This has been one of the busiest end-of-year periods in Rwanda’s recent history. The country’s ruling party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) marked its 30th birthday.
For anyone with keen interest in politics in Africa, the role of political parties and the intelligentsia in how it is organised and practised, there was much food for thought in the activities surrounding the event. There was no marching through the streets. There were no spectacular displays of anything.
A bit of self-congratulation by some members aside, there were no vuvuzelas. It was the kind of celebration that might make one say “these people don’t know how to party”. It was also rather serious business, starting with an international conference on December 12 to discuss “liberation and transformation,” with three main thematic areas: Transformation, resilience, and self-reliance.
In town to reflect on the history of the RPF, other liberation movements and parties and Africa in general, was former president of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa, and guests and friends of Rwanda; political, intellectual and civic leaders from elsewhere in Africa and beyond.
There were the party faithful in their different guises, young and old, listening attentively and remembering how far the RPF, Rwanda and Rwandans have come over the past 25 years the party has been at the helm.
There were the leaders of the country’s other political parties, also in the room to mark what is an important milestone not just for the RPF, but for Rwanda as a country.
It was quite a conversation, the kind your average, run-of-the-mill political party in Africa is incapable of conceiving, let alone organising.
Following on the heels of the international conference was the RPF’s biennial congress. The three-day event continued with the reflections and critical self-examination.
The first day, an entirely internal party affair, was dedicated to something of a clinical dissection of the past three decades, focusing on achievements, challenges, and lessons learnt.
A key highlight of the day, according to reports, was the call to party members to cease basking in the party’s and the country’s achievements and focus instead on what they have not yet done but which they must do. Besides amendments to the party’s statutes, the second day focused on “shaping Rwanda for global challenges and opportunities.”
Post-genocide Rwanda, as anyone who cares to know does, has by the sheer number of achievements it has registered across many domains, surprised and proved wrong those who wrote it off in the 1990s as destined to become another of Africa’s case studies of failed state building.
And yet the country’s political and intellectual leadership who led the discussions are unwilling to allow themselves to be sedated by the strides it has made.
Rather, as they look out for and pursue new opportunities, they remain keenly aware of the imperative to remain vigilant and take nothing for granted, urging fellow Rwandans to do the same.
Day three produced the action plan for the coming two years before the next congress, and saw the party elect its new leaders. Again, some notable features distinguishing the RPF from many of its peers across the continent.
In an exercise devoid of controversy, and arguably testimony to satisfaction with their performance, candidates for the top three leadership positions were returned with very large majorities.
But that wasn’t the most striking aspect of the process. What was striking, for me, was that, in a remarkable display of internal discipline, there was no scrambling or self-positioning by potential candidates to be put on the ballot. Not a single candidate proposed his or her own name for any position.
That left party members to nominate individuals they considered to be suitably qualified for particular roles and explain their reasons.
On hand to witness the process and contribute thoughts and reflections on prior discussion, were representatives of the country’s other political parties who at the end of the day, paid tribute to the RPF for its role in liberating the country from misrule and for working with them to build “uRwanda twifuza” (the Rwanda we all want). That is hardly insignificant in Africa where political parties are forever wrestling with each other for power in do-or-die, winner-takes-all contests.
Visiting dignitaries representing sister ruling parties from a number of countries couldn’t help but comment on what in their own countries is difficult to imagine: Potentially rival political organisations working together rather than against each other to realise a collective vision of a peaceful, well-led and prosperous country.
Nowhere else are collective aspirations fleshed out for everybody to understand and embrace than at the annual National Dialogue Conference that closes each year’s political calendar. This year’s conference, like previous ones, brought together Rwandans living in Rwanda and their diaspora compatriots to think together.
This time they heard their leaders outline the country’s strategy for national transformation for them to reflect and comment on. It is not possible that everybody grasped all the details.
By the time proceedings and their live broadcasts ended and delegates went home, however, Rwandans knew there was a collective vision for national transformation, quite different from contexts where rival political parties see it their mission to fight over everything.
The Article was first published in The East African.
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org