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The New Times - Rwanda
By: Joseph Rwagatare
The headlines said it clearly. Two samples from one set said: Major changes underway in Africa; Africa is undergoing change. This was in reference to a speech President Paul Kagame gave at Columbia University in New York on September 26.
Examples from another expressed it this way: Rwanda opens its doors to asylum seekers once headed to Europe; for refugees trapped in Libya, a flight out of danger. This too was talking about the arrival in Rwanda on the same day of African migrants stranded in detention camps in Libya.
Both events signalled new approaches to African issues (the change indicated in headline news last week) and mark a departure from the past. That they happened on the same day was only a coincidence.
One of the headlines came from President Kagame’s speech at Columbia University. He said: big changes are underway on the African continent and went on to list them. They are all aimed at creating a more efficient African Union, improving intra-African trade and cooperation, reducing conflict and increasing prosperity.
Among them were reforms of the African Union, the coming into effect of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), contribution to peace keeping and actually setting up a peace fund, and the continuing trend towards greater regional integration.
He went further than merely cataloguing ongoing initiatives to make Africa strong and prosperous. He also had criticism for those who have made it their singular business to find fault with, and lecture African leaders and peoples, and meddle in the affairs of the continent.
He reminded everyone that “African leaders answer to their people. There is no room for intermediaries”. Nor do we need “external validation because we live our own reality”. According to President Kagame, some of the external interference is based on the wrong notion that “Africans don’t know what is good for us”. But, as he said “Africa has its own interests and we intend to get on with it”.
It was a polite but firm way of saying, please back off and let us do our work. Your interference is not particularly helpful. This assertive stance is part of that new approach.
For long, African countries have been deliberately portrayed negatively. It is not that nothing good happens here. Rather the intention is to belittle what goes on and paint a picture of inability, inefficiency and incompetence and
so justify continued intervention and control.
Some Africans have come to accept this portrayal of ourselves as inept and incapable of doing much for ourselves. They do this for varying reasons: to curry favour with those outsiders, to get accepted in their circles, or to show that they are brave. Bad-mouthing our own becomes some sort of badge of courage.
This is probably what Ousmane Sembene, the Senegalese writer and filmmaker meant when he wrote in his novel, God’s Bits of Wood, that “it isn’t those who are taken by force, put in chains and sold as slaves who are the real slaves. It is those who will accept it morally and physically.”
Another kind of liberation from this kind of thinking is therefore needed. That is what President Kagame and like-minded African leaders are doing: freeing us from a negative view of ourselves, getting on with what is in our
interest, and also telling the self-ordained guardian angels to spread their wings elsewhere.
Talking about slaves, we were shocked recently to learn that slave trading was going on in Libya the old fashioned way. Young Africans on their way to Europe for a better life but unable to get there because Europe has shut its doors to migrants find themselves in detention camps in Libya.
They are tortured, some killed and others auctioned like livestock. The revelation was horrifying and jolted some into action. Rwanda offered to take in five hundred of them. The sixty six that arrived last Thursday, including unaccompanied minors and single mothers, are part of that group. Those who can get a third country to go to will go. Others that want to go back to their countries will be free to do so. If any wish to stay here, they can.
Rwanda is not a big, rich or powerful country. Nor should those be conditions for doing good or right. For that you only need good sense, common decency and a generous heart.
Rwandans also know something about suffering, statelessness and indignity. We would not wish to see anyone go through similar experiences if it can be avoided. We wouldn’t wish these even for our worst enemies. And so these young Africans who have arrived in Rwanda are safe and secure and they have said so. Taking them in shows what can be done even with little resources if there is the will, at least in the interim. In the long term, the underlying causes for migration must be addressed.
This must be part of the new thinking. Our people are our own and cannot be allowed to suffer as we watch. Nor can we wash our hands of them because they have sought to flee our countries. We do not have to wait for outside help.