On liberation: Keep hands on the plough

This week Rwandans celebrate twenty years of liberation. As they do so, they will be aware that they still have a long way to go and that the gains they have made cannot be taken for granted.
Joseph Rwagatare
Joseph Rwagatare

This week Rwandans celebrate twenty years of liberation. As they do so, they will be aware that they still have a long way to go and that the gains they have made cannot be taken for granted.

They know that a single mistake, slight negligence or lowering of the guard, or the action of some mad people can easily roll back the achievements of the last two decades.

Rwanda’s history is a constant reminder of the perils of ceding sovereignty to the wrong people. Luckily it also points to the capacity to reverse the trend of destruction and for self-renewal. It is this latter that will be celebrated.

Still, as recent events in other parts of Africa show, the danger of slipping back is ever present and must be guarded against.

Whenever Africa’s fortunes appear bright, something nearly always happens to dim the light. One of them happened four years ago in North Africa.

Currently, two of Africa’s regional powers, one in the east (Kenya) and another in the west (Nigeria) are in the middle of security crises and for the moment seem unable to get to grips with them.

This is not to mention the self-destruction of South Sudan and the Central African Republic and the threat of division of Mali.

So is Africa blighted?

Six years ago the world was in the middle of an unprecedented financial crisis. Africa largely survived the crisis and its economies were actually doing well.

Then four years ago, popular revolts (dubbed the Arab Spring) swept through North Africa and led to the overthrow of long-serving presidents in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The revolts were the easy part. The aftermath has been more difficult to manage. Democracy promised by the revolutions has not materialised or has been stifled. Better economic prospects have not appeared.

Egypt has returned to where it was before the revolution. Libya is very unstable and in danger of disintegration. Tunisia has not got on its feet quite yet.

And now in West Africa, regional power Nigeria is in deep trouble. 

Boko Haram, a vicious Islamic fundamentalist group has taken hold of that country’s north east. They attack at will, abduct hundreds of women, massacre ordinary people, loot and burn towns and villages.

Recently, the violence was taken to the capital, Abuja.

And in all this the powerful Nigerian military seems to be absent.

Boko Haram is reportedly a terrorist group with external links. But Nigerians themselves say it is part of home-grown terror gangs that have been allowed to grow by politicians.

In a recent BBC Africa Debate programme, Nigerians, including politicians said that terror gangs have always been used by politicians for various purposes.

At some point they grew too big and out of control. In the case of Boko Haram, they got new allies and added fundamentalism and terrorism to their collective C.V.

Whatever the origin, Boko Haram is proving difficult to defeat and Nigeria that recently declared itself Africa’s number one economy is in danger of being bogged down by a criminal terrorist group.

That possibility raises a lot of concern, not only in Nigeria, but across the continent.

In East Africa, regional economic power Kenya is also in trouble, almost paralysed by political disputes and terrorism. Kenya underwent its own “constitutional spring” several years ago when it adopted what has been hailed as one of the most enlightened constitutions on the continent.

Again, constitution making and the referendum that endorsed it were the easy part. Living up to its ideals has proved more difficult. It turns out its implementers are the old political players still rooted in the past.

They have not mastered the art of democratic competition. Getting a new constitution has been rather like pouring new wine into old wine skins.

Tribalism and other forms of division have not disappeared. Indeed they appear to have been entrenched and new ones have emerged.

The political class is involved in endless bickering. The role of the opposition as an alternative to the government in power has been abandoned and been replaced by a policy designed to make it impossible for the government to govern.

Current trends look like leading to mob rule disguised as people exercising their sovereignty rights.

Squabbling among politicians in Kenya looks like a bad advertisement for adversarial politics.

In the midst of all this, acts of insecurity have become more frequent. Mysterious murders of ordinary people first appeared in western Kenya. Then they disappeared as mysteriously as they had come.

They reappeared in Mombasa and more recently in Lamu in the guise of religion.

And like in Nigeria, some see the hand of politicians behind the violence in Kenya.

Events in both countries are, of course, worrying and are a warning to what could happen in any country. Rwandans have been there before and know only too well the price.

That is why as they celebrate twenty years of liberation, they will be mindful that the work of nation-building is unfinished and they must keep their hands, eyes and minds on the task.

In these matters, commitment and vigilance have no substitute. 

Twitter: @jrwagatare

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