How can a small, impoverished country somewhere in Africa, tainted with an ugly history of ethnic pogroms, having a paucity of resources and almost of no strategic value in global politics, attract the attention it has?
Why would American CEOs, Jim Sinegal, Dan Cooper, Howard Schultz, Eric Schmidt, Rob Glaser---the list seems to be growing each day, abandon the luxury and comfort of holidaying in Las Vegas and instead choose Rwanda, a country hardly visible on the World map?
Better still, why would an international statesman like Tony Blair whose retirement news draws applause from multi-lateral corporations that are eager to provide him a seat on their boards (for lobbyist purposes), choose a role of advising a President of a country whose entire budget is a fraction of JP Morgan that he serves?
These are simple but mind boggling questions that have lately pre-occupied my mind. But again these questions are pertinent especially when contextualised within the western view of Africa and its failure to take off.
For long, Africa’s leadership is known to be corrupt, hardly sensitive to the needs of their population, unfocused in their social-economic policies and pre-occupied with senseless political wars.
But there seems to be something about a man called Paul Kagame. Something that is quite difficult to describe. Something that a Rwandan Journalist would find hard to pen down in the right words for fear of being baptised unpleasant names.
To be honest, Kagame seems to be playing a different ball game we have hardly seen on the African continent. He’s emerged as a different breed and indeed quite different from earlier “new breeds” of African leaders that we saw in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
He’s crafted a new model for Rwanda’s economic development not seen anywhere. He’s strategy has been building a global network of powerful friends to lure private investment and market our country’s brand.
And the strategy is paying off dividends. But this strategy has not only translated into economic dividends for this country. It has also positioned Kagame on the world stage, becoming a figure that speaks authoritatively on Africa’s plight and audiences listen attentively.
He has been championing Africa’s need to craft its own development agenda as opposed to one dictated from western capitals. He has castigated the arrogance of west in the form of selective justice as seen with the ICC. He has challenged his African peers to adopt home grown solutions to transform the lives of their people.
And today, every global forum that is debating issues on Africa without Kagame’s input is simply missing a resourceful and quotable figure. Two things happened during the first half of this year that prompted me to write about the character of President Kagame.
First, Kagame was nominated by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 movers and shakers of the world. By this, he joins the group of the world’s most influential people in government, science, technology and arts.
Probably, a layman in this country will not understand the significance of such ranking. But an American who sees Paul Kagame poll 3.8 million votes as total tally from Time Magazine readers, beating Beverly Hill’s most sought after celebrity couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (with a combined vote of 1 million) is in better position to understand.
To most Americans Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are probably more important than President Barrack Obama. They are fed on constant footage about the daily lives of these celebrities---- when they quarrel in their bedroom, it is printed, when one of their kids sneezes, its news---when they come out with a new dress code, their designers cash-in.
Therefore, when Americans see a ‘stranger’ sharing a magazine cover page with one of their own celebrities, they become inquisitive. They are left eager to find out what accomplishments such a man has made.
The end result is more and more of tourists pouring into our national parks and more CEOs opening their eyes to whatever is happening in the world of business here. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this ranking was the citation Pastor Rick Warren gave on Kagame.
He described Kagame as a; “face of emerging African leadership” whose leadership credentials have transformed “a failed state into one with a bright future.”
He said Rwanda’s rapid improvements have impressed the rest of the continent and that Kagame’s influence is; “exponentially greater than the size that his small country might warrant.”
As I was digesting Rick Warren’s citation, I abruptly saw Kagame deliver a speech at a function in Kenya. He gave our brothers in Kenya a small dose on how Rwanda had managed to forge a future irrespective of its past political quandary.
He spoke of how his nation had chosen a progressive constitution that is governed by three principles of consensus building on issues of national interests, power sharing amongst all political parties and embracing diversity as powerful basis for mobilising and uniting Rwandans.
And I again digested his words. I thought what a brilliant man he was. Honestly, why should we wait for innocent lives to perish over elections gone wrong to think of power sharing?
I think Rwanda’s current political path offers a lasting solution to Africa’s endless political wrangling and President Kagame is there to offer free lessons.