In his recent monthly press conference, President Paul Kagame was asked, by one foreign journalist working for an International News Agency, a question that evokes the ghosts of the past, and someone would be forgiven for asking where the man had been for the last two decades.
The journalist, referring to media sources in Germany, observed that President Kagame had been quoted as saying something about Chinese aid to African countries in comparison with Western aid; was the President “turning to China?”
The President answered that Rwanda was looking east, west and north in her development pursuits.
Had the same question been asked an African leader two decades or more ago, he/she would be at pains to give the right answer without offending some powers in a foreign capital city.
During the cold war, Africans found themselves on either the west or east bloc side of ideology.
The west as a bloc was considered to have nations whose leadership and populace believed and advanced Capitalism and free market economies, while the eastern bloc comprised those that practiced and propagated Socialism/Communist and planned economies.
Africans were caught in the middle of the ideological war at a terrible cost to their populations and the future of their countries.
Many governments were overthrown, and leaders killed because of perceived or real ideological leanings.
Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Kwameh Nkrumah, Dedan Kimathi, Augusto Neto, Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane…the list of liberation heroes that were branded dangerous communists is long.
When Uganda’s president Dr. Apollo Obote declared the “common man’s Charter” and a “move to the left” his government was toppled by Gen. Idd Amin at the instigation of foreign powers.
Until recently as late 1980s, the apartheid regime in South Africa supported by some known people in the US establishment, branded Nelson Mandela and ANC as communists in order to cover for its racial segregation.
All liberation movements in Africa were referred to as communists/socialists, as a one way of discrediting them, by the governments which supported bandits like RENAMO and UNITA in Mozambique and Angola respectively.
(It would have been madness for FRELIMO in Mozambique and MPLA in Angola to go to NATO alliance and say “we want to fight for our right to self determination from one of your member states; please give us guns so that we can fight the Portuguese.”)
The US and its allies threw principles their citizens hold dear such as democracy, human rights, free speech etc to the wind and supported kleptomaniacs like Kamuzu Banda, King Hassan, Joseph Mobutu, Felix Houphouet Boigny, Jonas Savimbi, Daniel Moi, Siad Barre and others.
One question many African leaders were asked was, “are you pro-west or pro-east and the answer most probably depended on the amount of military and political support the asked enjoyed from either bloc.
Neither the African dictators nor the independence movements believed or practiced what their backers practiced at home. As someone put it, “Africans used communist guns to liberate themselves; there were no African Communists.”
The wars fought in Africa were about power not ideology. The Habyarimana regime accused that the RPF of being communists who wanted to spread the ideology in the region; to get sympathy from the West but with the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1989 and the bipolar world order, the accusation did not have the impact it might have had a decade earlier.
There is no crime or anything wrong for Rwanda to “turn to China” because there is no country that is not turning to China.
China is not exporting its ideology but manufactured products. Much of China’s prosperity is due to investments from the West and if Rwanda “turned” to China so that HP, Compaq, Sturbacks, GM, Microsoft, Lloyds and Lloyds, Lufthansa, Chase-Manhattan, Macdonald’s, BMW, Nestle, Motorola or any other investment groups picked interest, Rwandans would be too happy to turn to China.
The old Africa characterized by African buffoons being told how to govern their people, may persist in some parts of the continent, but I do not see Rwanda, which has been privatizing government enterprises, nurturing and supporting the private sector, turning round and nationalizing them because she turned to China. The idea of Communist Peoples Republic of Rwanda sounds distasteful.
Turning to the East or West is a prerogative of Africans, as long as it advances their development aspirations and not ideological identity.