Marking a big step forward, Rwanda is to issue all her citizens, ‘Abanyarwanda’, with national identity cards, as part of her efforts at shrugging off a brutal past and to create a fresh ‘Umunyarwanda’ - Rwandan identity.
This announcement coming on the heels of efforts by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) recent announcement of plans to facilitate her citizens in the Diaspora to vote in the September legislative elections. Citizenship is fundamental in the functioning of any democracy.
Citizenship entails belonging, identity, and nationality within a set geo-political space; all of which are issues Africa still struggles with as she deals with post-colonial dilemmas of previously imposed physical, racial and ethnic borders.
A cynical example of this is one of a Zimbabwean just across the border in South Africa, referred to as ‘Mukwerekwere’ and is thoroughly beaten up for that.
For Rwanda, a past that will always be referred to (in sexy scholarly or political terms) as ‘Rwanda’s past’, or the ‘Rwandan crisis’, is more often used to explain or illustrate failure of humanity; our collective failure as humans; the failure of our leaders; the failure of our institutions – it is all about failure.
For many, Rwanda’s history/her-story starts and ends with the Genocide. Whenever you read an article or report on any other crisis, Rwanda is often magnified as the prototype to illustrate the scale or magnitude of the above failures. The only success of which is human suffering.
Creating a possibility of progressives missing the great opportunity of being witness; of her climb out of that hole of despair, with the real possibility of raising standards in Africa - especially on governance matters. Creating a new brand of leadership that Africa so desperately needs.
We are tired of being the continent of despair; identified through our suffering, our wounds, our dead, our kleptocrats in power, our despots - to our failing or collapsed States.
Narrow and limited historical narratives often over-look the great strides made in Rwanda in the fourteen years following her historic independence.
For Rwanda, it is no longer ‘fashionable’ to be identified through the terrible afflictions she endured for decades. For her nation building is the grand plan, whose foundation is institutional reform.
Economic recovery has to be complemented with the necessary political reforms, noting and acknowledging that, Rwanda in 94’ was on ‘ground-zero’, there was not a single institution left standing - with the treasury looted.
A past existed in which ethnic segregation was the basis of identity card allocation. Those who committed Genocide relied on the apartheid style ID’s to identify and exterminate their Tutsi targets - physical features hardly aid in the distinction of a Tutsi from a Hutu.
It is in this regard that during the Genocide, road-blocks were set up at which these ID’s served the important purpose of facilitating/expediting the identification of a Tutsi from Hutu, with the former immediately meeting their brutal fate.
A past existed in which leaving the country, whether it was forced exile or voluntary was met with serious reprisals. You immediately, lost your nationality, property and all other rights.
So ridiculous indeed was this situation and I pray a certain country, somewhere in southern Africa (Zimbabwe) does not read this; but those in exile were stripped by the State of all their rights, including their property, houses, and even cows where taken away.
Many exiled for decades obtained foreign identities far from the mother-land. Passports and IDs are national documents, which people are naturally entitled to just by virtue of the unquestionable basis of being citizens of their countries, normally by birth, or through marriage.
Entitlement of which at the time was the State’s prerogative. The NEC’s executive secretary said, “We are making efforts to help us set up a mechanism so that the large number of Rwandans out-side can vote.”
A break too from the nauseating notion of “African democracy”.
In which disenfranchisement is the norm, even for citizens residing in their own countries – a debasement of the historical basis of the protracted liberation struggles our mothers and fathers of the revolution fought for - while many more died.
The move by Rwanda breaks from those with selective amnesia, who wish to define Africa through lenses of despotism, where those who lose elections cling on to power, beat/kill those who voted them out – and then demand a negotiated settlement in which they are the main drivers. Sanitizing tyranny as an acceptable form of governance.
When made to account for their actions they claim western conspiracies!
People we are failing to reason with over the Africa we want, who will forever hold us at ransom in a primitive dark past, that takes away our dignity, compromises our identity; and which simply says we are not yet fully human to construct and enjoy better standards.
The new IDs launched in August are available even for citizens in the Diaspora through their Embassies, they just have to prove they are Rwandan.
A ‘Ndangamuntu’, Kinyarwanda for identity card – is a normal standard one with a date of birth, date of registration and ones commune – an obligation for any regime to facilitate for all its citizens; regardless of their ethnicity, political affiliation or religious back-ground.
The ‘Munyarwanda’, has struggled for decades with issues and questions to do with identity - the historic point for now is that a fresh identity has been created.