Defining who we are is the very foundation of the new Rwanda

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President Kagame meeting with Rwandan students in a past visit to China

On Thursday I will join about three hundred young Rwandans to debate a question that I feel is extremely pertinent, especially now that we are on the cusp of major constitutional and political change. The question is, ‘What do you stand for’?

I believe that before you can answer that question you need to be able to answer this one; ‘who are you’?

It was only in the latter parts of my life that I was able to actually able to confidently answer that question; as someone who was born a refugee, raised in the West and mostly educated in Africa, I had a huge problem reconciling with all the different facets of my personality.

What were the contradictions I wrestled with?

Firstly, what did it mean to be Rwandan; especially when my most formative experiences took place in other countries? Secondly, what did it mean to be a responsible and enlightened citizen; especially when my entire political viewpoint was based on a Western model?

The biggest conversation we are having right now in the country is about the constitutional amendment to change presidential term limits. This is a conversation that I believe is pitting two major forces against each other; one that I call the ‘Agaciro’ viewpoint and another that I call the ‘Classic’ viewpoint.

Let me define these two terms. The ‘Agaciro’ viewpoint is one that I feel, especially among the younger generation, has come to the fore over the last decade or so. To me this viewpoint can be defined as when one stubbornly refuses to believe that anyone is inherently superior to them, especially when it comes to the decisions that directly impact your life. And damn the consequences.

So when someone with the Agaciro mentality discusses the amendment with someone who doesn’t want to change the term limits, they come at it thus; “Four million Rwandans petitioned Parliament to amend the term limit clause of the Constitution, who are you to ignore their wishes. Who are you to assume to know better than them”?

The ‘Classic’ viewpoint is one that has been fed to all of us, like breast milk, from birth. It is a viewpoint that comes from learning that John Hanning Speke discovered the source of the Nile, that the Abrahamic god is the ‘real one’ and that there is something quite superior about all things foreign.

So when such a person discusses the constitutional amendment issue, they come at it in a very formulaic way; “rules are rules. We decided in 2003 that we would have two-term presidency, so why change it”?

For the longest time, I leaned towards the ‘classic’ school of thought. My entire education and training screamed, “rules are rules. No matter the context. No matter the reasons. Rules are rules”

Only after talking with others who hadn’t lived my experiences was I able to challenge my own stubborn point of view. I came to the realization that refusing to acknowledge the political astuteness of my fellow Rwandans was an attitude that was steeped in prejudice and a mindset that was both colonial and paternalistic.

I was saying that Rwandans did not know what they were doing or what they wanted. I had infantilized them.

So, who am I today? I’m comfortable enough to say, yes, the Rwandan people might know something that I, and my Western education, culture and mentality, don’t. I feel comfortable enough to say that yes, Rwandans have the right to choose who they want to become. I’m comfortable enough to unashamedly say, I’m a proud son of Rwanda and all that it means.

The question is, as a self-styled son of Rwanda, what exactly do I stand for? I stand for reasoned debate. I stand for respect for all. I stand for pride in oneself. I stand for ambition and the betterment of all. I stand for high standards for myself and those around me.

What don’t I stand for and what will I never accept? Thinking that anyone is better than me. Thinking that my destiny is not in my own hands; that I’m not the captain of my own ship. That I don’t have a voice and that my voice isn’t important. I will fight to the very end to assert what I believe in.