I followed yesterday’s discussions in both chambers of Parliament on two forums; the national radio and on Twitter. To those living under a rock, the discussions were about amending article 101, the constitutional clause that would force Rwanda to relinquish the leadership of President Kagame in 2017 after the mandatory two, seven-year terms.
What dawned on me as I read the tweets and heard the radio was just how differently some of my fellow journalists and amateur political ‘analysts’ viewed the constitutional change process as compared to the MP’s, senators and the hundreds of regular citizens that flocked to witness the historic occasion.
While MP after MP voted to amend Article 101, extolled the president’s leadership and strategic vision (while those in the public gallery whopped, hollered and sang in delicious excitement), on social media some fellow Rwandans lamented, calling the parliament “a sham”, saying that we would become “a global laughing stock” and worrying that we were instituting a “de-facto monarchy”.
Some went so far as to wish that a few MPs would oppose the motion just so that it would seem like the vote was not unanimous!
I have a lot of problems with many of my media colleagues and these issues stem from their paternalistic attitudes to their own people. They assume to know what is best for the people, despite the fact that the people are speaking for themselves. That attitude is one that I’ve railed against when it came from foreigners and it is one that I will rail against when it comes from a small group of people with an overinflated sense of their own importance.
We cannot talk about democracy and the rule of law, and then say that what the people want isn’t democratic. We cannot talk of the rule of law, and then ask an elected MP to vote not only against what his constituents want but also against their very conscience. We cannot talk about self-determination, but then also cater our political process and future to the whims of certain members of the international community.
This begs the question, why this strange disconnect between certain members of the Twitter generation and the larger Rwandan populace?
This was a topic that I was discussing with researcher friend of mine from Uganda this weekend. After a back and forth, we came to a few conclusions.
Firstly, we (and I mean people in my generation) took everything for granted. We took it for granted that our systems worked.
I will give you an example. The researcher is currently doing a study on the health sector. Showing me photographs that he took in Kamonyi District Health Center, he pointed out the well-stocked pharmacy, the well-equipped labs and the triple-sourced energy supply (solar, electric lines, and generator). He showed me the waiting area with a television and the clean hospital toilets. He showed me the volunteer community health workers and their chicken rearing projects.
Did I swoon in amazement? Not really. I was not unimpressed but I didn’t think it was a big deal. He then informed me that he had not seen a better-run health system anywhere in Africa, including South Africa where he lived previously.
That got me thinking. What else had I missed? What other revolutionary projects that had changed lives had I taken for granted? There must have been dozens. However, just because I had taken them for granted did not mean that everyone else had. Hence the three million (plus) petitions to Parliament. Hence the unanimous vote yesterday.
Secondly, our education system leads to the disconnect. Think about it, we spend the vast majority of our academic lives learning about the superiority of Western systems of governance and not enough time learning about ourselves as a people. So, we end up talking for hours about constitutionalism and not enough time talking about Girinka.
It is like we are, to paraphrase Frantz Fanon, white skins living behind black masks. Thing is, when those who are truly ‘black’ (or in this case, normal baturage) assert themselves, we slap them down and ridicule them because they go against our ‘white’ values. This separation was the aim of the colonial state, and sadly we still haven’t shaken ourselves free from it.
Rwanda is now trying to shake itself free from its colonial and pre-1994 past. It is becoming a viable state in more than just words. This arduous process is one that is still in a delicate phase; millions of citizens understand this. So please forgive them their lack of political savoir-faire. They don’t know how to play the game; all they know how to do is be refreshingly Rwandan. They are dancing, singing and hollering in joy because they know that the decision that they are making is one that they are more than happy with. How can you fault that?