The ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front is celebrating 30 years of its existence and last week invited its friends from across the globe to deliberate on the topic: Liberation and transformation: Realizing a dignified and prosperous Africa.
Everyone who spoke at the event extolled the success of RPF and the visionary leadership of President Paul Kagame. Indeed, Kagame is the man who not only led his fellow countrymen and women to military victory in 1994 but also envisioned a future no one thought possible after the genocide and managed to rally the country around it.
So, for me, the question isn’t whether RPF or its leader have been successful thus far. That is self-evident. The question is whether this success can be sustained in the longer term — say in fifty to 100 years from now.
This question is pertinent considering that not only is the problem the party faces today different from what it was in 1987 but its membership is today different.
In 1987 when RPF was formed, its problem was how to uproot the dictatorship of Juvenal Habyarimana and facilitate the return of refugees denied citizenship for decades. The dictatorship was defeated and RPF is in power.
So, how does a party born in exile with a membership molded by struggle sustain success 30 years later with new members largely shaped by its success and fed on bread and butter rather than Imvungure (boiled maize)?
In 2012, the Fourth Population and Housing survey estimated that 40 per cent of the population was between 14-35 years, today, about 60 per cent of the population is below 25 years.
This means that majority of the population and indeed members of RPF today were born when the party was already in existence. And this trend will continue.
So, how does RPF reproduce success when majority of its members are “fed on sausages” as a friend panned recently?
To sustain its success, RPF will have to not only comprehend the main problem it faces but also explain to its members born after it got power why it succeeded.
While some perceive today’s main challenge to the country in material terms like poverty, I believe the challenge remains how to ensure national cohesion and reproduce it.
And sustainable national cohesion will depend on whether all political actors buy into the existing consensual power-sharing political system and whether access to services for all becomes the norm.
That said, seven factors explain RPF’s success so far.
The first is the cause for which it fought. That’s to end dictatorship and reclaim citizenship denied to many. Because the cause was noble, RPF attracted the most politically committed members willing to even pay the ultimate price.
The second was the military victory that ensured that its vision was implemented.
The third is, once the genocidal regime was defeated, ability to correctly see that the major problem it faced then was how to unite all Rwandans regardless of ethnicity or region.
The fourth is a strong belief in “Country First,” which has ensured proper use of resources and watered delivering services to all Rwandans.
The fifth is dependence on members for financing and cultivating the idea of self-reliance, which has made the party itself one of the richest in the world.
The sixth, which is reflected in the aforementioned discussion theme is the party’s cosmopolitanism, which enabled it to recruit members from even outside the country. This allowed the party to tap into wider talent; raise funds and keep Rwandans in the diaspora directly attached to the country.
Finally, leadership. In particular, the stern, mission-focused, disciplined, and un-forgetting Kagame ensured that the party remained loyal to the broader mission.
To this “Country First” and “refusing to forget the mission” despite success, we can add killing the sense of entitlement that normally cripples liberation movements.
So, can RPF pass these values on to a generation that is “fed on sausages”?
The good news is that ideals like patriotism, which gave birth to “Country First,” Unity, “Agaciro” (dignity) and “Kwigira” (self-reliance) can be passed on through political education and the power of example. And since RPF and the government have invested in political education, it is possible to pass them on to future leaders.
In that sense, while RPF and the country might never get another leader like Kagame, sustaining the party’s success is possible.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com