Rwanda is on the spot since President Paul Kagame declared his interest to run for a third term; an idea that many people cant stomach. But perhaps before Kenyans castigate and roast the Rwandans, our people should first visit the Land of a Thousand Hills. Rest assured, they will be surprised by the numerous lessons we can learn from Rwanda – over hyped Western democracy shenanigans aside.
Any person visiting Kigali and one who has at least heard about the genocide of 1994 can confidently confirm that Rwanda now is no longer the cataclysmic wasteland where a million people lost lives in a record hundred days courtesy of caustic ethnic rivalry.
Twenty years later – as I witnessed during my visit there in March last year – the journey to a greater and fully resurgent Rwanda is on course. And at the rate things are going, there is little doubt in my mind that Rwanda is poised to become a portrait of excellence in transformation right across Africa.
What else, if I may ask, can you say about a nation where life expectancy has more than doubled within two decades; a million people rescued from abject poverty in recent years and women being the majority legislators in Parliament? A significant 95 percent the Rwandan population has health insurance cover in a country ranked as one of the safest places to live in the world? Besides, Rwanda is adjudged the least corrupt and the best groomed nation in the region.
But perhaps it is reconciliation and ethnic integration that tells Rwanda’s story the best. Two decades on, it is common to witness such random scenes where a lady comfortably rests her hand on the shoulder of the fellow who butchered her father and brothers back then.
Through sheer will-power, enforcement of the law, effective creation of social awareness and resolute leadership, the people of Rwanda have found within themselves the resilience to bury the past and the necessary courage to reject the politics of hate and dissention. As a result, Rwanda has scaled several levels up to escape from an abyss consumed by the embers of ethnic strife the ashes of anger to become a hopeful abode and icon of changed fortunes in Africa. Surely, if Rwanda has overcome, Kenya can also bid farewell to the after-taste and foreboding of her 2007/2008 ethnic bloodletting. Instead, we joyously cheer as our political class as its mouthpieces continue to spew senseless propaganda. They shamelessly stoke the fire of negative ethnic passions in complete disregard of the dire perils of their folly.
It is also in Rwanda that the feasibility of a truth team informed by goodwill and with teeth in an East Africa nation has been affirmed. Their National Unity and Reconciliation Commission set up in 1999 has managed to accomplish what turned out to be rocket science for Kenya’s TJRC. The commission’s efforts to foster a peace education programme, establish a leadership academy and conduct extensive research on the causes of conflict have led to the reconstruction of the Rwandan identity. Moreover, these efforts have led to an admirable balancing of fairness, truth, peace and security.
Rwanda’s pursuit of justice for the genocide victims has not lost course either. While leaving the indictment of those bearing the greatest responsibility for the 1994 genocide to the United Nations initiated ICTR, Rwanda has gone ahead to prosecute lesser crimes in their national court system. Of even greater interest and instruction was the re-establishment of the traditional Gacaca courts in 2001. By their closure on 4th May 2012, locally elected judges had tried a record 1.2 million people! Compare this to Kenya’s political shenanigans and selfish crusades contemplated primarily to roast political adversaries. Our counterproductive ICC-related lobbying has undermined the formation of a local process to bring to book those who perpetrated crimes in 2007/8 and all would-be villains who need to be dissuaded from walking that slippery path.
On devolution front, Rwanda has had a functional based decentralised system since 1999. To ensure the system delivers, performance contracts are the key lever and accountability the norm. In Kenya, one year down the line, Kenya is grappling with such juvenile and inane concerns as angling for perks, flying flags by governors’ limos and lofty, if self-congratulating titles!
In Rwanda, 56 percent of parliamentary slots are occupied by women; a third of all government ministries are led by women and there is an equal literacy rate for boys and girls. In this regard, Rwanda is truly a model of equality. In a country where more than 250,000 women were raped and the populace traumatized, the drastic turnaround is worth noting. Back home, not even the creation of constitutional thresholds and special seats seems to be a game changer for our women yet.
Of course, the Singapore of Africa cannot be fully imagined by those who have not visited Kigali or visualised by those comparing it with other African cities without alluding to Rwanda’s trendsetting and near-obsessive cleanliness. This effort has not escaped the eye of the high and mighty including Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary General! Talking about Kigali is incomplete without mention of its well paved streets, palm trees and functional street lights, thanks to the last Saturday of every month which is Rwanda’s mandatory community service day. Now compare that to the litter that chokes, burst sewers, poorly lit streets and neglected lawns that characterise our capital, Nairobi.
Before you misjudge my awe over Rwanda, let me hasten to say that it is nonetheless no heaven on earth. Not at all! Rather, as President Kagame once told our governors in a visit to Kenya, “there are basic things that Africans can do without looking up to the West assistance. Do we for example need donor funding to clean up our homesteads?”