Alagi Yorro Jallow
Let me start off with an unqualified opening:
I fully support the efforts of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame in creating a cohesive, competently run and egalitarian Rwanda. I do so fully aware of the man’s authoritarian, some would argue dictatorial style of leadership.
Secondly, “Love him or hate him, Kagame could be Africa’s Lee Kuan Yew” absolutely stole my thunder. I already had a framework for a similar piece asserting that Rwanda’ Paul Kagame IS a reincarnation of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. Finally, I think it is worth repeating that Paul Kagame has Rwanda – as an economy and as a society – firing on nearly all cylinders.
I say “nearly all” because I am pragmatic. I fully appreciate the challenges the man has faced and will continue to face leading a country that is less than one-quarter century removed from the 1994 genocide; a pogrom that wiped out almost 80% of the Tutsi population. (“The Death Toll of the Rwandan Genocide: A Detailed Analysis for Gikongoro Province” by Maarijke Verpoorten). And while the results of Kagame’ centralized and personality-driven but importantly, results-oriented style of leadership are impressive, I wonder whether Rwanda can maintain the gains that have emanated from the man’s dynamic and exacting leadership – WITHOUT him.
My hope is that Rwandese take up the challenge and build on Kagame’s successes while improving on his shortcomings and oversights which include lack of clear succession planning and a repressive socio-political environment that cannot stand criticism.
That aside, I would argue that with its past, if ever there was a country in need of a strong leader, Rwanda, post-genocide, would be that country.
Supposed Gambian activists can talk all they want about abstractions such as “freedom of speech” “political dissent” and such niceties – and these ARE niceties given Rwanda’s dark history. Understandably, Critics invariably accuse Kagame of being an authoritarian. However, the country has little to brag about and littler still to show for the almost sixty years of relative peace and stability it has experienced under the leadership of four men:
The corrupt, authoritarian, tribal and quasi-competent Adama and Yahya respectively, the corrupt, competent but disinterested and hobbled Gambian leaders and the very corrupt, hyper-tribal and demonstrably incompetent Barrow and Jammeh.
In fact, under Jammeh and Barrow, one can argue that the Gambia has regressed on matters of competent, incorruptible and accountable governance. Additionally, Banjul, the capital city has degenerated into an ungovernable, unplanned, overpopulated and a congested trash-filled mess of a sprawl. Under Barrow and Jammeh, the Gambia’s GDP has fallen behind Guinea Bissau. Put another way, the Gambia has very little to show for the “democratic” space or assorted amalgam of “freedoms” – of the press, of religion, of speech etc. that the country bandy about when criticize or compared to its other West African neighbors including neighboring Senegal.
All told, discussion about “democracy” and “freedom” become meaningless intellectual exercises to those who have lost loved ones due to ethnic-fueled violence driven, in part, by the unbridled pursuit of powers. Given a choice, of course all humans would want freedom – to speak their mind; to associate with whoever they so choose, and they definitely want the freedom to choose their leadership. However, having lived in the US and seen its electorate go from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, I can tell you that the constructions “Democracy” and “Freedom” are at best, relative and graded on a sliding scale.
It’s apparent that even more important and desirable is peace, security and stability; this the equivalent of the annoying supposed activists. Paul Kagame has given Rwanda all three regardless of how tenuous they are and a simple look at some raw numbers prove that Rwanda will continue to close the gap with progressive African countries on some economic and social indicators while the Gambian wrestle with corruption, incompetence and tribalism – its vaunted Constitution and democratic space notwithstanding.
Rwanda is infinitely cleaner than the Gambia and the capital Kigali is arguably one of the world’s cleanest cities thanks in part to the collectivism of “Umuganda”; a loose variant of “The Gambia the Smiling Coast”. Rwanda banned plastic bags even as Gambians were on their way to immortalizing the “flying toilet” phenomenon – plastic bags filled with feces. It is better organized, and its urban planning is eons ahead of the erstwhile “oasis of peace”. On this development, it is bears pointing out the Kagame’s son-in-law, as previously mentioned, has a post-graduate degree in City Planning from London’s School of Economics.
With Rwanda, the country’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is just over two times that of the Gambia. Globally, it is ranked in the Top of the Gambia.
The Gambia is ranked in the Bottom out of 180 countries ranked. Regionally, Rwanda sits atop the ten countries located in the Horn of Africa. All told and as written in the article “Kagame’s AU Reforms Will Struggle Without Him” (South Africa Institute of International Affairs), “Kagame is not a democrat, but he has developed a well-deserved reputation for being efficient and effective” – and the results – as summarized above and in Makau Mutua’s piece – are impressive.
The challenge for the man and for Rwanda is whether the country can emulate what Singapore did and continues to do – without Lee Kuan Yew, Kagame’s leadership doppelgänger. Will the former military leader leave behind a structured and well-organized Rwanda able to maintain AND improve on the efficient, effective and incorruptible foundation that he, Paul Kagame, built during his 25+years in office?
Alagi Yorro Jallow