As the strand of current debate on change with stability and continuity heats up, what is clear is that there seems to be confusion as to the message delivered by the Rwanda Patriotic Front party Chairman and the President of the Republic, Paul Kagame. Confusion arises mainly because it was an item least expected in such a high level meeting attended by over 2,000 delegates drawn from the entire country and coming from diversified sectors of our economy.
And although the party chairman kept on reminding them to think seriously about the issue of change in context, it was inevitable that many delegates gave submissions based on their own answers to the assignment. These ranged from a Vladimir Putin-like comeback style in Russia, the late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, who was tasked by his party to search for a suitable replacement and mentor him/her, as well as propagation by getting a person close to the President, in this case, the First Lady who can then fit in the stability and continuity equation. Then there was no change, which seemed to have been a dominant opinion among top RPF cadres.
Nonetheless, RPF top cadres, who attended February 8 meeting, offered the above answers to the political homework, and these opinions were as varied as their background. But this was expected given that no one was prepared for this debate. As such, submissions offered were either their immediate reactions to a rather difficult assignment or better still gave their hearts of an existing state of an opinion over this serious national assignment.
This submission by a number of top RPF cadres and one which emerged dominant was put in context. We are yet to overcome the context of the past as a people (if ever), and other events that have shaped today’s Rwanda that we simply have to live with as a country. As pointed out earlier, some of these same events are indelible scars on our conscience as a people and country. These more than anything else, and indeed our current progress are going to shape and inform which formula, we settle on irrespective of the simplistic advice, suggestions, insinuations, and sometimes grounds that are out of context and spurious given by people who least understand ours and pretend to design their own for us. Remove our contextual past and present, and Rwandans can settle for status quo or change of guard, the type of business as usual change we witness across our continent and one which has given rise to disasters for the poor of this continent as the elite flee to Western capitals. God forbid.
The school of thought that argued for no change were of the view that Article 101 of our constitution will have to be amended as the law is made for the people and not otherwise. They did point out that a constitution is a living document which is amended as the circumstances demand and that those who voted for it can amend it in anyway provided that majority of Rwandans agree to the ideals behind the change.
This opinion (which was dominant) was also of the view that unlike in other African states where the sitting President initiates the change of the constitution to cling on to power, ours may be amended by the will of the people, a people that wish to give the incumbent more time to set and consolidate state structures and institutions, that any other upcoming leader can fit in and ones that can absorb any serious political or economic shocks as and when these arise. Their views were also that limits are set to minimise excesses of the incumbent whereas in our case, these limits will only serve to disrupt the outstanding performance of President Kagame.
His performance is unparalleled in our history as a country or in our continent for that matter, and a case study for other developing countries. This group has a very strong case, and one that has been aired by many Rwandans in the rural countryside where the President toured of late. This view has it that if we need change with stability and continuity (certainty), then the best formula is no change. They argued that you cannot change a winning team or coach. This school of thought among many RPF top cadres also drew from such examples as the UK, Germany, Netherlands and many other countries where leaders have no term limits, and their elected leaders are only limited by their own performance rather than the number of years they have been in office. They did point out that the aforementioned countries have had similar political environments which allowed them to evolve mature democratic environment and that we can take a gamble with ours if it is on right track, which indeed it is.
Again, the view here is that first, the change is not an end in itself, but rather a change for the better. This simply means better results from the incumbent. And so, if we are getting more than expected results, why the change, Secondly, this section of leaders argue that the incumbent reversed all historical sectarian leadership practices and abuse of office characteristic in the African polity, hence the need to sustain these values for some time until they become virtues of our leadership. Thirdly, our institutions are too fragile to gamble with and that the incumbent should be offered more time to strengthen these so as to enable sustainability of his incredible record. These are opinions of a few cadres, but at the end of the day, the opinion of 12 million Rwandan compatriots will have to be heard in order to arrive at the best formula as a people. As pointed out in earlier series, it has to be a Rwandan formula delivered from Rwandans, and owned by them.
Time is gone when international institutions, either bilateral or multilateral, and other development partners can dictate to Africans, least Rwandans, what is good for them. These prescriptive theories from these parties are responsible for a big share of our woes as a continent, and indeed as a country. They have nothing to show (success) for what they prescribed for our continent except a trend of failures that we alone own when these parties change office and return to their comfort zone in the West.
In 1998, at a conference with the then President of World Bank, James Wolfensohn, at Oxford University that brought together African academics in the UK, central bank governors and other renowned African economists, he did admit that the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) totally failed to deliver results. These were a set of economic prescriptions aimed at ensuring development of African countries but which led to a lost decade for our continent. They failed because they were not owned by Africans, least not designed to be country specific, but rather, a one-size-fits all approach to our problems. They also failed because Africa was treated as one country and more insulting, “Africans did not know what is good for them” an implied inference. Time is gone when Africa was ruled by a bunch of illiterates that succumbed to these schemes with consequences that our next generation will have to contend with. This was true in economic matters as in politics, and the two are bed-fellows anyway.
You cannot disentangle one from the other. We have come from far and the journey is still long. But at least, we know where we are and certainly know where we need to go. They are no more lectures. The reverse could be true if only humility prevailed. It is not expected, but so be it. For even China, which was banished by the know-it-all, is today a case study of a new development paradigm that has been called all sorts of terms ranging from modified socialism, controlled capitalism et cetera. At the end of the day, what is important is that, the model has yielded results. Results that have vindicated even its ardent critics.
Our development, economic or political, be it Rwandans, or Africans for that matter, has to be owned. And as long it gives results to our people, this is the ideal model we need and indeed deserve. What it all means is that we should not allow anybody to lecture us on our political destiny as it has been for our economic one. We have learnt enough bad lessons.
To be continued…
The writer is the Chairman Board of Directors of the Crystal Ventures Group.