Archive | October, 2011

Rwanda shows how to regain its history

25 Oct

Rwanda’s present development is unique in many ways. There is the phenomenal recovery and economic growth so soon after near total destruction. There is the remarkable reconstitution of the national social fabric less than two decades after it was unravelled and left in tatters. And many more – impressive by any standards.
But Rwanda is unique in another sense. It is perhaps the only country that is simultaneously creating its past, present and future.
Now, you might say, that is normal, there is nothing unique about it. But there is. Most countries have a past of achievements on which to build the present and future. These are collective achievements usually claimed by the whole nation as exclusively theirs and are often a source of national pride.
In this sense, the past should ordinarily be a solid certainty that gives one assurance and to which all can relate because it is a real, familiar and uncontested experience. That is why in normal situations people will look at it longingly and sigh with a mixture of joy and sorrow when they say – ah, the good old days.
I doubt whether there are many Rwandans living today who can look back with nostalgia on their lives and talk about the good old days. Surely no one can look back longingly at life in a refugee camp. Nor can one wish for a return to discrimination couched in that most ironic of misnomers – equilibrium. Who in their right mind would long for the time when they needed a pass to travel to any part of their country? I don’t think there are many in Rwanda who yearn for the time when the country was closed to the outside world and its citizens lived in splendid isolation.
But perhaps I err. There surely must be some who benefitted from a past, however flawed. Of course, there are, but I think they also recognise that their enjoyment of the good old days was fraudulent and cannot be honestly comfortable with the experience. There must be some who, for lack of knowing better, thought their life of ignorance was the ultimate bliss.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting in any way that Rwanda has no past. It certainly has – a glorious one, actually. But that past that should provide solid anchor into the future and about which we should all be proud was interrupted and systematically dismantled for nearly a hundred years.
In its place we have a past that we should be ashamed of –when we allowed to tear ourselves apart, destroyed our country and dignity – a time best forgotten.
And so in rebuilding the country we are also reconstituting a past to which people will look back with nostalgia.
To do this we must reconnect with the past and salvage something from it on which to form the present and a new past. And indeed this has happened. The past has provided us with concepts and practices of governance that have been adapted to be the bases of present and future successes. In this way, Rwanda’s achievements of the present that are attracting many people to come and study them are a relaunch of a past from which to spring into the future.
That is why the most recent news about Rwanda’s ranking in various fields is so gratifying. It provides a sound base both into the future and the past and gives reason to be proud.
The rankings are becoming quite familiar – Rwanda is on the up as it has done in the previous years. For instance, the World Bank Doing Business Report for 2012 says that Rwanda is the second most reformed economy in the world over the past five years. It is the third easiest investment destination in Africa, and first in East Africa. Overall the country has moved to 45th position, up from 58th last year, 67th the year before and 143rd in 2009
The Rwanda Development Board assures us that this ranking translates into millions of dollars in investment.
Getting top honours is becoming a habit. It is a source of confidence and pride and should normally spur us to greater feats.
At about the same time as the Doing Business Report was released, the results of another survey came out. The Hunger Free Score Card placed Rwanda third among countries declared the most free to confront the challenges of climate change, resource scarcity and rising food prices.
Rwanda has not known this form of security for a long time. The result is assurance of a better quality of life and dignity.
To cap the week of good rankings, Transparency International again named Rwanda the most corruption-free country in East Africa. This means you can sleep soundly knowing that the taxes you pay will be used for the purpose they were collected and not stolen by some government official with itchy fingers.
All these achievements, and many more, are perhaps the equivalent of nineteenth century military exploits of territorial expansion of the country. They give us a solid present to be proud of, an assured future to look forward to and a past to look back on with satisfaction. In a sense we are reclaiming our history.

