Andrew Mwenda’s article, “Two Presidents – Two Uncompromising Styles” (The Independent, 26th October 2011) piqued me.
Having been used to Mwenda’s bare-knuckles approach to the defence of the ordinary citizen, I held my breath when I began to read the article, fearing that I was going to witness a Mwenda who had finally thrown in the towel and was now joining the rosy bed of the dominant powers that be.
Powers that be whose power is maintained through trickeries of trading government largesse with political opponents for their support, even if their reasons for opposing government are known to be driven by greed for self-aggrandisement without taking the interests of the ordinary citizen in consideration.
However, by the middle of the article my fears had been allayed. After reading it, I concluded that it was a comparative study of two systems. One that is easy to implement and gives a sense of democratic consensus and another that is a risky venture but draws legitimacy from “service to all anonymous citizens”, even if it comes “across as intolerant and unaccommodating”.
It is true, of course, that Rwandan political opponents actually do not oppose policies of the ruling RPF government. They are opponents of the person of President Paul Kagame. They are mostly a political elite who fell out with him because either they did not perform or they did not conduct themselves well.
If President Kagame had allowed them to underperform, loot or carry on with their divisive ways, he would be sitting cosily and there would be no noise about “despotic rule” from any of the familiar noisy politicians. Media outlets and rights advocacy groups would be showering him with praises.
Yet President Kagame would have betrayed the very elements of the programme of the ruling RPF party that he chairs. There is no way you can restore the unity of Rwandans when you allow espousers of division to be among their leaders. It’s only by shutting out permanently bellicose elements that you can defend the sovereignty of their country and ensure security of person and property so as to promote good, democratic governance.
There is no way you can fulfil the agenda of the ruling party if you do not strictly adhere to its programme of harnessing all the country’s natural resources; eradicating all forms of graft and maladministration; improving citizens’ welfare; eliminating causes of exile; cultivating good international relations; or fighting tendencies where groups would wish to get rid of one another.
Most importantly, however, this programme cannot be effected by one man. The ruling party is implementing its programme because Rwandans have accepted and supported it. And they have accepted it because it has a good programme that involves every one of them, in and outside Rwanda – except, of course, the sworn opponents!
So, this “Kagame has done this”, “Kagame should do this” or “Kagame can do this” thing misses the point. Kagame cannot ride roughshod over the heads of Rwandans to whip them into “doing this”. Rwandans are “doing this” and that’s why “this” is working. “This” is being done by every citizen of this land, whatever their station, in and outside Rwanda – except, of course.....!
Yet not to see President Kagame’s prominent role as a person would be to miss the even bigger point.
A friend who worked near him was telling me that probably his biggest role is to challenge Rwandans. He gave me a litany of examples but I’ll only quote a few.
One time when Kagame was inaugurating the construction of a shopping complex, he looked around and asked why there were so many incomplete buildings with metals sticking out of rough walls, while the lower floors were functioning as shops and offices. When someone answered that the owners had exhausted their resources and were waiting to use earnings from rent, Kagame asked what the banks and insurance companies were doing.
Today, the construction industry in Rwanda is bustling thanks to the culture of loaning and saving.
Wherever Kagame has gone in the countryside, he has asked why people walked long distances to look for water or why they lived in unhygienic conditions. It was not because he didn’t know why it was so. Rather, it was because he was wondering why it should be so, when there were countries where it was not so.
Today, the poorest villager has an iron/a brick roof over their head, which is necessarily equipped with a gutter that leads the roof-water into a tank. The countryside is clean; literally every citizen has medical insurance, sleeps under a mosquito net, belongs to a credit-and-saving scheme, sends their children to school, has milk to fight malnutrition, et al.
One time in Germany, Kagame looked at a simple but beautiful and tidy hotel and asked members of his delegation if Rwanda could not afford such a hotel. At the time, apart from Hotel Mille Collines and Hotel Merdien Umubano, Rwandans knew of no other hotel. Today, international hotel chains are jostling for a place anywhere they can put up shop.
It’s true, Mwenda, with a leadership that challenges its people and itself, “it is possible for...nations to build functional states that enjoy...autonomy from particularistic interests”.
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