M7 state visit: Beyond the thief count

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By Museminari Damas Marcel

The good feeling of President Museveni’ memorable visit to Rwanda July 29 – August 1, 2011 seems to be wearing thin among some individuals notably Sekikubo Theodore, Rwemiyaga MP.

At some stage in Museveni s visit he indeed made mention of there being many thieves in Uganda that would derail development activities and the creation of public goods. ‘Are there as many thieves here in Rwanda?’ M7 had asked in his outspoken fashion.

What the President really wanted to know was how Rwanda could fare rather well in several areas despite Uganda’s comparative advantages in size of population and resources.  That Museveni asked this question does not mean he was unaware that Rwanda does have its fair share of thieves. They still persist as shown recently by the Auditor General’s Report in Rwanda.

The auditor general combed so many government companies and found out rot in a most of them. One is the public transport company ONATRACOM. Despite donation of dozens of buses in the past, the government company has reported losses year in and year out. The difference in Rwanda is how the thieves are dealt with. They are many high level former government people in prison including former Ministers, former parliamentarians as well as senior government officers.

Now that Uganda has more thieves in public service is no surprise; Uganda has 3 times the population of Rwanda so even if the two sister countries had the same level of theft, Uganda would have 3 times the number of thieves. Still will higher GNI, larger national budget, wouldn’t Ugandan thieves steal far more money in total than their Rwandese counterparts?

What the honourable Sekikubo missed about the visit was that his President got a chance to peruse through Rwanda’s progress and to take a few lessons back home to a people who share a culture but are unfortunately divided by an artificial border and hatreds over the centuries.

Museveni and Kagame were able to sift through decades, if not centuries of misgivings and hatred to reignite a kindred spirit of beyond their common border.  By people like Sekikubo asking about Museveni’s donation to a school in Kigali of some USD 300.000, he and his ilk have behaved very much like the Biblical Judas who decried the pouring of alabaster oil on Jesus by a humble woman, claiming that it could have been used to buy food for the poor. He (Judas Iscariot) in fact wanted to embezzle it because he was the group’s purse man and a crook. His love of money later led him to betray Jesus for only 30 dinari. Sekikubo is no less a man.

Sekikubo and his ilk should have stopped to consider that Museveni’s host Kagame has contributed to good causes in the region including schools and universities and sports that bring our populations together such as CECAFA-Kagame cup where Ugandan teams have excelled.  The two presidents have shown the way beyond narrow nationalism to a Pan-African stance.

Rwanda has pioneered a unique experiment in many ways that can be summed up in a burgeoning philosophy of ‘human dignity.’  Democracy – whether the stone-throwing type we have seen recently in parts of Africa; or the one that values the next election more than survival of the nation – is a quasi-value, secondary to a more engrossing concept like human dignity.

So in Gacaca judicial system for example, telling the truth and forgiveness and healing – which should be fundamental ingredients of any judicial system- was part of our long standing culture long buried under foreign values imposed on us from outside. Rwanda rediscovered itself and used this to heal itself.

Now while the Hutu who form the bulk of the perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi are doing TIG, the correctional punishment, those who still identify as Tutsi should indeed hold themselves to probity because TIG is a lesson for all our populations whatever tag we give ourselves now or deep into the future. Any violent society needs to internalize this bitter lesson before they engage in any hostilities. In Rwanda’s experiment therefore lies a cure for that level of conflict anywhere including Uganda.

On Umuganda the communal work at which President Museveni is reported to have said the offending words, it is also an old tradition of communal support, literally meaning each neigbour brought materials to finish and furnish a needy neighbour’s house in one day. The neighbor was left a decent house on that very day.  Absolute poverty was wiped away that very day and all the beneficiary had to do was to prepare a drink to quench the thirst of the participants. The Islands of prosperity in a sea of poverty found in our towns are not a sign of development but bells of decadence. The Umuganda concept could help us in Africa to create public goods such as housing and infrastructure.

The recent riots, burning and looting in London by a multiracial marginalized groups show that no society is immune to failures of tackling huge inequalities. Rwanda is addressing its inequalities in a significant way and who blame an adventurous Museveni for soiling   his presidential hands.

By Museveni participating in this act he exhibited the highest level of generosity (ubuntu) royalty (ubupfura Kinyarwanda or obufura Runyankole-Rukiga,) compassion (impuhwe) and community action. Ugandans have reserves of all these values and only need reignite them.

Leading by example

While Umuganda is looked as normal now, when President Paul Kagame’s sinewy hands picked the first  oil-soaked plastic in a trench in Kigali years back, many of us looked aghast  and just could not understand it. But it is this experience of humility that has made Rwanda plastic bag free- or almost.

When Rwandese arrive in Kampala they are awed by the dirt that the plastic bag has done to an otherwise beautiful city. Do Ugandans want plastic bag free towns? I bet they do. So when first lady Janet Museveni asked Rwandan women parliamentarians to come and help with Umuganda in Uganda, it is so critical for the image of Uganda.

After all the same women parliamentarians made the laws that finally made Rwanda’s environmental policy. MP Sekikubo ought to put his argument in supporting such a move that would clean his environment than in trying his President for making a fair comment.

We need to salute  Janet Museveni  who looked beyond the Sekikubo puerile arguments  of which side of the border we find the most thieves, when she said that Africans are the only race whose children’s  are scarred by famine and have flies swarming on blistered  eyes and mouths.’ We cannot lie on our laurels nor feel dignified when we have the specter of child malnutrition and HIV. We also owe it to nobody to get out of this double tragedy.  This is where we need to put our effort instead of asking Ugandans demonstrate against food and fuel prices.

In essence, the type of politics of insult and disaffection are over and what remains is a need of tangible action to support one another and to create a better world. The greater person will be determined by the value of these actions rather than rhetoric and manipulation.

The essence of the visit was  also not a thief census, but how we could turn from being self-serving individuals to public-minded dignified people who value our nations and continent and want to move beyond reproach.  With conviction and together, we can do it.

The writer is a Kigali based journalist

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