Last time when I talked about the Ugandan journalist, Andrew Mwenda, I may have appeared to denigrate him. If I created such an impression, according to one complaint, I must say, most humbly, that I was misunderstood. Worse still, I may have appeared to claim that I understood the person of the Rwandan president better than Andrew Mwenda which, in all fairness, would be an empty boast on my part.
Mr. Mwenda is one political analyst that I hold in high regard. And, apparently, so does President Museveni, because Mwenda’s piece on Rwanda’s resolute approach to the fight against graft galvanized the Ugandan president into immediately halting an attempt by his people to defraud the country’s pension fund of huge sums of money.
My bone of contention with Andrew Mwenda was that he seemed to insinuate that just because Kagame at one time served in the Ugandan government as ‘an ordinary director’, then any Ugandan can lead that country the way President Kagame is leading Rwanda. Let it be clear also, however, that I do not contest Mwenda’s assertion that Uganda is fertile with brains that may match, or even be better than, those of President Museveni.
It is only that while reading Mwenda’s serialization of his encounter with the president, I imagined him sitting opposite President Kagame in the latter’s office, and President Kagame in his soft-spoken way explaining patiently his approach to identifying and tackling the problems of this country.
No matter how many times the journalist has been thus hosted, the first word that will jump to his mind will be ‘ordinary’. And it is with that word in mind that he is likely to miss the point!
President Kagame has a way of pointing out the obvious solution to a seemingly complex problem that is disconcerting to many in his audience. The solution usually will appear so ordinary that you will despise yourself for not having thought of it in the first place.
Alternatively and especially for a journalist, you may ask a question whose high-sounding political answer you have learnt to expect from other politicians, but he will give you an answer so straight and ordinary that you might feel like apologising!
This unassuming nature of his character and behaviour confounds even further an observer who is not aware of the rich reservoir of information behind the man’s sharp mind. On practically any topic and on anything, President Kagame will display a detailed knowledge that will leave his incredulous interlocutors confounded.
Add to that his seemingly inexhaustible energy and the extent to which he is prepared to exert it, through consulting extensively and delegating, and you have ‘an ordinary man’ whom you will be hard-pressed to find in any ‘ordinary’ country on our globe.
And, at this point in time, that is the man for Rwanda. I hate to think of him having been wasted or trodden upon under the yoke of colonialism, or coming at a time that was devoid of the challenges of embracing the information and technology revolution, and taming the globalisation monster.
Of course, most importantly, the biggest problem to conquer may be that of finding a way of marrying those challenges with the Rwandan situation of abject poverty and think-small mind-sets. To begin to think of tackling these problems, a people need a far-from-ordinary mind at the helm.
The poverty of Rwanda may not be alien to Mwenda because it is not dissimilar to that of Uganda, but I doubt he has observed the character of a Rwandan as pointedly as President Kagame has. The president has said it on many occasions that the biggest flaw in Rwanda may be that of craving to make impressions.
For many Rwandans, a good image is not a means to an end but an end in itself. That is why, for instance, in a meeting it is not rare to see someone get up, clear his throat after looking around at length and say: “I would not only like to ask a ka-question but also give a ka-opinion, the ka-question will have a part to it, which you could maybe call a ka-tail and the ka-opinion will have a ka-arm and a ka-finger …”
When everybody bursts out laughing, the fellow will sit down, a triumphant mug on his face. Many Rwandans will speak in meetings not because they have a contribution to make, but because they want to be seen to be brave, eloquent, likely candidates for this or that position, or just to be seen as good orators.
A personality as big as a minister does not work for the sake of work, but to impress the president so as to get a ka-mission and be seen to be a favourite, not even caring so much about the profitable use to which one could put the expected monetary gain. Examples are legion of Rwandans whose time is consumed by calculations of how to achieve such petty and parochial ends, with the result that capacity to listen becomes the victim and imbibing any good ideas becomes a pipe dream.
All things considered, however, it is not as if Rwanda is an uncontrollable beast impossible to reign in and put in line. The capacity for a Rwandan to learn and adapt to a situation is legendary and when all those petty encumbrances are shed (and Mr. Mwendwa testifies to having met a few who had shed them), Rwandans should be able to rise out of these murky depths and head for the sky.
President Kagame is a phenomenal happening to this land in this man/woman-age and, indeed, the sky need not be the limit!