My colleague Rashid Dumbuya from Sierra-Leone has written a good piece(unpublished), on a successful welfare state versus a corrupt state. Describing two different states; Mauritius and Sierra-Leone, he succinctly captured what was wrong with African societies, including my own; Rwanda. As a human rights lawyer, he looked at the issues through human rights lenses, and talked about the responsibility of the state to respect, promote and fulfill human rights; Great piece Rashid, as usual.
I felt the need to complement him, by bringing in another aspect, which I think is equally – or more fundamental, and that is ‘dignity’. Beyond the legal responsibility of the state, there is the aspect of dignity that should lead each one of us, and that is how in my country we have approached welfare.
In the aftermath of the Genocide, we realized that we had become subjects of pity and generosity in the eyes of the rest of the world. Everyone wanted to send some charity, while no one wanted to be in our position. I can tell you: this is the worst feeling, for is kills human being’s and society’s Saul: Loosing self-esteem, being mediocre and inadequate, being a failure, inferior and low; that is how we felt in the mid-nineties.
Some societies across Africa have lost their Saul and dignity. They have reconciled with the fact that they are mediocre. With auto-derision they approach their misery in a satirical manner; they make fun of themselves and laugh at their own jokes. They become the mockery of other too, and laugh with them. They abdicate duty and leave it all to the good God; In typical Karl Marx’s assessment that: ‘religion is the opium of the people’, they all become extreme believers of the abstract and the unknown, to justify their failure to address challenges in the environment around them. Or they loose sense of the essential and embrace denial; like a man falling from the top floor of a 100 storey building, on his way down, he keeps repeating to himself: ‘so far so god, so far so good’
I like Rashid’s article because I recognize in it a live Saul, I see a breed of hope for Sierra-Leone’s future; this piece aims to encourage him.
Enough depressing stories, let me proceed with Rwanda’s turnaround to workout a happy ending for you… So, then we said to ourselves: we should get out of this situation. We should be proud human beings, living with dignity. We cannot continue to live like this! those who succeed, what do they have that we don’t?
The state embarked on a campaign to motivate people; telling them they were God anointed winners that had been derailed on their path to greatness by ethnic division and petty differences. That no God, nor man will change our lives, our country; only we can, together, as Rwandans. Then they asked a question to each one of us: what does it mean to be Rwandan? How do you want others to see you? With pity and generosity, or with respect and esteem?
So while the country has been able, in less than 20 years, to become a true welfare state, where Mauritius comes to borrow governance and welfare best practices and vice-versa, with similar services, and beyond; including computers for every child in primary school, a cow for every poor family, elderly and unemployment financial allocations (piloted in some districts and soon to be scaled-up); the most important progress we have made thus far, is to achieve individual dignity.
Rwandans don’t make fun of Rwandans and laugh about it; they do not envy and admire successful societies, they want to emulate them. everyone, individually aspires to be the best in Rwanda, but also in the world. However he understands that individual success in a failed country will still make other societies look down upon you. So for example the cleanliness of the Kigali city is not the responsibility of the state; it is that of every citizen, being a true Rwandan to himself. A civil servant would have to demean himself to ask for a bribe; and I would have to demean myself to give it, and demean my country by practicing corruption in it, and demean my society as a corrupt society and ultimately demean myself once again! People say Kagame has spies everywhere; the truth is, most citizens have a civic duty to be proud Rwandans and set standards for each other.
Many of us go to church on Sunday and keep religion in our homes. And most importantly, while we remain a poor country with still a long way to go to, nowadays when we look in the eyes of people from other societies, we do not see pity; we see respect, and that I can tell you, is the most fulfilling sentiment of all.
Posted 30th November 2013