Paul Kagame
Paul Kagame

The referendum came following a request by 4million Rwandans who wished to remove presidential term limits so that President Paul Kagame should have another term to steer the country to realize its ambitious vision 2020, of attaining a middle income status and further set the agenda for vision 2050. The referendum which was well organized, free and fair, was an indicator that the people of Rwanda exercised the right to self-determination, and were more united than ever before towards building a secure and prosperous country.

Paul Kagame
Paul Kagame

According to the United Nations Human Development Index 2015, out of the 142 world countries accessed, Rwanda has made the most progress since 1994, and Rwandans can now expect to live 32 years longer than in 1990. Kagame’s choice of good governance policies has undoubtedly improved the quality of lives of millions of Rwandans,and this is the reason majority Rwandans have exercised their democratic right and self-determination for their future, by appreciating their president’s unmatched achievements towards rebuilding their country from scratch to a nation competing favorably on the Continent and the world on a number of development and social protection indicators.
The history of Rwanda makes it a unique country in a number of aspectssuch that some development policies put in place were out of the ordinary.

To be able to make the turnaround of Rwanda from a failed state to one of the most secure, united and prosperous country, President Kagame had to resort to traditional home grown solutions to overcome the country’s challenges. The solutions which include gacaca courts to try thousands of genocide suspects, one cow per poor family (girinka) for rural household economic empowerment, food security and social support (ubudehe), national consultative forum (umushyikirano), performance contracts (imihigo) and many others are not known or do not have names in the Western Democracies.

These policieshave faced criticism from the West, but theyhave worked perfectly well for Rwanda. This therefore, demonstrates the fact that Kagame as the leader of a country with unique challenges did not rely on Western models but blended unique solutions hinged on cultural traditions and national values. The Rwandan Democracy therefore, is built on a model that works within the Rwandan context, and not necessarily cloned from other countries, an indicator that President Kagame’s leadership has succeeded to rebuild the country on a “Democracy with Rwandan characteristics”.

There have been patronizing voices especially from the West, to describe president Kagame and Rwanda as undemocratic, lack of this and that type of freedoms, and so on.This is the hypocritical neo-colonial wayused to deny Africans thefreedom to determine for themselves the model of democracy and governance they need, but instead impose on them foreign models as the best and “universally” acceptable- one size fits allconcept. On thepolitical arena for example, Rwanda has chosen consensual democracy and power sharing, which has become the foundation of Rwanda’s stability, but Western critics who seem to prescribe confrontational politics to African countries will term the Rwandan democracymodel as creating no “credible opposition”.

They seem to enjoy seeing African countries in chaos, disorder and violence probably which to them are the measures of credible opposition. Rwandans experienced harsh colonial politics of divide and rule since 1933, political violence in 1959 and Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, and have decided to embrace politics for good governance and sustainable development.

Africa since slave trade has never had genuine advice from the West. History teaches us that countries evolve and democratize on their own terms and African countries should be left with their dignity to carry their own cross. In Rwanda, President Kagame is a transformational leader with rare leadership qualities who has achieved so much for his country in a short period of time. Should Rwandans simply change their good exceptional leader for the sake of it because the West is not happy with him? If Rwandans have voted in their majority numbers, approving change of presidential term limits so that Kagame can have another term, other views by foreigners contradicting the wish of Rwandans are simply meant to kill the very democracy Rwandans want.

Some Western critics say that most African leaders claim that their citizens still want them as an excuse to cling to power, and for this reason, Kagame is also doing the same and will lose the good reputation he had with the international community.

This kind of thinking tries to view Africa as one country when it is a continent. Each country has its own way of doing things but the most important aspect is that it is the people of such countries who decide what they want and the simple definition of democracy is the wish of the majority even if they a wrong.Rwanda has built strong democratic institutions, but the fact that majority people are supporting the continued stay of President Kagame is not lack of such strong institutions to have an alternative candidate. The fact is that Rwanda has gone through a turbulent past and for the first time in 116years; since 1899 when the country was subjected to colonial rule, Rwandans have got an exceptional leader who has amended the broken social cohesion of the Rwandan society in a very short time.

He has given the citizens self –worth and dignity, after years of discrimination both from within and outside to those who lived as refugees. He has turned round the social economic being of the citizens, the country is safe, and experiencing rapid economic growth, and for the time being therefore, Rwandanssay they are sorry that they cannot find any other leader to replace Kagame irrespective of the interpretation the outsiders give their choice.

Let’s look at the example of the Unites States of America, which introduced term limits in 1951, after 175 years of independence from Britain in 1776. The term limits were put in place after the US had become a political, economic, and military super power. Rwanda is a country re-building herself21 years from ground zero, while Kagame is the architect of the “marshal plan” that has miraculously resuscitated Rwanda, and his continuity is what majority Rwandans find good for their country and this has been expressed through a democratic referendum. The reason Americans chose not to have term limits and one of their presidents Franklin Roosevelt was able to run for four terms; that is in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944, are almost the same reasons Rwandans want President Kagameto take another term in office, except that Rwanda has no ambitions to become a super power; but a secure, united, reconciled, politically and economically a strong nation.

Rwanda is a country that has through its history learnt to find solutions for her problems since relying on others proved catastrophicespecially in 1959 and 1994. Through the constitutional referendum vote, Rwandans have shown their wish to stay with a president they identify with progress, security and unity of their country. It is the people of Rwanda who will live with the choices they have made and outsiders cannot be the ones who know better what Rwandans deserve. There should be mutual respect ofother people’s choices irrespective of their skin colour or economic status. Dr. VladmirAntwiDanso an African scholar rightly says that, “There is need for Africa to have democracy and governance brewed in the African pot”.

Outsiders have the free opinion to like or dislike choices African countries make to determine their models of democratic governance, but they have no right to determine the type of democracy Africans should have since the act itself is against democratic principles. After all, the West adapted their own model of democratic governance brewed in their own Western pot without interference, and should in the same manner let Africans determine their destiny on their own terms.

Source: Gerald Mbanda

a Pan Africanist and a journalist based in Kigali- Rwanda

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