Heroes Day: Rwanda’s Benchmark for Present & Future Socio-Economic Progress.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda

The first day of February is an anniversary to remember a handful of Rwanda’s heroes who bravely died for the common good. The latest among such iconic personalities are Gen. Fred Rwigema who championed the RPA/F liberation struggle and gallantly died on frontline commanding compatriot freedom fighters to stop chronic misrule.

The ‘Iron Lady’ Agatha Uwiringimana, the country’s first female Premier who was assassinated by fellow Hutu extremist republican guard soldiers prior to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi section that claimed more than 800,000 in just 100 days. She was assassinated for out-rightly opposing the ruling MRND party’s extremist ideology.

The duo, no doubt represent several freedom fighters who either died on the frontline or were physically maimed for the cause and statesmen/women who sacrificed life for the common good.

Fortunately, if these civic liberty legendries were to resurrect through the grace of God, they would indeed offer jovial hugs to President Kagame and his team for enviously standing for what they died for.

But of course, those who died before April 1994 hadn’t witnessed practical challenges of managing a state that was at crossroads; the situation where over 800,000 innocent citizens were dehumanized and cleansed in a genocide for being born Tutsis!

It was during such darkest moments that the RPA/F freedom fighters under the stewardship of Gen. Paul Kagame took charge and focused to see the light. If I may quote a renowned Italian Saint Francis of Assisi, to come out of such a paradox: “You start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

That’s how Rwanda Patriotic Front in partnership with all political parties except MRND designed post-genocide unity and reconciliatory mission, envisaged a system of community justice through dialogue, the approach that has guaranteed peace and lasting unity among all citizens regardless of ethnicity, sex, religious affiliation or convictions.

For all this to be realized, a transitional national Unity and reconciliation government combining all genuine political parties in accordance to their representation countrywide had to be formed and start addressing the huge challenges hands-on.

Even after the transitional nine year period that ended in 2003, that home-grown democracy- a coalition government representing several parties has prevailed up to this day! And whatever success registered hinges on this political will; the will to build an inclusive government and ownership of governance challenges.

If I may quote the renowned Nigerian writer, the late Chinua Achebe: “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” The accused mass killers had to be subjected to the rule of law, be convicted and punished accordingly or acquitted if not proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt by the competent courts.

And the Kagame government has never minced words on her firm stand on even more controversial issues including the intimidating donor aid-cuts.

People do not know where they are going unless they know exactly where they have been and exactly how they arrived at such destinations. After enduring the more than three decades of statelessness and witnessing global neglect as a fascist regime planned and executed genocide against nearly a million Tutsis, Rwandans learned crude lessons.

That’s why more than 4.5 million refugees have voluntarily returned and are invaluable actors in their national development agenda. The end of 2013 marked a major step to ending the longest refugee chapters in the world when the Cessation Clause came into effect. Rwanda is instead hosting a huge volume of refugees from neighbouring DR Congo and Burundi.
Thus, from the errors of others, a wise man corrects his own. Unlike in the neighborhood where politicians with affluent politico-social-economic credentials are messed up in hypocrisies and swindling trillions of taxpayers sweat with impunity, the Rwandan story is different.

All this reminds me of an interesting book I read about a decade ago titled: “The contradictions in Politics”. What is still at the bottom of my mind about the book is an observation that: “If democratic principles were replicated in practical terms, the world would be a paradise.”

The principles referred to are the governance ingredients; the rule of law, periodic free and fair elections, separation of powers, press freedom, freedom of opinions and assembly, accountability… name it. So, are these renowned democratic benchmarks not being gradually replicated in our post-genocide Rwanda?

Any proverbial ‘doubting Thomas’ can be referred to a divergent number of annual Survey /reports on governance, anti-corruption and best investment climate by credible independent global nonprofit organisations.

Rwanda is the fifth-best destination for investment in the world, according the 2013 Baseline Profitability Index. The ranking is topped by Hong Kong, with Botswana in second, and Ghana (10th), as the only other African country in the Top 10.

Readers could have as well accessed the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings and the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report where again, three African countries–Botswana, Rwanda, and Ghana,” feature respectively among best ten.

The latest survey by an American-based governance/ corruption watchdog- Global Integrity place Rwanda second best to Boswana among the eight African countries that were included in the 2009 Annually Report. Transparent International, another governance /corruption watchdog has successively placed Rwanda on top of neighbours and other African countries.
And these enticing findings by impartial global watchdogs that put poor Rwanda in the category of rich Hong Kong and Singapore which regularly top indexes like World Bank’s Doing Business rekindles a spark, a spark of bravery to aspire higher- how can such a resolve fade?

The secret in this success story is nothing other than the political will and vision for a better future. It is only this focused resilience that put in place the current strong institutional framework to implement the development targets.

By institutional framework, I mean the effective civil service, Rwanda Revenue Authority, National Police, Auditor General’s Office, Public Procurement Authority, Ombudsman’s Office, the National Human Rights Commission, the National Electoral Commission to mention but a few.

I’m not saying the institutions aforementioned are nonexistent in other countries that are faring poorly but the difference is the political resolve and consensus on priorities. In essence, no matter how complex the tasks ahead may be, the financial challenges notwithstanding, if Rwandan leaders continue to practice what they preach, development will be the inevitable outcome.

Contrary to proponents of the controversial President Kagame third term, in a democratic setup like ours, institutions are bigger and stronger than personalities. I, therefore, believe we should not worry about President Kagame’s third term; I believe he will retire after mentoring a reliable successor.

The author is a lawyer, career media practitioner and social science researcher based in Kigali. He was a Runner-up to Rwanda’s Investigative Journalist of Year 2006 award and is a member to the Forum for Africa Investigative Reporters (FAIR). He can be reached at igihesilver@gmail.com