For a couple of weeks now, there has been consistent commentary and deservedly so by commentators, especially in these pages about the nature of the relationship our country in particular and Africa in general have with western governments, human rights organizations and a host of non state actors, with varying interests or causes.
Many western non state actors insert themselves in interstate relations in Africa, and the wider world with a kind of ease that would be the envy of any certified international or local lobbyist.
The list of NGOs and the like who have churned out report after report of supposed transgressions, seems to grow by the day.
From a myriad of NGOs, some with defined roles/causes and others jumping from one cause to the next that is in vogue; one gets a cacophony of noises that at the end of it all, it is impossible to figure out what they are all about, what their values are if any, and why they choose that kind of “listen, this is how you are supposed to behave” attitude towards our elected leaders.
Anyway, the point here is that the wave of national pride that we see in commentaries and speeches of some of Rwanda’s elites, be they in government, academia or civil society – yes we also have civil society – is a reflection of the national psyche. We are a proud people, with a rich heritage and history, so you better respect us.
The Agaciro fund drive is the latest, of homegrown solutions, drawing from centuries of rich history of a self sustaining people. Rwanda, though it was greatly affected by the colonial process of partition that led to the modern African state, (where part of its territory was parceled away) remains a homogeneous nation that was in existence centuries before colonizers set foot in Africa.
Therefore, it is no wonder that when conventionally known norms of running society are not relevant or sufficient for the country’s problems, Rwandans, with ease, are to draw from the granary of
traditional knowledge, cultural heritage and traditional state organisation processes that saw it rise as a great power in pre-colonial east and central Africa.
Things like the Gacaca justice system, Imihigo, Umuganda and many others I can’t enumerate, resonate with the elite and the ordinary people in similar fashion. It is just because of a common heritage. And for those used to standard textbook solutions for contemporary problems, they see in the case of Gacaca, the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. For Agaciro fund, aimed at self sustenance and dignity, they see ulterior motives on the part of the leadership promoting such.
This is to ignore that most of these traditional and time tested mechanisms of managing Rwandan society are not new to Rwandans and in most cases, evidence shows that it is ordinary people who revive them and let their leaders know about it, the latter just work as organising agents of implementing and managing such programmes.
In looking at the recent turn in the relations I have talked about, and which many commentators in these pages have returned to several times, I have at times tended to think that maybe we are being overly too sensitive to criticism. Indeed, criticism that is constructive is the bedrock of social progress as a result of a contention of ideas as Mao Tse Tung famously put it.
But such contention of ideas should be a naturally occuring development as a result of social dynamism that produces contradictions, and which cannot be superficially imposed from the outside.
Whereas it is important that when people of different backgrounds meet, they should talk to each other – have dialogue instead of talking at each other, we see more of the latter, and this is because,
naturally, those who think themselves superior rarely believe there is anything to learn from those they want to despise.
Over time, I have come to realise that there are social constructs that have evolved into standard measures and sometimes are translated into official policy in the way some countries/societies want to deal with Rwanda and other African countries.
In a number of cases, a combination of ignorance and disinterest, two things that feed into each other determine some relations.
Having been socialised to believe that everything backward is located in Sub-Saharan Africa, a young Western person, well educated, can argue that hardly anyone uses twitter in Sub-Saharan Africa. And this is done with a confident and straight face.