Today the Rwandese Patriotic Front celebrates its Silver Jubilee at Amahoro National Stadium. The day’s events are a culmination of a series of events and activities across the country to mark the historic occasion.
There is obvious reason to celebrate because the last twenty-five years have been a period of exceptional achievements by any measure. And what Rwanda has achieved as a nation has an RPF imprint. Talk of sustained economic growth, poverty reduction, security and stability, empowerment of various groups and Rwanda’s international visibility – it is all RPF.
But as usual, the celebrations will be low-key and sober. There will not be much self-congratulatory statements or feasting. Indeed, even the achievements, which are not few, will be down-played.
Everyone should know by now that this is part of our national character. We have become a country of self-effacing people. Every achievement is only a part of longer to-do list and must not be allowed to distract us from the next item on the list and others that will inevitably follow.
So, expect no crowing about extra-ordinary feats, justifiable or not. In this part of the world, bragging is bad manners when there is more work to be done.
Still, there are many things that make the RPF stand out. It has scored many “firsts” in this country.
For instance, it is the first real national political party in Rwanda in terms of ideology, membership that cuts across social classes, countrywide reach and services to Rwandans. And its membership is built on conviction and not coercion.
Others before it were sectarian in ideology and, not surprisingly, served factional interests and as a result created divisions among Rwandans. None could persuade people to join them with a vision for the country. Instead, they used brute force or appeals to some form of common identity to get a following.
The RPF is also in many ways the only independent party this country has ever had. In this sense, it practices what it preaches. From inception, the RPF relied on its own resources, of course, drawn from its members, to fund its operations, including the war of liberation. It did not depend on support from elsewhere, although, of course, this was welcome, but only to complement its own efforts and certainly not at a price.
From that initial self-reliance, the RPF has become a self-supporting organisation that is the envy of many corporate bodies. It has given that philosophy of self reliance to the nation, which has now become a national rallying point.
Political partied in Rwanda have traditionally been affiliated to “parent” parties in Europe which fund them and consequently direct their ideology. They have maintained colonial and neo-colonial ties and for that reason, can never be independent. They can never serve Rwanda’s national interest.
The RTPF has been a unique liberation movement. It was perhaps the only one that had to wage an entire struggle in an utterly hostile environment. That it was successful and turned hostility into support attests to political, diplomatic and military astuteness, and also to the correctness of the cause and depth of conviction.
And again, the ability with which the RPF was able to transform from a liberation movement into a government was nothing short of spectacular, especially considering that few of its cadres had any previous experience in government. But it did so with relative ease and rebuilt a shattered country and put it firmly on the road to development, confounding friend and foe by the speed and success of its efforts. Prophets of doom had predicted a failed state. They saw a resurgent state. They had prophesied revenge and bloodshed. They witnessed reconciliation and unity.
Part of the reason for the remarkable quick recovery was the refusal by the RPF and Rwandans in general to play victim.
Over the years, the RPF has come up with another thing that is uniquely Rwanda – using home-grown ideas to answer domestic challenges. ‘Home grown solutions’ is a ‘made in Rwanda ‘invention. In the past, other parties resorted to importing ideas and solutions to national problems from abroad.
Twenty-five years on and eighteen years of leading government, the RPF has come of age. But challenges remain and solutions must be found.
Every anniversary is a time to celebrate. But it is also time to take stock of the past and plan for the future. The RPF must do the same at these silver jubilee celebrations.
Every party must constantly evaluate its programmes and achievements and adapt accordingly. At some point it must even reinvent itself in order to remain on top of prevailing situations.
The RPF has not got to that stage yet. But still, it has to continually analyse and evaluate circumstances and its response and come up with policies suited to the moment. So far it has done that and all indications are that it will do so in the future. That is how it will remain relevant.