These are exciting times for East Africa

18 Oct

The world is focussed on the so-called Arab Spring (where blossoms are yet to appear) and missing exciting political changes in other parts of the world.
In East Africa, for instance, a pattern of political reforms that is set to change the political landscape of the region is emerging but is not receiving much attention from outside the region. It is perhaps because it is less spectacular than the Arab Spring. It is not happening on the streets for months on end and therefore does not provide exciting footage for foreign TV audiences. Nor does it attract romantics excited by massive crowds facing huge arsenals of the state with their bare hands – and winning.
The East African reform movement is more gradual. It can be traced back to the struggle against one-party rule and its attendant abuses.
In Kenya the anti-Moi/KANU groups, led by the political class, students and elements of the intelligentsia, always came against a stone wall. Everything they threw at Moi and his government fell harmlessly at the big man’s feet.
That changed after 1992 – more significantly after 1997. Cracks began to appear in the wall. The once invincible and feared man against whom successive waves of attack had been beaten back like one swats a fly began to appear vulnerable. The mask of invincibility was removed and he was exposed as an ordinary, frail mortal who could be beaten.
President Moi’s opponents – those jostling to replace him and genuine reformers – smelt blood and went for the kill. A coalition of political forces, led by President Mwai Kibaki removed him from power.
That did not bring complete reforms. But it illustrated one thing – the era of big man politics was over.
It took the Post Election Violence of early 2008 to finally make wide ranging reforms possible. The citizens pushed the political class to adopt a new, more liberal constitution.
Its adoption was followed by, until then, unexpected happenings. The Chief Justice, other judges and high ranking public service officials were subjected to a public vetting process before they could be appointed. Ordinary people enjoyed this reversal of roles, deriving particular pleasure from seeing some of these important people squirm in their seats as they were questioned. It was another kind of unmasking.
Then parliament began to show its teeth. The members forced ministers to resign as investigations were carried out into their alleged misdeeds. How much of this is posturing and how much real concern for the country remains to be seen. What is certain is that ministers no longer feel the same sort of entitlement they used to.
The Kenya type reform bug has now reached Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni was once revered as the saviour of Uganda. That reverence is gone. He is now reviled in some quarters. He squandered the political goodwill he enjoyed when he had just come to power in 1986. Instead of using it to change the political system, he allowed a cabal of corrupt people in government and business to take control.
Where he was once untouchable, every little fellow now pokes their finger at him. The mask of invincibility has also been removed and his mortality exposed.
Parliament is in a rebellious mood. The Ugandan political class has sensed that Museveni can be beaten and are spoiling for a fight. And for that fight, they have picked on an area where he is most vulnerable – corruption. Parliament has forced some of his minister to step aside as investigations into alleged corruption are carried out.
You can be sure there will be other rebellions – precisely because they sense that Museveni can be defeated.
It may not be clear whether parliament is driven by a genuine desire for reform, to see Museveni go, or by individuals positioning themselves for a post-Museveni period. But whatever the reason, the outcome will be a different political landscape.
Tanzania is going through a similar experience, with CHADEMA challenging the dominant role of the once all powerful CCM.
In Rwanda, the path to reform has been different. Whereas in the other countries, reform is championed by citizens, civil society and the political class, in Rwanda it is driven by the government. Sometimes you get the sense that the government is dragging a slow people, urging them to move faster to catch up with other countries which have pulled ahead.
There is a sense in which the urgency and direction of reforms are a continuation of the liberation struggle and a consequence of the genocide. It has become necessary to break with the politics of the past and fashion forward looking approaches to governance. Innovation and reform in both governance and business are therefore, answers to Rwanda’s past and future.
Forcing a minister to resign which has excited the public in Kenya and Uganda cannot cause a ripple in Rwanda. There are no sacred cows here.
It is also not possible for anyone to cause unrest in Rwanda in the name of reforms because most of what anyone would agitate for has been taken care of. That explains the absence of any public sympathy for the motley collection of difficult-to-remember political parties and their equally forgettable leaders. They have nothing to offer.
So, East Africa is reforming unnoticed. Perhaps that is a good thing because then we can do it at our pace and in the interest of our people. We will have home-grown reforms, not those dictated to us by so-called friends.

