Image via WikipediaBy Sakabaka
Rwanda has experienced some turmoil since the beginning of the year when presidential hopeful Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza returned to the country after 16 years in exile. In the wake of her return, events quickly unfolded that, so far at least, seem to have pulled back the curtain to expose the true intent of the regime in Kigali. Supporters of the regime switched from singing its praises and how it was a "beacon" in the region, to claiming that Rwanda needs action at the moment more than it needs democracy. As a result, Kagame is now seen as hogging power and more of a dictator than a democratically-elected leader.
Kagame is a man of many admirers and about as many critics. Yet, to all, it is clear that he is not interested in a conventional democracy. The opposition, and many foreign critics, have jumped on this fact and called for him to step down, either voluntarily or through elections, to allow for a more democracy-conducive atmosphere. However, if there is no Kagame, who can take the reins in Rwanda and prevent what could possibly rival the 1994 genocide and its bloodshed?
The key- and what the opposition should be focused on- is targeting the average citizen to change their mindset. Many in the middle and upper social classes have a lot of interest vested in the current regime that they don't want to, or are afraid to, see things change. The average citizen, poor and largely uneducated beyond a few years of primary school, is the pawn without which the game cannot be won.
In 1994, the majority of the killings were not carried out by the army, but by regular people. The people were conditioned by a system of hate and paranoia that they were able to be exploited to achieve ends beneficial to a few strongmen. This same system that conditions them in this way, also, allows for the creation of strongmen such as Kagame.
The only way to retain power in such a system is to divide the citizens and play them against each other through fear-mongering. As soon as someone rises up to question the role of the RPF, the current ruling party in Kigali, they are accused of "genocide ideology," a law so vague and convoluted that if it had a genuine purpose, it has since been lost. The Tutsi population, which is still hurting from 1994, is afraid that the numerically-superior Hutu are biding their time to finish what they weren't able to finish. The Hutu look at the militarily-superior Tutsi and wonder when they will be fell upon in revenge. Both look to Kagame as a savior, and he relishes this role while allowing this climate of fear to fester.
This is why the focus should be on the system that creates such people as Kagame. The only way to change the system is to change the hearts and minds of the average citizens so that these exploitative tactics don't work with them. Only the people will be able to prevent the rise of divisive strongmen from their midst. They have to be able to speak up for their rights, and be willing to lose their lives in the process, rather than cower in fear.
Yes, to many Kagame is a savior, but even Jesus, after saving the world from sin, did not stick around physically forever. Kagame, too, can step aside assured that, after 16 years, he can still guide the country through his actions while he was at the top...if those actions merit that. To be a great president, you don't need to single-handedly bring development to your nation. You don't need to stay forever, and you definitely don't need to suppress the free expression of ideas. What you need is to inspire people to take their future in their hands. George Washington did not stay president forever even though he was offered the option. Thomas Sankara, in his brief 4 years as president, turned an impoverished country around by empowering the people to control their own fate by building their country. There are many like them, and they are what we need in Rwanda in order to attain true development.
Kagame might feel that the country is not ready to move on without him, but, like a parent of a teenager off to college for the first time, reality has to be faced. He has to trust that his guidance the past 16 years has settled into the minds of the people and that they will make good decisions based on that. Whether Rwanda succeeds or fails if he steps aside is unpredictable, what is predictable, however, is that Rwanda will suffer if he doesn't.
Not yet, however, not until the opposition has been able to change the system and the people are ready to be led by someone who doesn't require to be regarded as an overprotective parent. Then, and only then, will the successive rule of strongmen be over in Rwanda.