of giving those very precepts to his neighbor, community and the country. And prior to the 1994, this was what Rwandans had been subjected to and had come to believe as a norm. It was, therefore, easy to galvanize the Rwandans of 1994 into committing Genocide against the Tutsi because of that low dignity. They, literally, saw that they had nothing to lose—their or other people’s lives. They had nothing to lose. They looked at life from a very miniscule pigeonhole. The rich, the elite and the informed crafted, planned and perpetrated the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi using the poor (over 98 percent), the illiterate (over 95 percent) and the misinformed.
The ‘fear’ the self-appointed professors of Rwandan Political terrain were so fond of selling to the world during the 2010 presidential campaigns was, in fact, a commodity so abundant during the Habyarimana days of terror. Some of the genocidaires say were ‘pushed’ into killing spasms courtesy of coercion and imminent death threats, nay, assurances, in case they refused to participate in the horrendous deeds. And because an atom of dignity was too much on their plate, they complied with ease. Otherwise, the students of Nyange Secondary displayed an unprecedented martyrdom of dignity.
Well, Kagame and RPF have changed all that. He has opened sluice gates of knowledge. Education that was a bargain is, today, for all and free, in case of the primary level. Girinka, Bye-bye Nyakatsi and other home-grown initiatives in fighting poverty have all raised the awareness of and the need for dignity.
The RPF-led government has taken Rwanda to the world and now the world is coming to Rwanda in droves—tourists, investors, political allies, name them because of confidence and dignity. Rwanda is no longer referred to as a closed ‘tiny landlocked poor country, the size of……(read any small state in US or Europe)’ but as a model of this and that (personifying hope, resuscitating a state, building the pillars of good governance from abyss, breathing a new life into the economy etc).
At a closer scrutiny, everything, almost, that has been built and is standing tall wherever it is in Rwanda today, has got a very big element of a restored dignity amongst Rwandans—right from the RANU, RPF/A guys who took up arms to fight for that dignity, an investor, a returning ex-refuge and Diaspora.
This, in fact, feeds into and puts paid to the notion that dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man's soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. Rwandans have proved that notion and Michael Fox’s popular saying that; “One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalised and cruelly mocked, but cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered.” For the last five years I have lived and worked in Rwanda, I know Rwandans never surrender.
The author is an editor with The New Times