Authoritarian? Not Rwanda

Friday January 18 2013

Rwanda President Paul Kagame. Photo/File

Rwanda President Paul Kagame. Photo/File 

By Michael Fairbanks

President Paul Kagame’s critics say that he foments the war in eastern Congo and suppresses opposition parties at home.

These views prosper in the absence of facts.

The government has been accused of cracking down on so-called opposition newspapers. On April 13, 2010, it issued six-month suspension to two Kinyarwanda-language newspapers, Umuvugizi and Umuseso, for publishing language such as this: “He who refuses a peaceful political revolution makes a bloody revolution.” (Umuseso)

These words reflected reality on February 19 and March 4 of that year, when terrorists threw grenades into public establishments in Kigali and killed innocent civilians.

Rwanda knows a lot about freedom of speech and the role of the press. After all, the Hutu Power press helped ignite the 1994 genocide.

Growth has averaged almost eight per cent over the past decade, wages increased by 30 per cent in the key export sectors, street crime is almost unknown and corruption measures among the lowest in Africa. Rwanda was even named the third most competitive economy in all of Africa, after South Africa and Mauritius.

The secret to Rwanda’s success is that Kagame has built modern institutions on traditional values.

Accolades all round
In the aftermath of the genocide, modern courts were incapable of handling the hundreds of thousands of perpetrators. International legal advisers were flummoxed.

He introduced the traditional Gacaca system to give the perpetrators of the genocide the opportunity to tell the truth and ask the community for forgiveness.

The National University of Rwanda found that 95 per cent of the survivors and even 80 per cent of the detainees viewed the system as more efficient than any other form of justice.

Kagame’s team rewrote the Constitution such that his party could not have more than 50 per cent of the seats in parliament.

The prime minister and 70 per cent of the President’s Cabinet are from ethnic groups other than his. And women comprise a world-leading 56 per cent in parliament.

Rwanda is secure and the World Bank’s Doing Business report recognised the country as the greatest reforming nation in the world.

According to the pollsters Gallup, 95 per cent of Rwandans are confident in their national government and 77 per cent satisfied with their freedom of expression, belief, association and personal autonomy while a similar percentage considers their local area to be a good place for ethnic and racial minorities.

Confidence in the military and the Judiciary is high, with approval ratings of 98 per cent and 84 per cent, respectively. And 86 per cent of Rwandans believe the electoral process is fair and honest.

Rwanda now invests in biotech, software and communications. Young, highly qualified members of the diaspora are returning in droves; remittances from the same, knowledgeable diaspora communities in northern Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States defy gravity and may be as much as $1 billion per year.

Global leaders like Nestlé and Marriott are making huge investments in human capacity, plant and equipment.

This isn’t an authoritarian regime; it is just a poor, confident nation that defies conventional Western categories, and has found its own voice.

Michael Fairbanks is the co-founder of the SEVEN Fund, a philanthropic foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.