Paul Kagame
President Kagame

By Gerald Mbanda

The Rwandan Parliament both the lower and upper chambers recently unanimously voted in favour of the petitions of 3.7 million citizens who want term limits for the president to be scrapped from the Constitution so that President Paul Kagame should continue to lead Rwanda in 2017.

Paul Kagame
Paul Kagame

The legislators based their decision on the impressive performance of President Kagame and on the number of petitioners who constitute more than 50% of the voter population. Comments from mainly outsiders especially the Western world said, that they recognize the good things President Kagame has done for Rwanda but in a democracy, term limits should be observed- simply for a change. Others say that Kagame has done impressively well but for him to stay in 2017, will makehim like other African presidents who do not want to relinquish power by democratic means.
When the American President Obama recently addressed the gathering of African presidents in an AU meeting in the Ethiopian capital, his statement to African leaders was like term limits should be observed because ?the law is the law?. His opinion is well granted but, come to think of it; the law is made for who and by who? If those to whom the law is made decide they need it changed because they want it another way, with compelling reasons and the request is done by majority will, I believe this is democracy. In America it happened when Franklin Roosevelt served three full terms and 83 days into the fourth. If it was convenient for Americans to do st that time, why should it be a taboo when Africans do it today? Roosevelt?s supporters had one reason for re-electing him for more than two terms and in a similar manner, Rwandans have much more reasons to keep President Kagame than one single reason the Americans had at the time, of a pending war. Rwanda has been under threat of war by terrorist outfits like FDRL in the neighboring DRC since 1994, and Rwandans trust the person of president Kagame as the one who knows how to deal with them.
Foreign experts on Rwanda have not cared or have ignored to realize that Rwanda is a unique country that is not easily comparable to other African or even world countries, because of its; history, the people, Genocide and size. Rwanda is one of the few countries in Africa with peoplewho speak one language, share one culture, same beliefs and clans. Anthropologists point out that such homogeneity of the Rwandan society is a strong pillar for unity and social cohesion of people in any givenhuman society. Social cohesion and unity prevailed amongRwandans in the pre-colonial period, and when colonialists arrived, specifically the Belgians (1914-1962)they used the divide and rule policy, to dismantle the unity of Rwandans. In 1933, ?ethnic? identity cards were introduced, exploiting what were social economic classes to become ?ethnicities?, based on fictitious distinguishing physical features like the size of the nose and height, and the classification led to ?ethnic? conflicts were instigated by thecolonial masters.The small size of the country with a mere 26, 338sqkm, made it easy for the colonialists to easily spread their bad politics of divisionism in a very short time.
The understanding of the Rwandan society thereafter until today is what many outsiders refuse, fail or ignore to know and this is what makes Rwanda a unique country comparable to none. When the factor of the Killings of the Tutsi mainly in 1959 and the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, to many outsiders this sounds like normal deaths, and thereafter, things have to be conducted like in other countries.In 1933, Rwanda lost unity of her people and by1959, the Rwandan society lost its normalcy while in 1994, it was a society gone mad, due to bad leadership and successive regimes that encouraged impunity through 1973, 1990, 1992 etc. These episodes left permanent marks on the lives of the Rwandan people which influenced the way they think, and the way they do things. Some of the text book theories on, methods of justice, governance, etc, do not work when it comes to the Rwandan context simply because what happened in Rwanda, there is no comparison; thus making the country exceptionallyunique.
Recently, at my local church on a Sabbath day, Emmanuel who is 62 years gave testimony which left many in tears. His mother was burnt alive in their house in 1959, when he was 6years and witnessed all that happened. A goodSamaritan rescued him and he ended up in exile. He became a man, and returned to Rwanda after 1994 with children. The vision of what happened to his mother was still fresh in his memory and this stopped him from visiting his birth place. In June 2015, he gave in to family pressure and picked courageto take his family to where his mother was killed. With the help of neighbors he located hismother?s burial place in a shallow grave, exhumed the remains and accorded his mother a decent burial; after 56 years, is when he cried and mourned the death of his mother. There are many like Emmanuel who still live with unanswered questions on the death of their beloved ones killed in 1959.
Fast forward, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was more organized and advanced in brutality such that the magnitude far much exceeded that in 1959. Pregnant women were slit open by women killers, and the babies held by their legs still crying as new born do, and their heads crushed on tress, walls or sliced into pieces. Agnes a beautiful woman was un dressed, and made to walk naked through crowds, gang raped, and the killers shoved a metallic rod in her private parts until it reached her throat. The killers carried her on the metallic rod on their shoulders singing that her beauty has been conquered. She died in agony, and her surviving relatives still have fresh memories. The UK based Thomas Foundation, recently published interviews of women killers in prison in which one of them said, that she could not explain what happened, while another said, ?we became just like wild animals?. Some of the killers roasted their victims hearts and ate them. One woman killer confessed to gathering neighbor?s children and burying them alive.
