The New Times (Kigali)

14 February 2013

Rwanda: Change, Stability and Continuity - a Political Homework (Part I)

column

The year 2017 seems to be drawing lots of anxiety from Rwandans as well as our friends and the country's stakeholders alike. This is the year His Excellency President Kagame's second term ends. And although he has made it clear that he will not seek an extension to his term, the recent Rwanda Patriotic top cadre meeting held on Friday 8th February, has ignited a huge debate.

Going by the contributions of most cadre members present at that meeting, it is really one of the most intriguing political homework we have ever faced as a country. A political homework handed to the RPF top brass by the party Chairman, and one who understands better than most that the change we need in our country must ensure stability and continuity.

One can add on certainty. The President has been the architect of our present hopeful Rwanda. Like many other Rwandans, he was a victim of our tragic past. He, like most Rwandans, knows the two extremes of our nation, which invokes emotions that only Rwandans understand as they faced it squarely and will face it again if this homework is not done with sobriety.

Political Change

However, unlike political changes that occur in other African countries, Rwanda's political panorama must be viewed from its unique contexts; present and past. Could losing sight of either context bring about change or at the very least change of guard? Far from it! Such straightjacket mindset typical of simplistic advocates of change some times sponsored by beneficiaries of chaotic changes (and they are many) is one that we must avoid no matter the cost (our account is overdrawn anyway).

Change is not an end in self. For us, it is a means to an end that is too dear to gamble with.

The RPF meeting deliberations drew from achievements of President Kagame, which to all of us who either have participated in the same, albeit in a small way, or other compatriots in general, is certainly a miracle. None of us expected a country written off in 1994, and a totally failed state for that matter, to be a beacon of hope today. It is now a point of reference to most development economists who view our development as unprecedented in African history, if not the world.

Economy

That an economy that had shrunk beyond measure can rebound this much this far in the span of 18 years is by no little means a miracle in itself. Available statistics indicate that our GDP (the best available measure of a country's wealth) has increased in aggregate by 800 percent since 1995. This is record growth by any account.

That is also reflected in other key sectors from defence (security) health, education, agriculture, commerce, finance and infrastructure. These have all grown to unimaginable levels, which testify the underlying causation: the exemplary leadership by President Kagame. Period!

It is this leadership that has defined who we are as a country for which every Rwandan is proud of. Even the skeptics (they exist in every system) acknowledge this transformational leadership.

Nonetheless, if one factors in all impediments to economic development of Africa's post colonial states, leadership stands out as the critical factor and one that other nations (especially in East Asia), which lagged behind in 1950s/60 used to surpass our continent. For instance, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) took off at the same time and pace as East Asian economies, most of which attained their independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A major question arises as to why such growth almost ground to a halt in SSA compared to East Asia. Indeed, researchers such as Easterly and Levine (1997), who have conducted extensive research on development note that, in the 1960s, African economies were predicted to grow faster than East Asia given their abundant resource endowment, but this was not to be.

Many African policymakers and indeed some academics in SSA have for some time now attributed Africa's crisis of proportions in her past development to post-colonial legacy especially due to the so-called neo-colonial manipulation by western powers. Yet, East Asia had a similar historical environment, which negates this argument.

Leadership and Governance

However, recent empirical evidence suggests that failure of African nation-states holds clues to her dismal performance over the past three decades. The same research points out that this is underpinned by poor governance (read leadership) witnessed in these countries over this period. It is leadership that ranged from extremes in terms of military dictatorships to tyranny, both of which undermined development. Countries that fared better had good leaders. But changes that happened after they left office were not for better and in most cases as gains made were fundamentally reversed.

Sustainability and stability

The new thinking and one which is pertinent to the political homework for Rwandans is this. Can we have change with stability and sustainability? It is difficulty homework given our environment, which is too unique to compare with other African states. As pointed out earlier, the country has registered incredible gains in all sectors and these have to be, not only sustained, but also scaled up to another level for the betterment of our people's welfare.

The problem is that a change in stability and sustainability has a higher probability of changing the whole equation for better as it can possibly be for worse. Numerous examples abound in our continent and elsewhere, which is why our change arouses lots of emotions, anxiety and rhetoric, hence the extreme difficulty of our political homework.

The uncertainty and thus anxiety underlying the change is premised in not only the possible gains our current leadership under President Kagame has registered, but also fears of sliding back into our past. A past that is so horrific and traumatic that no Rwandan would want imagine.

Our recent history has been characterised by serious sectarian leadership that no other post independence African nation witnessed; so much so that the loss of more than one million of our compatriots in 1994 genocide epitomised the kind of leadership that we had in our country at the time.

This is a permanent and indelible scar on our conscious as a people and country. That will among other things be factored in all decisions to build our country devoid of this horrific past. This past, when factored into the equation of change, stability, sustainability makes the outcomes very scary among most Rwandans. A past that no Rwandan would imagine.

To be continued...

The writer is the Chairman Board of Directors, Crystal Ventures Group

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