On July 4, President Paul Kagame led Rwandans in celebrations to mark quarter a century after the defeat of the genocidal government.
To visualise where the country might be in the next 25 years, I had expected the president would, besides reminding us how far we have come and what has been achieved thus far, also tell us the main problems we must solve in order to win the future.
Instead of enumerating the problems the country faces today, Kagame named a single “challenge” we need to overcome to own the future as a people and nation: Sustainability”
In other words, to know what needs to be sustained to guarantee the future, one needs to first name what has been achieved that the president says is “undeniably real”.
Now, what the RPF-led government has achieved in the past 25 years is well documented. Some present these achievements in material terms; like sustained economic growth of 6-10 per cent in the past 10 years, reduced poverty, enhanced cleanliness, paved roads and roadside gardens, first Internet; developed Kigali City and other towns, high ease of doing business scores, investments in ICT and new technology, etc.
For me, however, the achievements of the Kagame-led government can be divided into two broad categories: The core or non-material, and the peripheral or material gains.
The core achievements include secured security and peace for the whole country, and uniting and reconciling Rwandans as well as ensuring individual freedoms while material accomplishments include securing jobs for (some not all) citizens, building roads and other infrastructure, etc.
This broader understanding of what constitutes “achievements” in any nation is also discernible in the president’s 19-minute speech, especially where he outlines why the liberation struggle was launched and a genocide stopped.
The president stated: “Many other liberation fighters are here with us only in memory, because they made the ultimate sacrifice. Where did the humanity and heroism come from? The answer is simple. We believed in our right to dignity as Rwandans”
He added: “This conviction was the starting point of the liberation struggle. The aim was to build a Rwanda with equal rights for all.”
In other words, the achievements or what I would call “fruits of liberation” that need to be sustained are material as well as non-material.
As I have argued elsewhere, material achievements that need to be sustained include reduced poverty, economic growth, quality education and good healthcare for all. what is more, ensuring that all Rwandans who need a job have one as well as ensuring economic development broadly must be sustained.
But ensuring sustainability also calls for continued watering, expanding and naturalising non-material achievements, including freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
This also means investing in the continued respect for the development of diversity of opinions and views in our media outlets and watering the culture of debate as well as impersonal access to rights.
It’s these non-material achievements that also constitute the software of a free, democratic and developed society. It’s these that can guarantee our future.
To sustain both the core and material fruits of liberation requires resummoning the spirit of 1990. It’s this spirit that convinced many, including those who had good jobs — like the late Maj-Gen Fred Rwigema and President Paul Kagame, who had high positions in the Ugandan government — to join the struggle so that the rights of all Rwandans could be secured.
This spirit is also a patriotic spirit. It’s a spirit that says “I can’t be free unless all my countrymen and women are free”. It’s a spirit that says “No to ethnic politics and exclusion of any type”. It’s the spirit of unity and equal citizenship.
Re-summoning the 1990 spirit isn’t only good because the “liberation generation” of 1990 that launched the struggle might be ageing or even dying off.
Nor is resummoning this spirit only good because the young generation might not appreciate the necessary sacrifices that were made to secure the present.
Re-summoning the spirit of 1990 to sustain the fruits of liberation is good both because this spirit is also a national spirit and because, under the weight of success, human beings easily forget.
In other words, we must never forget, as a country, why it was necessary to launch the liberation struggle. Nor should we ever forget why it was won.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter account: @Ckayumba