Why there are no praise songs in Rwanda: there are no Tsars

14 Feb

There are many things Rwandans have achieved for which they should be singing their own praises. But they don’t. There is no fuss, no celebration. In fact, you notice a deliberate effort to play down any sort of success. It is business as usual as if the spectacular achievements made in the last few years are an everyday occurrence.

And there is a long list of them. On the economic front, the country has been posting annual growth figures averaging 8% for a decade. It has maintained single digit inflation rate when the rest of the East African region records double digits – in some cases nearly four times that in Rwanda. Various reports continue to point to Rwanda as one of the top countries in which it is easy to do business and the best investment destination in Africa.

In the less easy to measure justice and reconciliation area, there has been equally remarkable progress. Thousands of cases that would have taken conventional courts several centuries to clear have been disposed of by a uniquely Rwandan justice system. And in the short space of ten years they have achieved what Christians have been preaching for two thousand years with limited success – forgiveness, reconciliation and tolerance.

Of course, there have been dissatisfied people as there are in any judicial system anywhere in the world. Humankind is yet to invent a justice system that satisfies all parties. The only measure so far about how good the system is lies in the degree of fairness of the system.

After so many years of denying that this country has a fair justice system, many countries are now changing their attitude. They now believe that conditions for fair trial exist and are repatriating Rwandans suspected of genocide and other crimes against humanity for trial.

In the social sector, more children have access to education and stay in school much longer. The health of Rwandans has improved tremendously.

On gender issues and attendant socio-economic impact, the country is way up there.

The list goes on.

Overall, Rwandans’ lives have improved. They know it. Yet no one is singing praises about it – not even when there is indisputable evidence as there was last week.

A week ago today, the government published the results of the Household Living Conditions and Demographic and Health surveys that confirmed that livelihoods had indeed improved. Both surveys revealed that in many cases Rwandans had surpassed their own projections in reducing poverty and raising living standards. Impressive was the word on everyone’s lips. In fact Mr Yusuf Murangwa, the Director General of the National Institute of Rwanda, used the word more than five times in a thirty-minute presentation of the reports.

Now, that was unusual because Rwandan officials are not in the habit of using such laudatory words. Statisticians rarely use non-measurable expressions. That it happened in this case can only mean that the figures released in the reports were such that they wowed even the usually unflappable numbers people.

And still, no one is singing about it, or claiming credit for the miracle.

Such modesty is not common in most parts of the world. Indeed many are baffled that no one comes forward to claim the prize for the miracle. They can’t understand why the people of this country don’t trumpet their extra-ordinary achievements from the country’s thousand hilltops.

And it is not because they are superstitious that praising a good thing might attract evil and turn all the good work to nought. The people behind the success don’t know much about superstition. They are more familiar with figures and projections based on them, plans and timelines, various measurement instruments and the latest technology. Not for them the hazy world of spirits, good or evil.

This is where Rwanda is different – and perhaps the reason for success. There are no Tsars (or Tsarinas) who rule over some little empires in Rwanda. Of course, there are real people behind the achievements. But what we see is the collective effort of politicians and technocrats at every level, and above all, ordinary citizens. Everyone plays their allotted role. Each is a cog in the wheel of progress and all drive that wheel.

Rwandans also seem to have taken to heart the teaching about humility. To them all achievements are merely work in progress. Songs will only be composed when the country finally moves into higher income levels, when they can say with satisfaction” mission accomplished” But I suspect even then they will not be really satisfied and will be pushing for more.

This is the Rwandan way outsiders don’t understand. It is a society of all for all. No one stands taller than others. None is indispensable. Everyone matters.

This is why so-called experts and commentators on Africa get it wrong when they start talking about cracks in the military or ruling party when they hear that a general has been arrested or a top politician sacked. They tend to interpret these actions by applying the familiar experience in other places where such people are untouchable, where they hold the country to ransom because they have appropriated certain functions and powers of the state. It is different here.

Rwanda is an enterprise where citizens have equal shareholding. It is not controlled by a few majority shareholders.  That’s why there are no individual claims to the miracle that the country is, and why there are no praise songs to such individuals, or any praise songs at all. The push for greater profits for the enterprise continues


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