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Why Rwanda’s story leaves the world divided

By Deogratias Harorimana

The African development model is increasingly moving towards the Asian Tigers’ to seek solutions from within.

When the North African public protests escalated into the greatest mass social revolution in the Arab world’s history, Western powers were surprised and many development partners remained cynical about its success.

International development experts and development partners have raised a fundamental question; how could nobody, including international development agencies working within and outside these countries, see this social revolution coming?

Probably the Facebook and Twitter generation is exploiting benefits of the Internet, making it hard for the international experts to predict what will happen. It could also be that there was a disconnect between the political class and the grassroots because quite often, politicians in the said region tended to conform and respond to Western requests while ignoring legitimate interests of their own electorate.

Another view could be that there was a disconnect between the International Development Partners and the reality on the ground. Perhaps we exaggerate the competence of the West. For example Western powers especially the United States were working and investing heavily in the Egyptians security organs yet they failed to see the Egyptian revolution coming so that they advise the host government accordingly. It was the same in Bahrain!

My view therefore is taking a different direction. The Western philosophy towards development is becoming irrelevant in African context. In Rwanda, had we followed the West, it would have taken us a century in education to become a knowledge-based economy. With our indigenous models, our children are attending 12-year basic education and higher education has expanded tenfold within one decade. The African development model is increasingly looking inwards or towards the Asian Tigers, Middle and Far East.

Africa is seeking solutions from within. The case of Rwanda is a stark example. Our model is based on the Singapore dummy. But how many Western powers ever understood this? I bet, none. Otherwise the many accusations labelled against the Kigali government wouldn’t arise. The Singapore model is based on people first, political discipline (no political fights and squabbles) and pragmatic policies.

Lee Kwan Yew mobilised and moved Singapore from $320 per head in 1960s to $20, 000 within three decades.

However, Yew is also known for cracking down on most liberties Western countries would never attempt to take away. He introduced anti-smoking policies, refused any political squabbles and banned Chewing gum, for example. It was banned in Singapore because of “the problems caused by spent Chewing gum inserted into keyholes and mailboxes and on elevator buttons. If the West knows that this model has delivered and yet all other countries who attempt to follow the traditional route of the West have stalled, should Rwanda have apologise for not leaning towards the West’s philosophies? The critical question is, what’s good for Rwandans?

Rwanda has introduced a ban on use of plastic bags because of her choice of clean and well protected environment and has introduced anti-smoking policies. Women constitute 60% of Rwanda’s parliament. Family values are held in high esteem, food security is becoming an achievable target by 2015 and 98% of all Rwandans have health insurance. Isn’t this a milestone even many of the world’s powerful economies have not achieved? The focus now is on improved quality but not access. Rwandans can walk around the world with their heads up, a citizen is no longer identified by his ethnicity but rather his citizenship. Any opposition that plays the ethnic card has no place and space in Rwanda. Singapore refused this path and succeeded; Rwandans chose reconciliation and unity and succeeded, so why change?

The 1994 genocide is just 17 years ago. But look at where Rwanda was then and compare with Rwanda today. You will see a stark difference. The country has come from a predictable failed state to a stable, secure and predictable state today. Education has improved ten- fold, economic development has grown more than fivefold and life expectancy has moved up significantly. This is a country that has won over 200 international awards from public service administration, doing business, delivery of justice, peace and reconciliation to service delivery.

Let us be realistic that some areas remain weak, but these are individual pockets that will most certainly improved over time. So long as there is political will at the top, Rwanda will remain on a steady upward curve.

No question that Rwanda is stronger and will continue to do so as the country defies the odds. But this comes at a cost. The question is how you make the cost-benefit balance. Take the example of press freedom; those who are on ground know there is media freedom and the government supports the press as a profession. Investigative journalism that is professional is always welcomed. But promotion of sensational and rumour journalism does not serve anybody’s interest. Considering the on-going fight in British courts against press injunctions on privacy, considering the on-going case by the United States against Sanje’s cable leak, one can question their moral ground to challenge Rwanda’s press freedom especially in the context of the country’s development model.

However, this is not to claim that Rwanda’s government is without fault. In developing countries like Rwanda there will always be people who mistreat others and those who misuse their positions. Others will fail to deliver due to lack of capacity and technical skills. For all these weaknesses, President Kagame will take the blame. When the press deliberately starts to print sensational and false stories, it undermines the country’s stability. Equally, when the press is reproducing speeches without a critical view or indeed dissenting views of the public, it is not adding any value to the country’s development.

The challenge that a government cannot deal with though is, how do you punish someone because he did not offer you a critical analysis or did not help you see your weak side? Although this is an issue of competence exacerbated by individual affiliations to a certain political thinking, it has led those ignorant of the challenges faced by Rwanda to portray some newspapers as simply propaganda instruments. Are newspaper editors who have a certain political stand forbidden to provide a good objective news analysis? Absolutely not.

The author is a Rwandan and British citizen living in Southampton, UK.

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