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A letter to a Western friend

Greetings my friend. I still remember vividly the last conversation we had on a plane. You had just attended an international conference in Kigali, and was visibly excited both about the conference, and Rwanda, the country.

And excited you must be, as we all are, because you have visited us, time and again, since 1994, and played a part in our recovery.

You asked me why and how Rwanda has managed to consistently punch above her weight in international affairs. I did not respond, because frankly I did not fully understand the very premise of the question.

Because you see, over the past few decades, Rwandans have struggled to rebuild their shattered country. They could not even pull themselves out of poverty by the straps of their boots, because recent history had left them with no boots.

All they had was their dignity, and the certainty that destiny did not lie in history, size or geography, conventional wisdom notwithstanding, but in the affirmation of everyone’s humanity, imagination of policy and, programmes as well as the willingness to commit to execution, accountability – and the ability to take calculated risks, learn from failure, accept success, and keep moving the bar higher and higher.

I don’t know whether Rwanda punches above her weight. I do know that Rwanda does not believe in weights. Especially those shackles to development that primarily exist in the mind. A weighted world is a deeply unfair world.

A weighted world leads to the absurd situation in which some countries, or groups of countries, because of their economic, military or other capabilities, would want to make others in their own image. Who established the weight quintile within which Rwanda is supposed to play? Where? When? With whose consent?

Granted, the country is less wealthy than many other nations of the World. But this is neither a permanent, nor fatal condition, although it has, in the past, induced fatalism in some, and misguided glee in others.

Do you know, my friend, that in Kinyarwanda we have not one but two words for poverty? Yes we do. Ubukene, and Ubutindi. Ubukene is that common but remediable lack of access to the resources required for decent living.

Ubutindi is poverty of the soul or spirit, take your pick. Decent, dignified, honorable men, women and countries can be Abakene (poor). They can, as Rwanda has shown, struggle to pull themselves out of this poverty, with malice towards none, and a fierce affirmation of their dignity.

But woe to you, my friend, if you meet a wealthy Mutindi – they of the poverty of the soul! They will crush you. They are insatiable. Ostentation, bullying, lying, cheating is their daily bread.

When they look at you, they completely miss your face for they only see the contents of your pockets. They expect you to serve them the little you have and starve, or they keep you barely alive so they can exploit you a little longer.

In development theory, they have even coined a term for it – poverty alleviation! They dare not aim at poverty elimination, despite the global availability of resources to do so.

You remember the time we debated when Rwanda would ever leave the Third World and join the First? The very concept of Third World, or perhaps more appropriately tiers monde, is anathema to a people who have Agaciro, inalienable self-worth.

I told you then that Rwandans could not accept a concept of global governance based on feudal Europe’s Estates, with the Lords forming the first estate, the clergy the second, and the rest the third. Europe abandoned it, it should not be the basis for International Relations.

A world divided into first, second and third class citizens and countries is a world based on Ubutindi! It is a world we cannot accept.

So, my friend, Rwanda does not punch above her weight in International Affairs. She simply does not recognise assigned weights to countries and peoples. Rwandans are busy trying to make their lives better than they were yesterday.

In this journey they are happy to travel with others, for as we both have heard, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, travel with others.

By Dr Richard Sezibera

The writer is a senator in the Rwandan Parliament.

The Express News

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