On December 16, the congress celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the party chaired by Paul Kagame, formed the “new Rwanda.” Political scientist Jean-Paul Kimonyo, activist and advisor to the presidency, gives details to Jeune Afrique.
“The specificity of Rwanda is above all the rooting of national consciousness. Rwandans identify very strongly with their nation, their state; it’s a bit like their religion. It is not something that has been imposed on us: we live it from within. A Rwandan can leave Rwanda for any reason, but Rwanda will never get out of his mind. ”
In December 1987, Jean-Paul Kimonyo, then a student, lived in exile in Senegal after growing up in Burundi – and before emigrating to Canada. Returned to live on the land of his ancestors in the aftermath of the genocide, then became adviser to the president Paul Kagame, this political scientist, already author of a book noticed on the history of the genocide – Rwanda. A popular genocide – just dedicated a book to the epic of the RPF and the construction of the “new Rwanda”, which he was one of the protagonists: Rwanda tomorrow! A long march towards transformation.
In this long interview, Dr. Jean Paul Kimomyo returns for Jeune Afrique on the genesis and evolution of this little known and controversial movement that has shaped Rwanda today.
For Rwandan refugee communities, this movement had something messianic, such as Moses guiding his people to the promised land. One of the RPF forces was that it had enshrined in its founding principles shared by the various communities in exile: a Rwandan culture and a historical conscience affirmed, but also a certain way of behaving, especially in the military leaders – a somewhat outdated righteousness, a rigor – which recalled the warriors of pre-colonial Rwanda.
The link between the various branches of the diaspora was the national consciousness: whatever the conditions of life or the respective host countries of the refugees, this awareness of being Rwandan impregnated them in depth.
It was even more marked among the elders, but my generation – that of the RPF – had inherited it. Rwanda was the alpha and the omega of our parents’ existence. In the countries where we lived, we were considered undesirable foreigners, which exacerbated this sense of belonging. The RPF was able to channel this national consciousness by offering us the means to reach a concrete objective: to return to Rwanda.
The RPF was very clearly displaying a national transformation project. It was not only a question of returning to Rwanda but also of transforming the country. One of the reasons that forced us into exile was the existing political structures under the presidency of Juvenal Habyarimana. But the RPF was also planning to fundamentally change the economic structures of the country. Because at the time, despite the sentimental motivation of the return, we knew that life in Rwanda was not a sinecure.
First, get rid of ethnic sectarianism for the benefit of national unity. Next, transform governance, including fighting corruption. Third, promote the country’s development. We can also mention the desire to liberate ourselves from Western imperialism.
Some in Africa, celebrate the Rwandan model, but question what distinguishes this country from others on the continent, a priori better endowed, which still seem far from reaching its level of development …
Perhaps this is due to a certain sense of sacrifice. We must not lose sight of the fact that when we accept that a certain number of freedoms or rights are restrained, it is a sacrifice that we accept in an assumed way.
But the specificity of Rwanda, in my opinion, is above all the rooting of national consciousness. Rwandans identify very strongly with their nation, their state; it’s a bit like their religion. It is not something that has been imposed on us: we live it from the inside. A Rwandan can be forced to leave Rwanda, but Rwanda will never be taken out of Rwanda.
Kagame’s way of governance
Paul Kagame is uncompromising about the respect of the rules. There is also a need for results – which, however, is proportionate to what everyone is able to provide. But when he came to power, Paul Kagame refrained from practicing a political vendetta against those who had been able to do it individually: he first wanted to develop a structural apparatus intended to establish a form of transparency and transparency. It was he who pushed for the creation of various institutions in this area. From its assumption of the presidency, in 2000, the priority thus focused on the establishment of institutions likely to give a framework to a demanding governance.
The RPF was defined as a “front”, without any particular ideology. Although his methods referred to certain revolutionary movements of Marxist inspiration, the substance was pragmatic. Namely: to learn from what works without focusing on ideological chapels.
It is clear that Rwanda followed a rather liberal path because, basically, there was no real alternative. Due to the weakness of the state and the national economic fabric in the aftermath of the genocide, the government had to open up a lot to foreign investment.