Three cheers for Rwandan democracy

11 Oct

I heard a foreign diplomat based in Kigali say just before the swearing in of the new prime minister that the occasion was very important. I thought so too. But I suspect our reasons for rating the occasion so high were probably different.
I don’t know what the diplomat read into the appointment and swearing in of Pierre Damien Habumuremyi as Prime Minister (there is a tendency to read into such things various meanings depending on the baggage one carries). Mine was this. This was the first time in our history that there had been a “peaceful” change of prime minister, so to speak. All previous ones had either been a result of violence, sacking, or been accompanied by flight from the country.
Mrs Agatha Uwilingiyimana was brutally murdered at her post. Jean Kambanda fled the country with the blood of a million Rwandans still dripping from his hands. Faustin Twagiramungu had an inflated opinion of himself and was too steeped in the divisive politics of the past to be of any use in the challenges that faced post-genocide Rwanda. Because he found it difficult to fit into the new Rwanda, he ran away. He has learnt nothing since then. He still makes the same caustic comments that are his trade mark, more to remind us that he is still around than to make any serious impact on our society.
Then there was Pierre Celestin Rwigema. He fled the country before criminal charges could be brought against him. Before all these, there was the forgettable duo of Sylevestre Nsanzimana and Dismas Nsengiyaremye between 1991 and 1993.
The transition from one prime minister to the next was always abnormal. Not so that from Bernard Makuza to P D Habumuremyi. And therein lies the significance of the change. It is normal to change governments just as it is usual practice to shuffle personnel as President Kagame said at the swearing in ceremony.
Normal change reflects maturity of politics and stability of institutions. Changes of this sort also reveal confidence that there will be continuity because the necessary foundations exist.
That a change can be made and the result is not what used to happen is proof of the strength of institutions. We have gone beyond identifying individuals with institutions – something “experts” on African politics usually dwell on as the norm and would describe what is happening in Rwanda as exceptional and not typically African. There has been a delinking of institutions and individuals who head them– with the former being permanent and the latter, temporary occupants.
I don’t know whether this is what the diplomat I heard had in mind. Probably not. What is certain, however, is that stable governance is now entrenched in Rwanda and that can only feed into growing democratic practice.
And talking about democracy, that, too, is becoming the norm and not the exception. Yesterday a new senate was sworn in, following elections a few weeks ago. This is only the second senate in Rwanda’s history. But it already has a permanency that makes it appear like the institution has been with us for as long as the country has existed.
That’s saying a lot. For an institution barely eight years old to make itself look like a permanent fixture is further proof of institutional entrenchment. With the second senate building on the achievements of the first, we can be sure of parliamentary permanency and a growing democratic tradition.
The same occasion yesterday saw the election of the President of the Senate and his two deputies. It was done in characteristic orderly and relaxed fashion – no acrimonious exchanges or unseemly horse-trading in public. If there were any such things, they must have been done behind the scenes, away from public view. And if there were any ugly scenes, we were spared the sight.
This also is significant. In the order of precedence, the President of the Senate is the second most important person in the land. You don’t need a divisive figure for this post, but rather a consensual one.
All this is good for democracy.
I wrote in this column earlier this year that democratic governance has taken root in Rwanda (See ‘Democracy takes root in Rwanda,’ TNT 22/2/2011). I pointed out then that elections had become such a regular occurrence that they were part of normal life. They have become so usual that they are even boring (in terms of lack of violent excitement preferred by some). In spite of this, they are competitive and attract candidates of the highest integrity. The senate certainly does as is to be expected since it is the custodian of national values.
The events of yesterday and last Friday, and the elections before that are all evidence of this fact. Yes, the diplomat I heard was spot-on if this is what he had in mind. If he had a different view, that doesn’t alter the fact. We can still shout hurrah to cheers to Rwandan democracy.

