Why Rwanda draws the ire of the powerful

Rwandans have another homework to deal with. The answer to the first – on change, continuity and stability – is still pending. The second – on why Rwanda is an insufferable irritant to some western countries – is perhaps easier to answer.
Joseph Rwagatare
Joseph Rwagatare

Rwandans have another homework to deal with. The answer to the first – on change, continuity and stability – is still pending. The second – on why Rwanda is an insufferable irritant to some western countries – is perhaps easier to answer. President Paul Kagame asked members of the political bureau of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) to examine why some of these countries, which double as donors, are so keen to find fault with Rwanda. And when no such fault can be found because there is actually none, one will be invented. To do this, they are prepared to falsify history and invert normal logic.

For instance, the FDLR, whose members committed genocide against Tutsi, are either saints or victims of an intolerant government. The government that stopped the genocide and rebuilt a country that had been ruined by the genocidaires and their external backers are demons.

Everything that goes wrong (and they are many) in DR Congo, much of it traceable to the same powerful western countries, is visited on Rwanda. Even the rebel M23 who are actually mutinous Congolese soldiers somehow become Rwanda’s responsibility.

At the launch of Agaciro Development Fund, last year, President Kagame asked much the same question as he did on August 8. At the time he wondered why Rwanda, often dismissively described as a tiny country, attracts so much attention, anger, blame and vilification from some of the most powerful countries in the world.

So what is it about Rwanda that irritates the unelected rulers of the world?

When considering the latest homework, I came across an article I published in August last year that speaks to the issue (see The New Times, August 28, 2012) and I reproduce a version of the article that has been edited to take into account President Kagame’s assignment.

On the face of it, it looks inconceivable that such a small country, as they don’t tire to tell us, can occupy the minds of people used to dealing with more weighty issues. Why not dismiss the little thing, ignore that it even exists and get on with the more important matter of ruling the world? But no, the little spot in the heart of Africa insists on being a nuisance that cannot be easily shaken off.

In reality, however, this is exactly the point. The tiny country is not so small after all. It is actually big enough to make it difficult for those who want to rule the world to do so as they wish. It insists on having a say about how things are done and on the choices it makes – certainly within its borders.

The so-called small country is not inhabited by puny people with pea-size brains and underdeveloped aspirations. On the contrary, its people view Rwanda as the whole universe and have aspirations to match, and fashion their actions to fit this conception of world and country. In this world divided between the rich and powerful, on the one hand, and the poor and weak on the other, you attract attention for two main reasons. You are either doing some remarkably great things, which, in the view of the powerful, you have no right to be doing. Or you are doing the most horrendous things for which you should be condemned, but which, in their view, is closer to what is expected of you.

Apparently Rwanda is doing some remarkable things that are a challenge to the long-held belief about its place in the world. They are a threat to assumed western monopoly on good governance, efficiency, and working in the national interest as opposed to individual gain. They question the stereotype attitudes that African governments are inherently inefficient and corrupt, that famine and disease are endemic and that order and tidiness are foreign to the continent. And so, when Rwanda or Ethiopia, makes famine a distant memory of a forgettable past through a combination of hard work, land reforms, appropriate and modern agricultural practices and market-oriented economics, it is a challenge to the notion that we must live at the mercy of nature. Worse, it is denying some people the opportunity to do good by feeding starving people and earn easy passage to heaven. Self-reliance becomes a crime because it sabotages the interests of a huge humanitarian industry built on chronic famine, conflicts, instability and
all kinds of disasters.

Now, no one takes kindly saboteurs, and so Rwanda will earn the wrath and condemnation of those affected. But to ease their conscience and make Rwanda appear guilty, they will rebrand the good things being done as horrendous acts, like repression and autocracy, for which the country should be punished.

Again, when like Rwanda, you do not tolerate any form of corruption, you are not behaving to type or you are not open, or are repressive. How else can corruption which is endemic to Africa be absent? In any case what will the various anti-corruption agencies report and how will they get money for their operations?

Also, when like Rwanda, your people say they are contented about nearly every aspect of their lives, surely that cannot be right. There must be some discontent. If it is not there, it is because of repression. Or if it is not that, it must be sown to maintain a “normal” situation. And if you insist on being the principal actors in changing your lives, assert your human dignity and demand your right to be heard and to choose what is best for your country, you upset the accepted form of power relations and will bring the ire of the powerful on your head.

In all the above instances, you are challenging the conventional view of an African country whose leaders are seen as either bumbling idiots or blood-thirsty tyrants, and the people as helpless and passive victims of circumstances.

It is not surprising that representatives of the powerful countries will leave a meeting with their Rwandan counterparts seething with anger that the lowly creatures dared to talk back and answer questions, and even ask some of their own as if they are equals. Where is that basic principle on which human rights are premised? Don’t ask them. George Orwell’s pigs gave the answer a long time ago. And come to think of it they have a remarkable resemblance.

And so, for doing right you will attract a lot of wrath. The wrath will grow if the country begins to wield some influence or command respect. It will grow stronger if it is felt the country is getting out of control and threatens to set a “bad” precedent. That seems to be the crime of “tiny” Rwanda.

But therein also lies the answer to the homework. Continue doing right. If that causes irritation or pain in some uncomfortable place, so be it. That is evidence you are on the right track.


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