“We have finally got you’ seems to be the gleeful cry of the foreign media and rights groups. They are extremely happy that Rwanda, and President Paul Kagame in particular, are accused of unspeakable crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In some of the media, the president has even been convicted.
They are even happier that some countries have “cut” aid to Rwanda , or “delayed, suspended, or withheld” it, or whatever term they prefer to use, This does not come as a shock since they have shouted themselves hoarse calling for such action. But as it turns out some of the claim of cutting aid is false as in the case of the African Development Bank.
This “got-you-this-time” attitude and the unconcealed joy at the supposed cutting of development support borders on the obscene. But it is also perfectly understandable and that explains why Paul Kagame and Rwanda have been singled out for sustained attack.
To be blunt, there are some uncomfortable truths about DRC and Africa that few want to face. There are well-known problems in DRC which the media and rights groups gloss over, and the UN and some countries which have caused them run away from. At the same time none of these groups is comfortable with an African country being successful and charting an independent course, or an African leader with an independent mind.
If Rwanda had been a failed state, as some hoped it would be after 1994, it would enjoy the goodwill of many and there would be a rush to help, even if that ended up entrenching the failed country status.
NGOs would trampling all over the place, setting up this or that project and using the hapless people to raise money in rich countries to finance their lavish lifestyle and hopefully gratify their moral delusions masquerading as activism.
The media would carry reports of famine and pictures of huge expanses of land laid to waste and skeletons of starving children. They would run stories of huge amounts of aid money stolen by government officials and stashed away in Swiss bank vaults. Stories of conflict and turmoil, and citizens tearing each other apart would abound.
That doomsday story so beloved of the foreign media is not happening in Rwanda. Instead, you have reports of food self-sufficiency and surplus for export (incidentally, most of it to the resource-rich DRC). You read stories of more than a million people lifted out of poverty in the space of five years. You learn the country’s economy has been growing at an average of eight percent per year for the last ten years. You are informed of zero tolerance to corruption and holding everyone to account.
All boring stuff – not good copy for the media hungry for its staple of misery, strife and scandal from Africa; not good enough for the army of NGOs seeking the lost Garden of Eden in Africa or to satisfy some moral fantasy.
Western politicians, inept UN staff and incompetent Congolese government officials running away from the responsibility of messing up countries like DRC, find willing accomplices in the media and do-gooders.
The Rwanda of today does not fit the chosen image of an African country. It is not weak or failing. It is not your typical example of a supplicant – down on its knees, holding out the bowl and saying: “Please, help”.
And so, this country that refuses to behave to type and do the reasonable thing of paying homage to the mighty of this world must be cut to size. It must be punished for the arrogance to refuse to fit into the narrative crafted for it by others. And what better way to do that than humiliate its leaders and citizens by reminding them that they depend on the largesse of others for existence. So aid to the upstart nation must be cut and the appropriate lessons learnt.
And then you wonder: why is aid given in the first place? The naive among us have always thought it was genuinely meant to raise the less fortunate of our earth to a reasonable standard of life. The more practical have always known it for what it is – a tool to control the behaviour of recipients so that they remain docile and toe the line.
Just like his country, President Kagame does not fit the media definition of an African leader. He does not, or permit anyone, to plunder his country. He cares about all its citizens and works for their prosperity. He has no luxurious villas on the Riviera or on some paradise island. The man is plain-spoken, not given to expansive or colourful rhetoric. Actually, the president is a regular guy who puts in a normal day’s shift like his fellow countrymen and retires to his home to enjoy a normal family life.
This, too, is not exciting to the media used to villains and scoundrels that they often create to suit the script they write for us. To them, the clean image, the passion and urgency to move the country forward, and insistence that Rwandans must do their bit to earn their livelihood and keep their dignity, cannot be allowed to stand. And it must surely hide other terrible traits. And yes, he is an autocrat and war criminal, who, like his country, must be punished.
And so, with a pail of mud and brush in hand, they proceed to paint him as a villain and write a script in which he acts the part.
The truth, however, is different and the painters and scriptwriters know it but will not admit it.
The truth is that President Kagame has been urging Rwandans to be who they are and strive to be the best they can be. That means Rwandans defining themselves and rejecting definition by others. With self-definition also comes decisions about what is best for Rwandans. That, too, will not come from outside.
He has also said many times that the story of Rwanda, its national interests and aspirations of its people can best be told by Rwandans, and as such, they cannot leave the narrative of their country’s progress to others to tell.
The president has made self-reliance, respect for sovereign decisions and mutual respect central to relations with others, including development partners.
The independence that President Kagame urges and the refusal to bow and scrape before anyone threatens the continued control of our countries. It also hurts the interests of some people – mainly the so-called Rwanda (Africa) experts in the media, academia, governments and NGOs who find their presumed expertise irrelevant and whose livelihoods are therefore challenged.
And so, the mudslinging begins, a web of lies is woven and made into a narrative whose aim is to stop Paul Kagame from propagating “dangerous” ideas of liberty and development. He must be stopped at all costs lest his example becomes contagious. The price to stop him and Rwanda’s forward movement are the millions of lives in DRC.