By Eleneus Akanga
The planning had been as meticulous as the voting that preceded this event. Having successfully come through as winner of the predictable presidential election on August 9, this was a day Kagame and his supporters knew was coming. And boy, did they plan.
After all, Kigali is known for its pristine and tidy streets, so most of their job was already cut. A few decorations here and there and everything would be in motion. People were asked to turn up in numbers and business in the city, especially near the national stadium came to a standstill. If you did not make it to the stadium due to heavy security or venue capacity limits, you had no reason not to stay at home and watch it on national television. Giant screens were erected around for those that would claim they did not have televisions at home.
Somewhere across town, the cult figure that is Paul Kagame prepared to cut his cake and serve it, as dignitaries from far and near, ensconced themselves in comfy seats, waiting to witness history. Oh yes, history! History because not long, someone would stand in their midst, take his oath and become the first ever head of state to assume a second seven year term in office. To put this in context, that is 2 years short of 3 presidential terms in any of his neighbouring countries and 2 years short of a possible 4 American Presidents, assuming each served only one term, or 2 if each served the legally accepted 2 terms.
This was a day that had come right on the heels of mounting pressure on Kigali. Pressure – resulting from heavy criticism of a regime and government that the guest of honour understands as being on the right path. If there was going to ever be an opportunity for President Kagame to put one past his critics or for Kigali to express how confused and angry it is at those who continue to question its style of leadership, his overall judgement, or his role in the politics of the region, this was it.
And he took the invite it with open arms. “It is difficult for us to comprehend those who want to give us lessons on inclusion, tolerance and human rights. We reject all their accusations. Self-proclaimed critics of Rwanda may say what they want, but they will neither dictate the direction we take as a nation, nor will they make a dent in our quest for self determination,” he roared.
With his face grimacing in what some will have viewed as fear as opposed to his cowboy seriousness, the one time member of Africa’s new brood of leaders continued:
“These external actors turn around and promote the dangerous ideas of those who have fallen out with the system; ignoring the choices of the majority of our people … it is evidence of hypocrisy and a patronizing attitude towards our entire continent”.
For all his greatness and his one time grand vision for the country, President Kagame remains a peculiar character. For reasons well known to him, he views critics as self styled. He has never understood or blatantly chooses to ignore that critics are what any one needs to be perfect. He has this feeling that for some weird reason or a deliberate sort of raison d’être, certain people hate him and his people. And he can’t stand these critics leave alone the thought of getting lessons from them.
As someone who is understood to have brought an end to the genocide (some contest this), Kagame would rather he earned maximum praise. He sees Rwanda as his brain child, a nation which needs him so badly, that without him, it would extinguish away in flames. He also sees the world, as gradually ganging up against him by siding with or lending a few ears to his critics. And for this he wants a fight.
The Kagame we saw today is the Kagame we saw some 3 years ago in front of dignitaries at then Hotel Intercontinental, chastising and directly telling off dignitaries most notably the French ambassador to Rwanda at the time for his country’s decision to prosecute some of his men. Now, fighting for fellow countrymen is a sign of solidarity, but this fight has got to be both reasonable and appropriate. President Kagame needs to know that sometimes, over reaction, can come through either as a sign of guilt or weakness.
While I understand his anger and his desire to put his point across, I am not overly convinced that he has to use his swearing in ceremony to moralize his beatitudes. Anyone would be angry. Everyone human would be so angry if after years of innocence, their army as well as their person suddenly stood accused of crimes against humanity – especially by an organisation they themselves accuse of folding its arms against them when they needed help. Angry rhetoric is no solution. While it may help send a clear message to your accuser to expect a tough fight, like I said before, it risks creating the impression that the noisemaker is wary of something.
Mr. President, everyone remembers how easily you swept through the election, winning 93 percent of the vote. We know too that according to you, dependency on aid and not the lack of democracy is Africa’s major problem. Is it not fair that after all these years in power, you should return power to the people as provided for in the constitution, decentralise power and provide for free speech and press freedom. And that way, “we the people” can have a proper debate on the way forward for this wonderful nation that you so easily are tilting towards a dictatorship?