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April 14, 2023

A panel discussion during the RPF-Inkotanyi's 16th National Congress at Intare Conference Arena on Sunday , April 2. Photo by Village Urugwiro

A panel discussion during the RPF-Inkotanyi’s 16th National Congress at Intare Conference Arena on Sunday , April 2. Photo by Village Urugwiro

By all accounts, the RPF Inkotanyi International Conference 2023 that preceded the party’s 16th National Congress (April 1 & 2) was stimulating. But others before it haven’t been dreary, either. Or else, the party wouldn’t be turning it into something of a culture. A culture that has roots in the inception of this government.

The two related events were organised to coincide with the RPF Inkotanyi’s 35th anniversary.

This government seems to have been midwifed by the desire to gather all shades of thought and intermarry them through discussions to get a polity born out of consensus-building.

We’ve all heard about Kicukiro 1 & 2 and the Urugwiro Village meetings that drew together all elements of Rwandan society to chart out this country’s future. But it involved only Rwandans. In which case, local wisdom was gathered to inform a government that answered to its citizens’ desires. Societies do not live in isolation, though; thus the need to solicit foreign wisdom to enlighten and enrich local processes of thought and avoid living in a cocoon.

After these local discussions and foreign gatherings (if I recall well), what may’ve passed unnoticed was something of a comedy. From President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers down to parastatal department heads huddled together for days in a dingy room of a dingy Hôtel des Mille Collines. One of the best hotels of the time but dingy by the standards of today’s hotels.

If you think in that hibernation they were learning the politics of those discussions, you have another think coming. Because, actually, they were learning the enterprises of the day. And so you wondered, what the hell? Our leaders were here to learn about managing us as their society, not as their company. And politics is about the management of societies, no?

So, listening in as a fly on the wall that long ago, you realised someone had something else up their sleeve, though it sounded like a children’s series of comic strip magazines!

Listen: a customer in an American select haute couture shoe shop rejected a shoe; the leather had small holes. The shop owner blamed his Mexican supplier and returned his consignment.

The Mexican blamed his Brazilian supplier and sent his lot back. The Brazilian supplier blamed his Argentine farmer, who blamed his butcher, who blamed the cattle keeper, who blamed the cattle, which blamed the barbed wire with which the farmer had fenced the farm!

The above which meant what? It’s only in this past conference that I came to understand that what that long ago sounded like a study in comedy was actually business-seriousness.

It was about what one of the constellation of panelist brains explained as recognising responsibility in world business. About taking care to avoid mistakes. About learning how to avoid harmful side effects of corporate activity.

The panellists, some of the world’s best brains and business savvies, presented arguments and counter-arguments that were dizzying to some of us whom someone has termed “moving points of confusion”!

So, forgive me when what I present in the form of my take on the presentations sounds hazy.

African countries seeking to develop don’t realise that their problems are not political; they are economic. So they engage in futile political squabbles, not knowing that economies can only thrive in integration. African decision on regional integration is what’s going to make or break our continent. As a continent, it should seek to have the world as its end of the value chain market. Not sell raw materials or simply materials with value-addition but, rather, sell finished products. We must strive to turn our problems into potential solutions.

Again, if I am tying myself in knots, know that’s what my not-so-thin brain could glean out of that oh, so educative debate.

The saving grace was that, minus those “points of confusion”, the audience was also laced with the crème-de-la-crème of the world’s intelligentsia. There were many from everywhere and I remember one asking whether what African countries needed to get out of their mire was to know the “what” of what they could do or the “how” of “how” they could do it, to get out of their underlying situation.

When one panellist put forth that it was the “what”, a microphone crackled and from the audience a voice said “Sorry!” before advancing that Africans knew the “what” and the “how” and what was needed was implementation. The voice cited the many conferences the world over in which many of those present had answered those “whats/hows”. If those were not enough, the many countries they’ve known that can act as examples that bridged the gap between the “what” and the “how”. Africans can switch the contexts accordingly.

Before seconding the “what” panellist, a fellow panellist noted that in his country none has the privilege of speaking to their Head of State who listens attentively to them. The conference cooled down with mirth before the hot debate could resume.

But it was thrown back into laughter when later President Kagame illustrated with a long explainer of the Rwandan adage: “Ingwe ntiyarizi gufata ku gakanu, yarabwirijwe”. If a leopard could learn from humans how best to satisfy its needs, why not Africans, from foreign citizens?

The verdict? It’s out there!

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