What If Kagame Was a Black Swan? [opinion]

The contrast between Burundi and Rwanda is quite striking. The havoc on one hand, and the evident serenity on the other.

Ending the dogma of presidential term limits in Africa

Beyond this, there is the awareness that African countries are not as identical as we think and that certain groups of people do not vilify their leaders.

And lest I forget. The calm of the Rwandan people is apparently due to the terror of the Rwandan Robespierre, which would make Kagame more tyrannical than Nkurunziza.

Let’s try a thought experiment to test this idea.

Rwanda is an exception in recent African history. In the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide, the fate of this East African country was sealed: without resources, it was destined to join the long list of African countries whose ambition seemed to be to remain insignificant.

From chaos, the Rwandan leader was to build a modern state and a true nation. Not an easy feat. Yet 21 years after the destruction of the country, Rwanda is one of the most promising countries on the continent.

Appreciating the true value of Rwanda’s journey is difficult if one does not see it from a historical perspective.

Western countries have developed modern states – impersonal and efficient – gradually from the late 17th century, which is late considering their long history.

Modernization before democratization

In most of these countries the modernisation of state institutions preceded democratisation. The context of permanent wars at the time forced these reforms. The lack of the “‘Human Rights-ism'” (pejorative expression of excessively tolerant implementation of the human rights concept or its distortion) was a catalyst.

Germany is emblematic of this phenomenon. Under constant military pressure from its powerful neighbors, Prussia was forced to modernize a patrimonial state. Initiated around 1648 after the Treaty of Westphalia, this transformation was completed with the implementation of the Stein-Hardenberg reforms in the early 19th century.

Like Germany, and in similar contexts, several European countries first built effective states and ensured the law ruled over the arbitrary before developing democratic systems.

National unity of the great Asian and Western countries seems miraculous when you look at it from the African perspective. Ethnic or religious tensions here are still latent. Forging a national identity is in fact achieving utopia.

As Ernest Renan recalls in “What is a Nation”, “the existence of a nation is a daily plebiscite”.

The emergence of a nation is not a natural phenomenon – people of different backgrounds and cultures coming together is not a spontaneous reaction but the result of political will.

And because “unity is always achieved through violence” political will in the past was shaped through violence.

But, fortunately, “amnesia and omission in history are essential factors in the creation of a nation”, due to “acts of violence that occurred at the origin of all political processes.”

History is politically incorrect. But it has a formula: different types of dictatorship – not democracy – built great European and Asian nations. Democracy can empower people but it makes building systems difficult.

Peaceful transformation

Our era differentiates itself from previous ones by the importance we place on human dignity. It is an undeniable progress. The career of a dictatorship has never been so uncertain. But in the eyes of history, ‘Human Rights-ism’ is also a constraint on the visionary leaders of our time.

According to the World Economic Forum 2014-2015 ranking, the Government of Rwanda is the most efficient on the continent and the 7th most efficient in the world. Furthermore, indications show that Rwanda is gradually taking shape as a nation. Since 2000, the country has been radically transformed, without any instability.

Historically, that is unheard of in Africa.

This small miracle is the result of a consensus between the people of Rwanda and their representative. Rwandans have agreed not to be the Dutch. In return, Kagame has promised to emulate Lee Kwan Yew.

Before longing for freedom in the Western sense, Rwandans are fond of order, stability, and economic opportunities. True freedom comes from these three elements.

For a long time swans were known to be white. Then Australia was discovered. And with her, black swans. The theory of Black Swan was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to describe phenomenon that are not easily predictable but do occur (the election of Barack Obama is one example). The metaphor of the Black Swan is also an indicator of our ignorance.

We are used to dictators in Africa: leaders despised by their people and who cling to power beyond constitutional limits. Perhaps, with Paul Kagame, we are in the presence of a black swan: a leader appreciated by a people that in its majority want him to continue his masterpiece. If this is the case, then the least one can do is put an end to the dogma of presidential term limits in Africa.

The writer is a Cameroonian entrepreneur and essayist. A graduate of Sciences Po Paris, he lives and works in Cameroon.

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