Skip to main content
Life Reflections

Democracy and autocracy cannot be partners

By May 11, 2012June 6th, 2023No Comments

I don’t think I know of any other country where democracy and autocracy can be uttered in the same breath to describe its leadership. But Rwanda in the eyes of outside observers seems to represent such an enigma as would render this possible. I know many of these observers have the welfare of Rwandans at heart, and I know that Rwandans are the happier for it, but surely they must be getting something wrong.

If a country’s political system is democratic, it’s that, full stop. Any autocratic feature that may be observed in such a system should be a call to scratch the surface and dig deeper. It has happened many times that what a cursory observation beheld turned out to be the exact opposite of what the real situation was. Observers of the Rwandan situation will be well served if they can cultivate the patience and will to apply local lenses for a better appreciation.

Only then will Rwanda be seen for what she is. Rwandans, leader or led, are consumed by a burning desire to prove to the world – and, no less, to themselves – that they can ‘make it’. Having been to the end of the earth, they are ready to stretch the limits of any creative energy and innovation they may lay claim to and pierce through the walls that hold sub-Saharan Africa from civilisation. That is the simple answer to their improving socio-economic development growth, their effort to maintain security, order, calmness et al. It’s not that anything is regimented.

From the onset, when they saw that some of their own had been negatively politicised to the point of carrying out a campaign of genocide against a section of their compatriots that they had learnt to term “the other”, Rwandans did not resort to a blame game. They saw this for what it was: their own, self-inflicted pain. And they knew that only they could provide the medicine for its healing.

The medicine lay in them doing an introspection to understand exactly where their society went wrong and then working together as one to heal their pain. That’s how they are working in concert, for a common purpose. And working for common cause, they’ll not allow any one of their own to stray again outside the confines of the laws of the land in an effort to derail this purpose, for personal gain.

Every Rwandan, whether in business, public or private employment, opposition, media, or anywhere, is bound by these laws. And whoever breaks any law faces its full force. For, show me a country that does not punish its law-breaking citizens and I’ll show you the meaning of anarchy. Rwandans are protective of one another and know that this protection is only possible when enshrined in legal armour.

So, observers of good faith, don’t cry for Rwanda.

Rwanda is not a ‘Siamese democracy-autocracy-twin’ enigma. What is seen as this strange beast of an enigma is a misconception that has its origin in the alarms raised by international humanitarian and media organisations.

Seeing two forces pitted against each other, one intent on consummating a genocide while another sought to halt it, these organisations could not make a distinction between the two. They saw the force that finally triumphed over the génocidaire force as being out for revenge, which would also amount to big-scale killing.

To them, this triumphant force was the aggrieved party and they could not imagine how it would not be out for revenge. The organisations therefore tried to outdo one another in being the first to catch the attention of the world with a prediction of the impending revenge Armageddon and its accompanying bloodbath. Any effort to disabuse itself of this mistaken intent by the incoming government was seen as sugar-coated diplomatic parlance aimed at covering atrocities that were deemed inevitable.

When the predicted bloodbath did not come to happen, the organisations saw that they had been caught on the wrong foot but, after all, this was Africa. Trusting their knowledge of African governments, they guessed this government had changed tactic. So they painted a picture of a government that had changed from the tactic of quick, explosive revenge to that of a form of slow revenge.

Thus was created the image of an autocratic government of smooth-talking politicians who were adept at keeping under wraps the carnage that they were going to perpetrate against their own people, considered targeted for revenge. To this day, that image has stuck on this government like a bad smell. And the organisations will do all in their power to perpetuate it. Their credentials hinge on it.

Rwanda will have to learn to live with this duality of contradictions. Any positive action done by the government will always be twinned with a constructed negative. Any explanation of the true state of affairs by leaders and well-wishers will always be projected as either a cover-up of some evil or as the chattering of misguided loyalists and diehard sycophants.

But, for what they are worth, Rwandans should know that only they can live their “moment”, their “history”. As for all societies, democracy among them will be nothing else as long as it “conforms to (their) aspirations, history and culture”, as President Kagame never tires of explaining. Otherwise, democracy, it would seem, is in the eyes of the beholder.


Leave a Reply