The way I’ve seen it, there is a hardcore group of individuals and organisations for whom it has become a signature feature of every comment on Rwanda. Their every comment will start with a lengthy enumeration of the positive economic and social developments in the country but invariably end with a lament on the “lack of political space”.
At every opportunity, the group will seek out the fringe assemblage of Rwandans in self-imposed exile to give their message a stamp of authority. It won’t matter that this assemblage’s sole aim is to sanitise their reputation by dirtying that of a government that rejected their egocentric conduct toward their fellow Rwandans.
However, the situation becomes bewildering when powerful organisations and governments that are otherwise friendly, and have the requisite resources to establish the truth, considering their good intent, join the bandwagon of what Rwandans see as a bunch of self-seeking hecklers to freely relay the same allegations around as established truth.
Then you cease to obstinately hold onto your convictions and begin to wonder if there might not be some “repressive nature” to your government that you are not seeing. This “lack of political space” that everybody is seeing in this land, is it actually reality?
As I am wont to when in a dilemma, last weekend I repaired to my village to commune with my friend and neighbour, Sylvester Semajeri. On asking him whether he was lacking any “political space”, he sat me down and asked me to listen to him without interruption so that at the end I would make my own conclusion on whether he was lacking whatever I was calling “political space”. To make it easy for me, he told me, he would talk about his youngest son.
Look at my son Rubyogo, Semajeri opened the ‘lesson’. He is in primary school and until his twelfth year of education, I am not going to worry about his school fees. Government will do the worrying – and most probably that of his secondary-school fees by the end of that twelfth year. Depending on his capability and resolve, he will go to university – the world’s best, on government scholarship, if he excels.
Meanwhile, he is already chatting with his future university mates on his OLPC (in reference to the one-laptop-per-child programme that gives free laptops to all children). I know, of course, that when on internet he chats with everybody in the world, not necessarily those his age.
“But, the political sp....,” I made to interrupt but he made a sign for me to shut up.
All this, he continued, the people who are telling you about that “lack of political space” will no doubt have quoted to you. They will have told you how the government has come out guns blazing to fight corruption, for instance, and all other malpractices. These are tangible things that defy denial or manipulation.
They will have told you the impressive statistics that Rwanda has garnered in all economic and social areas: health, reconciliation, agriculture, commerce, general security, tourism, transport, gender equality, investment – name any, at random. What all that means is an empowered Rubyogo in a secure future. Without forgetting that his parents and grand-parents – and you, his father’s friend – are not missing out on that empowerment ride at the moment, at different levels.
Now, you would have to be a very foolish government to thus empower your people and then delude yourself that you can keep them under your thumb. If the Arabs on our continent have taught us anything, it is that as leader you cannot assure yourself a secure future by playing games with your people, empowering them with economic means and communication tools and then boxing them into a primitive hole where they cannot exercise their new power. It is either respect their chosen constitution or show them your heels – or worse, face the full force of their fury.
Like you, the people who accuse our leadership of “oppressing” us know it to be a stickler for constitutional rule. It is for that that we massively voted it back into power, having tested their strictly scientific methods of work. Their legitimacy is undergirded by the trust we have in them of respecting the worth of every single Rwandan, irrespective of age, gender, height, trade or political leaning. Accidents can happen, like when a politician or anybody dies, but none can be victimised for their trade or action.
Of course, it’s something else when you challenge a donor. When you are a leadership that points out how the whole aid industry is skewed, then woe unto you! You ask the donors to account for their aid or untie it, or to stop asking for explanations whose answers can never be enough? If you ask my father, in his 80 years he has never witnessed a beggar country that challenged a master country to account for the crumbs thrown its way! Aid should help recipient countries to wean themselves off it? Implication: without aid dependency, none would remain master!
So, President Kagame must be singled out for action. Governments, rights action groups, media watchdogs, commentators, all must be mobilised. That “shrinking space” is getting unsettlingly too close!
Of course, we take heart in the fact that there are many among that donor community who are with us to the hilt.
“Thank you, Semajeri!” I said and bid him bye.