Monday, April 25, 2011

“Remaking Rwanda” or “Wishing to deconstruct Rwanda”? by Pan BUTAMIRE

Remaking Rwanda” or “Wishing to deconstruct Rwanda”?

The inseparable pair of Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf is a pair in despair. Their very credibility as scholars (the first as Associate Professor and the latter as Senior Lecturer), is on the line. In a last-ditch effort, they’ve drawn together a whooping 26 fellow ‘experts’ so that together they can salvage their withering legitimacy.
Alas, their envisioned saviours have no shred of credibility left either, their predictions on Rwanda having all proved wrong. The 28 are a scattering of shady individuals who have at one time or another pinned their hopes of raising their profiles on peddling ‘expert knowledge’ and seeing those hopes shattered by a changed Rwanda. Yet theirs are the opinions that Straus and Waldorf have edited to produce what they are calling a “new book”!
A friend above, Joseph Rwagatare, described the mob most aptly and I wouldn’t like to spoil his suave delivery, but the very delivery has given me an irresistible urge to sound my support. When you see a posse of 28 ‘experts’ converge on one small African country to give their ‘expert’ view, you know they are in a legitimacy crisis. It may be the end for the usefulness of their heaps of research on the malaise of African countries. What are they going to vend for their daily bread?
However, mine is to talk about, rather than mourn, them. A lot can be said about their constantly recycled opinions, but let’s throw a cursory look at one opinion of the inseparable Straus-Waldorf ‘Siamese twins’. (So inseparable they share one opinion!) They express it in an article dispatched on 12th August 2010, after Rwanda’s last presidential elections. “As expected,” laments the dyad, “President Paul Kagame has just won… unconvincing 93% of the vote.”
Rwandans go to the polls eagerly to show their preferred choice and in massive numbers decide that choice is Kagame but no, the Siamese Strauss-Waldorf decides that vote is “unconvincing”. Is there any evidence of election malpractice or has anybody been stopped from freely expressing their will? Nope, but the ‘authoritative’ professor-lecturer couplet has decided the vote is “unconvincing” and so the donor community should listen.
The “donor community”? Oh, yes, listen: “….with the election over, Rwanda’s donors and investors may be tempted to get back to business as usual in one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. That would be a terrible mistake.” Even if you give the twin teachers the leisure of taking this country to be run by “donors and investors”, who wouldn’t be happy to make the “terrible mistake” of being associated with “one of Africa’s fastest growing economies”?
Indeed, they admit: “…two trajectories have been apparent. The first is impressive social reconstruction, economic growth, transparency, stability along with Kagame’s charisma [which] have made the country a donor darling and investment opportunity.” This is all laudable, of course, but it does not answer to the scholarly picture of a ‘normal’ African country. So our scholarly ‘experts’ must rummage around for any discarded dirt that may lend credence to their assertions.
And what stereotype can be better than the typical malaise for any African country? States the Strauss-Waldorf set: “The second trajectory is increasing authoritarianism and inequality, which have worried not only human rights organizations but also the US State Department and UN agencies.” The fact of where the emphasis is should not be lost on anyone. It’s not on whether Rwandans are being affected by any authoritarianism or inequality but whom Rwandans are annoying. “Annoying” by not toeing the typical African line.
Or else, what is authoritarian about having innumerable forums of exchange, as is the case in Rwanda? Presidential press conferences, presidential ‘meets-the-people’ and ‘one-to-ones’ with any individual on earth, literally any time of day and night, especially on twitter. And to my knowledge, it’s only in Rwanda where there are forums that bring together members of the executive, legislature, judiciary, local leadership, private sector, civil society, citizenry – practically everybody – to brainstorm on a common path for the future.
As to inequality, no one need get worried. As in any country, of course, there are rich and poor Rwandans. But the core purpose of the above forums is to agree on a way of minimizing the poor-rich gap. It will be impossible to eliminate, understandably, as it also depends on the initiatives and energies of individual Rwandans. What is important is that no one is denied access to any government facility or privilege, and no one is favoured, because of their station in life.
The many programmes that have been put in place over the last 17 years attest to the efforts undertaken by the RPF-led government to ensure a fulfilling life for every Rwandan. The programmes have been elaborated countless times in this paper and elsewhere and need no repeating. Let it only be known that Rwandans have identified with and espoused them. They have become one with them.
Otherwise, those recycled articles the 28 call “Remaking Rwanda” should be treated with the contempt they deserve.
In fact, at the risk of hurting your sensibilities, I’d dismiss these so-called ‘experts’ as a bevy of bawds, hawking lies for a living!
Twitter: @butamire 

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