It hasn’t been measured, but western media’s criticism around the 2017 presidential elections in Rwanda felt more passionate than ever before. They all had the same message: ‘Rwanda, under Paul Kagame has achieved remarkable stability and progress, but Paul Kagame shouldn’t have continued because he is bad for democracy.’
A hangover piece by the Editorial Board of the New York Times, titled: ‘Democracy is Rwanda’s loosing candidate’. After listing achievements of the people of Rwanda with their President Paul Kagame in the last 23 years, the editorial board concluded, and I quote, ‘Rwanda should not be the model for the developing world!’ Not dissimilar was the Editorial Board of the UK-based Economist which signed the title: ‘Many Africans see Kagame’s Rwanda as a model. They are wrong!’
Three points are worth noting:
One: ‘Democracy is the looser’. Not Rwandans; but Democracy.
Two: ‘Rwandan model’ shouldn’t be the model to the developing world; and
Three: These were not regular, individual Op-Eds, they were geo-political positions by editorial boards of two world leading newspapers that have been preaching liberal democracy onto the world over three centuries. (The Economist since 1843 and the NYT since 1851).
As a Rwandan, it was the first time I was hearing of ‘The Rwandan Model’. As far as I know, Rwandans have never pretended to advance a model to anyone, let alone the developing world. In fact, if there is any Rwandan model to speak of, it is one of refrain; one of allowing every peoples the freedom to chart their own path with little or no external influence.
What is Rwanda and Paul Kagame’s fault, they all say? Not allowing an opposition to thrive. A quick read through the Rwandan constitution; the social contract charted and overwhelmingly promulgated by the Rwandan people, the word ‘Opposition’ is absent. In its stead are words such as ‘Dialogue’, ‘consensus’, ‘forum of political organizations’, ‘Unity’, ‘Cohesion’ and other words aimed at fostering national togetherness. The reasons for such political choice aren’t difficult to imagine for a constitution adopted in the aftermath of a genocide which had torn apart the national fabric.
The Rwandan constitution is thus a resounding rejection of liberal democracy in Rwanda, and a hallmark of decolonized popular choice, a Rwanda-styled democracy, if you will. Yet, in the referendum, President Kagame had a single voice among millions of voters.
Naturally, gatekeepers of liberal democracy predicted an imminent collapse of the model, which was designed without following their template. Twenty three years later, they are forced to admit that it has done well for the people, and are now troubled that it may serve as an alternative model to their last clients, namely, the entire developing world.
Liberal Democracy is being preached from shaky grounds lately. Not long ago, Theresa May, UK’s Prime Minister was laying out her plans to ‘change’ human rights laws in order to violate habeas corpus, restrict freedom of movement and other freedoms of suspects of terrorism amidst cheers and Ayes. Last week, it was former US President, Bill Clinton who tweeted ‘Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and white supremacy…’ following the rise of White Supremacy and Nazism in Charlottesville, Virginia and across the United States of America, while closer to home, confrontational democracy continues to claim innocent human lives.
In our elections too, Liberal democracy was the biggest looser, always is. And the Rwandan people emerged as the winners. Ironically, in the two countries where those editorials were written, the world watched as democracy registered two spectacular wins. Whether their respective peoples won anything at all, is still up for debate…
While that debate goes on, Rwanda will continue on its path of fostering stability and progress. That our success is now seen as an unintended indictment to liberal democracy is a sign that time may have come to graduate from the street fights with the likes of Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth and other liberal democracy foot soldiers. And from western media’s irreverence we take home graciousness and invite them to one of our home grown programs called ‘come and see, go and tell’.
Whether fellow Africans and the developing world are ready to come and see, then revisit their models, isn’t for us Rwandans to say, I just note that The Economist and NYT have good reason to worry, for the numbers here have been looking good lately, and as the saying goes: ‘numbers don’t lie’.