Where does Rwanda get its confidence from?

4 Oct

No one can doubt that today Rwanda is a confident country and Rwandans confident people. Anyone who knew the Rwanda of two decades ago cannot help but be amazed by the transformative power of such confidence on individuals and the nation.
It is also well-known that self-belief can lead to tremendous feats previously unimagined, leading to admiration and hatred in equal measure. But, of course, this is the nature and price of success – attracting praise, envy, jealousy and loathing, all at the same time.
How often have we heard people say both in compliment and disparagement such expressions as: “Rwanda is a little country with big ambitions” or “Rwanda punches above its weight”? There are two opposing suggestions here. One, held by Rwandans is that Rwanda is not content to be little. The other, held by critics is that it is ridiculous to wish to rise above its station.
Whatever the suggestion behind the above statements, they acknowledge that Rwanda has the self-assurance to do things one would not ordinarily associate with its size or means.
So, where does this conviction come from? In general we can identify several sources. Belief in one’s ability is one of them. It derives from the successful accomplishment of a given task, which is proof of that ability. We have done things right.
I need not repeat the spectacular achievements of the last seventeen years – end of the genocide, refusal to be a failed state, reconstruction of the state, national reconciliation, a growing economy and successes in education and health – enough to give one sky high confidence.
The general well-being of people that in turn derives from good leadership and correct policies is a tremendous boost to self-belief.
Other sources of confidence are exposure to external experiences and examples.
Confidence of a nation is perhaps best seen in the choices its people make. People with a strong belief in themselves make choices and decisions based on what is best for them, stick to them and are prepared for their consequences. Of course they can take advice, but that does not mean that they blindly accept others’ prescriptions. In this sense Rwanda has given concrete meaning to the concept of ownership so central to modern development discourse.
In our case, for instance, this choice has meant treading a uniquely Rwandan political path – one in which consensual rather than adversarial approach to management of society is the preferred option.
Now, there is something positive to be gained from this approach.
Contests in which a supposed opponent is denigrated in order to gain political advantage often produce two negative results. They sap the confidence of the demeaned individual and bring to the fore the baser instincts of both – neither of which contributes to the collective well-being of the people.
On the other hand, because they do not dwell on differences but commonalities, consensual politics builds a collective confidence in the ability to make common choices for the common good.
Needless to say, Rwanda’s unique political arrangements are not universally admired. In fact they attract very strong criticism from those who, either benefit from polarised situations or those for whom adversarial politics is the only norm.
But this does not really matter because in the end it is the choices that Rwandans make that determine their place in the world.
It would not therefore be an exaggeration, and both admirers and detractors will admit it, to say that Rwanda is today among the better known African countries, with perhaps the exception of the current conflict zones and what may be termed the African super powers.
And it is not because of such negative things as the genocide that Rwanda is well-known. Recognition has come from other sources as well.
Take sport, for instance. Twenty years ago, Rwanda was unknown as a sporting nation. It is different today. Although we have not won any major international sporting honours, there is hardly any sports tournament that we have not participated in. In such sports as basketball, volleyball, football, cycling and increasingly cricket and rugby, Rwandan teams are not also-runs but serious contenders for honours who have earned the respect of fellow competitors.
Similarly, there is hardly any international conference on a variety of issues in which Rwandan counsel has not been sought.
I submit that all this is the result of the decisions Rwandans have made and which are both a product and source of confidence.
It has not always been like this. There was time when Rwandans lacked self-belief, were isolated and unable to do much on their own. You didn’t see them in international sports competitions or hear their voice in world councils. They didn’t punch at any weight. Nor did they have ambitions, big or small. Self-doubt and the attendant dependency kept them back and these can have debilitating effects on a nation as we found out.
Do we now punch above our weight? Punch we do, but out of conviction and ability. Do we have big ambitions? Certainly, but those we believe we can achieve.