There is another moving story of Jane who was taken in as a wife by the notorious village killer and one evening as he returned from the killing spree with a plastic bag;he called Jane in the bed room and asked her to open the plastic bag. Jane froze but resisted to react by discovering that the bag contained a human head of her uncle. The killer put the plastic bag in the corner of the bed room and they slept until morning. Jane is still alive and tells this story. On the other hand, many killers have confessed to what they did and asked for forgiveness. Some of the killers live with hallucinations of dreaming seeing and hearing voices of their victims. The way people died in 1959 and 1994, left a mark on the surviving relatives, and those who have physical scars of the genocide, is not easy for outsiders to understand, and simply take the Rwandan society like any other. People were affected permanently but they still live on and they look like others judging by their faces. They can forgive but they cannot forget. Today, the killers who have served their sentences live as neighbors with the survivors and together do community activities like Umuganda for nation building.
One question probably people should ask is why does Kagame seem indispensable to majority Rwandans? PresidentKagame stands as a symbol of unity, security, Peace, reconciliation, prosperity,self-worth and above all hope for a bright future against all odds. Social cohesion that the colonizers had deprived the Rwandan society has been largely reclaimed under the leadership of President Kagame through programs of Unity and reconciliation and NdiUmunyarwanda( Iam a Rwandan). Having stopped the genocide when the world watched, Rwandans will always be grateful to president Kagame as their hero.The return after 35 years in exile of millions of people, who had given up hope of ever returning to their motherland, was a dream come true, to which they will always be thankful to Paul Kagame who commanded the RPA forces that liberated Rwanda.
From the brinks of a failed state in 1994, to one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, with an average growth of 9% between 200-2014, themiraculous transformation is not by chance but good governance and visionary leadership of President Kagame, and the people of Rwanda are grateful for their rare president, and still need him. Furthermore, between 2000-2014, life expectancy of Rwandans moved from 49 to 64 years; literacy rate jumped from 48 to 83.7%; population under poverty line fell from 60.4 to 44.9%; universal access to health care is one of the world highest at 96%; access to 9 year basic education is at 97% and64% of women in Parliament makes Rwanda top of the world. With such impressive performance track record of a revolution in the making, under the leadership of President Kagame, that is why 3.7million Rwandans want him to stay on in 2017, though the President says he is yet to be convinced by both sides of the divide.
Today, the small size of Rwanda is an advantage that makes it easy for territorial governance, and leaders can easily reach the population in rural areas. Advancement in ICT, enables cabinet Ministers to hold interactive meetings through video conferencing say with all the 5 governors, 30 mayors and 416 sector Executive Secretaries. In less than an hour, the Executive Secretaries can pass messages to all 2,148 cell executives in the country on mobile apps, and cell leaders will also reach their village constituents in a matter of minutes making it easy to implement top down decisions. The small size of Rwanda creates more uniqueness where for example, duringelections the voter turn upin some polling stations goes beyond 90%. Outsiders claim there was vote rigging because such voter turn up is impossible, in a democratic, free and fair election, forgetting that people make short distances to reach polling stations and the ease with which voter education can be carried out to reach each and every citizen, are important determinant of the size of voter turn up.
The fact that President Kagame leads a unique country, called Rwanda where some of the universal modelsof society management do not work is one reason why he had to reinventhome grown solutions that fit within the Rwandan context; the first being on how Rwanda tackled cases of large numbers of genocide suspects using traditional gacaca courts, a system initially opposed and questioned by outsiders as a rather unconventional judicial system, but in the long run the world realized there was no other solution that could work better. When outsiders try to judge Rwanda, they should know that t Randa went through a turbulent past, different from any other country in the world.
The model of democracy that Rwandans want should be left to them to decide, as long as it is done democratically with the will and support of majority citizens. The advantageof a united population, with one common language, one culture, reconciliation of the past, good leadership and a country small in size, is that majority people can easily reach a consensus on what they want and this can be judged as strange or undemocratic to outsiders, and this is what is happening in Rwanda.

SOURCE Gerald Mbanda is a journalist based in Kigali. He comments on media and political issues.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: +250787830390.

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