“Niko mwana wa…!” I looked around to check if he was calling attention to someone else, for a second forgetting that my neighbour’s visiting father is old enough to call me son. As an old geezer, I’m running out of chances of meeting my senior.
But Mzee Kananga wanted to talk. And knowing his ways, I knew I was in for a long presentation. So I went over to the veranda where he sat to attend to his ‘communion’ which I labour to translate: “…Is it true there are people who want to unseat our leadership come August? And they’ll need our help?”
He wasn’t seeking an answer and, without pausing for a breath, went on: I hope they’ve got many tricks up their sleeves, because they’ll sorely need them. Rwandans have become a hard customer; to bend us to your will, you must drive a hard bargain. And that bargain has to be convincing about immediate, tangible benefits.
For instance, even without considering whatever better offer they may propose, can these new presidential hopefuls replicate this government that takes me as its responsibility?
Yes, me, Kananga, continued he, wherever I am, here or in my village, this government follows up on me and makes sure I am safe and lack in nothing.
Else, why do you think my son received free, treated mosquito nets only the other day, even as you city slickers sneer that you can afford your own? Sneers which haven’t stopped you from enjoying their protection, nevertheless.
Don’t you concur that if such nets were to be distributed free in other countries, they’d most likely end up being diverted to private gain? Even if the government itself got them free, its officials would, at best, use them to solicit a bribe or, at worst, sell them to their intended recipients.
But because this government cannot tolerate anybody going between me and my comfort, it will hold the officials to account if they so much as retain a single net. So, officials literally beg you to sign in acknowledgement of receipt.
Also, this small matter of free nets is a drop in an ocean of a proliferation of innovative empowerment programmes that are aimed at placing Rwandan citizens on the fast lane to a better standard of living, with their participation.
You townies know about programmes like Mutuelles de Santé (universal medical insurance); Bye Bye Nyakatsi (that was eradication of indecent habitation); Girinka (offer of cows to poor families); VUP (for alleviation of poverty); Umurenge SACCOs (village cooperatives, for savings and credits); and more.
They’ve all been effected to empower me, the all too important citizen of this land but, most importantly, with my participation.
Pray, these new presidential aspirants, have they sat down to examine these programmes and study ways of offering better alternatives or, at least, improving on these?
For when and if they do, it’ll be like opening a Pandora’s Box; they’ll discover there is lots more to study.
Some of which more, they’ll begin to understand only if they go back to the history of this leadership. This leadership rose from the RPF/A infancy, where it survived and grew thanks to ‘udutendo tudasanzwe’ – audacious sting operations.
Like on 3rd November 1991 when a few dozen guerrilla fighters stung a celebrating Habyarimana army and its powerful backers at the northern border town of Gatuna and left them in a quandary. Or when on 21st January 1992 they struck again and freed all of late Habyarimana’s enemies to leave him in a panic that still survives as his eternal souvenir.
Add to that the daredevil assault on the outskirts of Kigali in February 1993; the ambush of the French soldiers in their last-ditch ‘Zone Turquoise’ rescue effort that so humiliated them; the triumphal halt of the genocide this French effort sought to help consummate. Before this humiliation, they used to come openly, not in the silly sneakiness of Cameroon!
Anyway, only on examining the aforementioned will these aspirants understand how come, these daring firsts: medicine delivery by drones; milking electricity from methane gas that’s extracted from water; a burgeoning airline where others are sinking; and more.
Also, it’s no small matter that this government can furnish my house with solar power with my token payment of 4000 Frs and, with a little more, biogas power.
These sparks of modernity premised in an environment of traditional values like Gacaca of yore, Umuganda, Ubudehe, Imihigo, Umushyikirano, Hehe Na Ruswa, Ndi Umunyarwanda, et al, have combined to birth a growing form of ‘demokarasi’ unique to Rwanda.
To parachute into Rwanda, hop on a ‘moto’ and hope to present your democracy; to cry to high Heaven at airports about your desire to deliver democracy; to gather all Greens of Europe to give you democracy to pass over, etc, I don’t think any of these will impress anybody.
Mzee’s grand finale: “In this land, there has developed what’s known as ‘Participatory Democracy Made In Rwanda’ that’s been wholly embraced.
“As I see it, any other form of imported democracy will be a hard sell.”