Rwanda has, over the last decade, become the African success story that is referenced to by many commentators on African leadership and governance issues.
A song we have heard before, where some countries are singled out, especially by western capitals and showcased as the beacons of hope for the continent, only to slip a few years down the road into intolerable dictatorships, and corruption havens. What is different with the Rwanda praise singing is that, neither is it primarily originating from the west, and nor does it sound like any of the song we have heard before. When you interface with the Rwandan experience, it is easy to understand that the enthusiasm by those inspired by it, which can be mistaken for propaganda, is a result of deep appreciation of the extraordinary reality unfolding in Rwanda which can only be seen as a promise of the African renaissance.
At the heart of this miracle is an exemplary leader pushing a deliberate strategic vision, that is set to transform his country into a beacon of hope in the heart of Africa. Paul Kagame, the man to be honoured by the organisers of the Young achievers Award with a Lifetime Achievement Award, runs his country like a CEO, with a hollywood directors creative imagination.
He gives hope to the challenge of leadership that has for years plagued Africa. Through an established shared vision, there has been a tremendous growth in innovation sectors particularly ICT, a climate change agenda which is setting Rwanda apart among developing nations with the commitment to mitigating effects of global warming. Rwanda has promoted an aggressive foreign policy agenda which has allowed its entrance in the EAC, the Commonwealth, other bodies, and insists on principled engagement with even the most of the powerful nations on earth, which is, in turn, shaping principled engagements between Africa and the rest of the world. Kigali’s breaking of diplomatic ties with Paris following what was seen as a politically motivated legal suit brought against Kagame and his close confidants by a French judge, forced Paris into a humiliating compromise. Insistence on foreign aid fitting into the Rwanda vision is another great foreign policy experience that is brave and gives dignity to its recipients.
On the governance front, through the process of soul searching following the devastating genocide, Rwandan political elite seem to have settled into a negotiated consensus on how they wish to manage politics and power. This negotiated consensus, where the winner takes all practice, which is representative of liberal democratic systems was avoided, is reflected in the post genocide progressive constitution which guarantees every political party participation in the political space at different levels in government. This political ingenuity coupled with demystification of the entitlements of public office and power of position, is what is shaping the mindset and aspirations of the young generation, giving a renewed spirit in public service.
A leader who became President and not vice versa, his lasting legacy will probably be defined by his overt, deliberate empowerment, and mentorship of young people as the custodian of the future of Rwanda. His faith in the power and the potential of the youth in a part of the world where the population is average 60 percent under 18 years is the most admirable quality of his leadership. He has through government policy inspired a youth driven vision of Rwanda where young people are strategically at the centre of ensuring the success of a shared vision, guaranteeing citizen participation, with transparency and accountability at the heart of it.
A particular recollection from one of my encounters with one of the empowered youth working in the public sector, a young woman with enormous responsibility, left me challenged in comprehending how Kagame has been able to inspire such confidence and commitment to country among the young generation, at a time where the power of external influences on the youths are overwhelming.
Without flinching she emphatically advised that I should invest in Rwanda, now and not tomorrow, otherwise in 15 years I will wish I did. With a conviction mostly reserved for religious devotees, she seemed to be clear where her country was going, and clearly very proud to be part of that process. What was and remains inspiring about this encounter, was the single minded focus and commitment to country which is reflected at different leaves of the Rwandan society, particularly among young people.
In many ways the political path for President Kagame within the constitutional vision has already been set. The high levels appreciation of this vision and the inspiration it has generated, give him no choice but to live up to the ideals of a good society.
Writer is a founding Director of the Young Achievers Awards