15 October 2012

Rwanda: A Country On the Move


Various writers and commentators on Rwanda - both local and foreign - are slowly but steadily misleading their audiences, drawing conclusions and crafting opinions alluding to the fact that the country is on an ill-fated future. This is all a big lie.

While for some it demonstrates poor research skills and laziness in cross checking facts, for others it is basically malice, an axe to grind or some kind of ulterior motive.

Just recently, in an attempt at political satire, there was a letter written to the late Fred Gisa Rwigyema (RIP), that tried to alter the reasons why, in the early 90's, gallant men and women took up arms against a Genocidal regime.

Let's be clear, our lost brethren fought and lost their lives so that their compatriots could have a right to a homeland and a viable one at that. Also, the challenges of post-Genocide Rwanda were not imaginary and have had to be dealt with, at a cost certainly, but also with lots of long term benefits.

The challenges included dealing with the remnants of the genocidal forces both within and outside the country, taking care of survivors of the Genocide, hostile foreign states, some in the region, a collapsed economy and infrastructure, rebuilding a functioning civil service, judiciary and police force from scratch, continuously instilling discipline in the RPA (now RDF) as a national army especially after thousands of new recruits had swelled its ranks.

The growth of the RPF has been remarkable too, both in terms of its core task, exceptional governance, and its participation in rebuilding the moribund economy that it found in place.

Based on the accolades received from all around the world for fast paced leadership across the board and the growing attractiveness of Rwanda as an investment destination, the future looks even brighter.

There was a vacuum in the politics of this country and the RPF, together with a host of other parties, took it over. There was, and continues to be an economic vacuum that is being reclaimed both by local (RPF inclusive) and foreign investors. At some point we'll achieve takeoff and those who got in early will reap the benefits. Many young people are working hard and innovating within those companies. They do not fit the tag hypocrites! Neither are they silenced.

Criticism, in polite society anywhere, needn't be loud, rude, abusive or intended to embarrass. A well oiled team, like you see on your television screens every weekend on SuperSport, uses intuition and advanced perception to communicate. When you fight openly over errors you get your eye off the ball and give the game away. Let's all learn to horn these skills. The other base form of criticism we leave to our foreign nemeses at The Mail, The Guardian and others.

Let's wax philosophical a little. Sometimes it's easy to fall into the habit of judging countries from the point of view of the western media. The media in those countries is a tool for the projection of views of their politicians and other not so benign agencies. White can be made black and vice versa. So Rwanda and most other countries can be turned into whatever they want in the eyes of their citizenry and other gullible people.

How do you counter that?

In America, in the 40's, they confined innocent multitudes of their own citizens of Japanese origin. We all know what the Germans did to their Jewish citizens just a generation ago. We've also seen what has happened to nations in this modern era and their leaders as more powerful nations bear down hard on them. Should Rwanda treat its citizens like those mentioned above? Certainly not. Should she destroy other nations simply because she feels she has the right to do so (though I doubt she has the means)? Again, certainly not. But should she defend herself against nations of ill will and should she deal with those citizens of hers who work against her national security interests or for foreign interests against hers? You tell me.

Rwanda and Israel have had a somewhat similar, unique challenge thrust upon them. Surviving and defending against the repeat of genocide.

With clear and present dangers lurking just across their borders, they, without doubt, are well qualified to demand to be treated specially.

What qualifies a country to demand this other than facing an existential threat? Oh! And by the way, when laws are put in place, it's for a purpose. Laws against, not only denying Genocide/ the Holocaust but also propagating the ideologies that may lead to a recurrence exist in all countries that signed up to the Genocide convention of 1948. Rwanda is no longer consumed by fear of genocide recurring. That, however, does not detract from the reality of people being prosecuted for crimes related to propagating this dead ideology.

Freedom of speech, freedom of speech. The mantra of any journalist, stringer, author, cameraman, media mogul, editor. Fighting for his space like any other profession would. Abuse is frequent and worse in our part of the world. Manipulation rampant. Accountability rare. Rwanda's media is nascent. Nascent not because it's new, but because it's a replacement for a predecessor whose infamy is known only too well. It would be foolhardy to let it develop as it and foreign actors want. Remember, there are other professions and regulators that have spaces to protect. You create a vacuum by your incompetence, others take up that space. Your best shot at retaining and growing your space is by exhibiting professionalism, patriotism and being willing to work for the long term. Also, the foreign press, especially in England, after being caught out manipulating their local politicians and being made to eat their humble pie, has now turned their guns to targets further away. The unrestrained venom spewing forth from some o

f them, reminds us that the need to check their excesses should not be limited to the phone hacking scandal but to the strengthening of regulation to monitor the use and abuse of media power.

In this beautiful land of ours, RPF is not the only political party in power. The constitution has guaranteed the participation of other parties. These political parties are not as impotent as some would let us believe. They helped make Rwanda ungovernable during the time of Habyarimana and his ilk and helped drive them from power. They suffered along with everyone else during the Genocide but still exist, playing a complementary role because they understand better than most the price paid for where we are today.

That said, irrespective of the huddles, the collective effort, leadership, determination and resolve of the Rwandan people offers nothing less than anticipation for a brighter and dignified future the country has never witnessed before.

Bernard Urayeneza is a local businessman and social commentator

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