And so, it begins. With the announcement of incumbent President Kagame’s candidature for next year’s Presidential elections, the flood gates were flung open for the torrent of opinion from the self appointed arbiters of what is best for Rwanda, and whom its citizens should choose for their head of state, instead of their clearly stated preference. After all, what would they know?
It is apparently axiomatic, that Rwandans are a hapless, benighted lumpen mass, under the thumb of a “dictatorship”, desperately in need of outsiders not to speak, but to think for them too. And although you would see neither hide nor hair of them, if salvation were indeed needed, one can barely move for these Fairweather saviours, in times of established wellbeing.
Early out of the blocks, is a new entrant to the ‘we know best for Rwanda camp’, Al Jazeera columnist, Tafi Mhaka. “The likes of Kagame and Doumbouya are not being honest – Africans love Democracy and want to see it work” he tells his readers, in his column on Rwanda.
One could write an entire essay on just those words, but we will leave that for another time, some questions however, refuse to be quietened, and all but raise themselves. The Guinean coup leader Mamaday Doumbouya, staged a coup d’etat in his country, in 2021. We are yet to know what he has to offer the people of his country. If he emulates Paul Kagame, as Mhaka says he wants to do, then any dispassionate observer will be glad for Guineanians.
In any case, what could he possibly have in common with Paul Kagame? To lump the Rwandan President together with anyone, let alone an unknown, untested coup leader, is ludicrous, to put it mildly. Mhaka however, is clearly of the ‘they are all the same’ persuasion.
Like him or hate him, Paul Kagame, is a singular leader, not only on the African continent, but globally. Any serious attempt at a proper analysis of his leadership, would have to begin on that basis, and it would have to be better informed, than sweeping up every Western cliché about African leadership, and serving it up as analysis.
But for the self appointed saviours, being informed about Rwanda, would be to undermine the basis for their very existence, to yank the rug from under their own feet. How could they posture as saviours to a nation and a people who are clear about the direction in which they wish their nation to advance. No, better to ignore the facts on the ground, and keep superimposing a perception of Rwanda that guarantees the need for saviours.
Perhaps even characterising them as fairweather saviours is too charitable. They are baleful wreckers masquerading as saviours. For even the most self-seeking fairweather saviour, would heed, at least to a tiniest degree, the part of them that looks at Rwanda, and acknowledges that it saved itself, and galling though it might be, they were not needed.
And what an unhappy irony, that such a self serving, pseudo intellectual presumption, should be published by an African writer, on an Al Jazeera website. This after all is a news organisation that was established as a counterbalance to Western stereotypical preconceptions about the rest of the world.
As so many of Rwanda’s detractors, Mhaka grudgingly notes that Rwanda has made “significant socioeconomic strides since the 1994 genocide that killed at least 800,000…with many observers describing the country as an African success story…,” like so many of Rwanda’s detractors, he cannot get himself to call the Genocide Against the Tutsi, precisely what it was, or to acknowledge Rwanda’s own tally of its dead, the over a million men, women and children. He certainly cannot acknowledge Rwanda, as any kind of success story, because as he informs us, “Paul Kagame is a ruthless despot and a major obstacle to true democratic progress…”
And of course, Paul Kagame’s popularity must be doubted, presumably because the elections cannot possibly reflect the true wishes of the people of Rwanda. To them, he suggests they look to the likes of Victoire Ingabire, or Diane Rwigara.
Does Mhata know anything about Ingabire? Almost certainly not, beyond what her Western backers tell him. This is a woman who is on conditional release, after a Presidential pardon, from completion of a long prison sentence, for among other things collaborating with the planners and perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, in their murderous insurgent war against Rwanda.
The same people are now leading the genocidal murders in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Ingabire was, and to some extent, effectively remains the head of the remnants of the Rwanda genocidal establishment.
And what understanding does he have of Dian Rwigara, a flighty, entitled woman, who believed she should be Madam President, because, well, why not. To stand as a Presidential candidate, Rwandan law requires the aspirant to have a given number of signatures from all the nation’s 30 districts.
No doubt considering that too arduous and tedious a task, Ms Rwigara, decided she would rather throw money at it, and buy the names, a decision which landed her in court. The resulting noise from the likes of Mhaka has yet to die down.
The fact is that the only thing that prevented Rwigara, and Ingabire from running for the Presidency, was their demonstratable lack of fitness for the role, and the only thing that had them sporting Rwanda prison pink, was their criminality.
In the case of Ingabire, serious criminality, that includes genocide ideology. Mhaka would neither know or care about any of this however. His objective is to attempt to tarnish the name of the candidate most preferred by Rwandans.
And what suddenly put ants in this particular would-be saviour’s pants? He seems to accept that Western impositions of democracy are undesirable, arguing that “this continent [Africa] has suffered more than enough from Western impositions…”
Put the following quote against Mhaka anti Rwanda fulminations: “Democracy is not an abstract theory. It is the product of an explicit and precise context. Look around: there is not one unique form of democracy, but different democratic systems that range from constitutional monarchies to direct representation. A democracy must reflect the aspirations, history, and culture of the people within which it is attempting to take root; otherwise it is bound to fail”, President Paul Kagame, who has never decried democracy.
And Kagame has clearly given it more thought than the writer seems to have done. Had he listened a little more attentively to what President Kagame, actually says about democracy, rather than what he wants him to say, the better to launch his diatribes against him, Mhaka might have realised that his entire article, nearly two thousand words of it, was based on almost the exact opposite of what President Kagame believes and says. Far from rejecting democracy, Kagame would have it better understood, and built from a Rwandan, and African perspective.
According to Mhaka, “Democracy is no longer an exclusively Western model or aspiration. And it is not a Western imposition…” The implication that democracy was ever exclusively Western, is of course, as wrong, as it is ill informed.
The word, democracy, maybe derived from a Western language, albeit an ancient one, but the political system it describes, can be found in many African political systems, some of which would probably have horrified the Athenian elite, who envisaged more of an oligarchy, than a truly democratic state. Despite the literal meaning of the word, rule by, or of the people, the Athenians’ notion of ”the people” was a select group, who they believed were worthy of being consulted.
When he informs us from on high, apparently brooking no argument, that “Rwanda is after all not really a democracy,” Mhaka does actually have a point, although not that he would be aware of it. The truth is that for all the posturing, and preaching from Western countries, no nation on earth is a real democracy. Some do certainly come closer than others, but none can be called true democracies. They are a variety of oligarchies, with varying degrees of democratic principles.
As a modern state, Rwanda began in 1994, after the final defeat of the genocidal forces, the kind of people whose ideology continues to be disseminated, albeit more subtly now, by Victoire Ingabire, and her supporters. Anyone who follows its trajectory since 1994, from building institutions, to empowering people, will conclude that Rwanda is a democratising state, in its twentieth or so year of democratisation.
In its founding principles, the main governing party, in Rwanda government of national unity, Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), emphasises, almost as a motto, “people centred” governance. Look at the founding principles of most African liberation movements, and you may well find the exact same aspiration. With many of these movements however, the aspiration peters out, almost with the first demands from the people.
The difference between aspirations remaining just wishful thinking, and turning them into implemented reality, is leadership, and Paul Kagame has literally and figuratively, stood and continues to stand tall, in championing these principles. Rwandans not only know this, they see and live it.
For Rwanda’s predominantly Western detractors, and their acolytes, like Mhaka, their greatest anxiety seems to be that Paul Kagame’s leadership will continue to deliver in the manner it has for Rwanda, and since Rwanda is part of the world community, for the world too.
Rwandans’ greatest anxiety on the other hand, is that in the fullness of time, Paul Kagame will utter the words, I am sorry that I cannot heed your call to be your candidate for head of state this time. When that day comes, Rwandans will pray fervently that their next head of state will at least aim to walk in Paul Kagame’s footsteps, even if filling his size seventeens might be a bridge too far.
Paul Kagame is a world leader of note, and as such, journalists, commentators, and pretty much anyone who fancies, is entitled to comment about him, it is an occupational hazard.
What the Mhakas of this world and others of his ilk are not entitled to however, is the absurd presumption, to inform Rwandans about their country, their society, their history, or whom they should choose to head their nation. Not least, dare one say, because it is an abuse of their democratic right.
We need not take any reader’s time dismissing the twaddle about “enforced disappearances” “murders” that are constantly recycled about Rwanda, save to suggest that readers might want to ask why we are never told who these “disappeards” are, and why after almost thirty years of RPF leadership, this supposedly murderous government, is responsible for two or three names that keep being recycled its detractors.
Any meaningful analysis of Paul Kagame, must begin with why he is not only popular, popularity after all comes and goes, but why he is universally respected and even loved by his compatriots. That approach will have the advantage of leading to the truth not only about Paul Kagame, but about Rwanda.
But Mhaka and his fellow travellers prefer a different path. Rather than approach Rwanda with an open mind, and follow where the facts on the ground where they may lead, they would rather regale their readers, viewers and listeners, with a Rwanda of their fetid imagination, which meets with their agenda of bringing an altogether too independent minded African head of state into line, the better for them to ride in to save it.
In the run up to their national elections, especially, Rwandans and their head of state, deserve better than the by now nauseating recycling of neo-colonial tropes, thrown at any African leader, who does not say, how high, when the West and its faithful African followers say jump.