As President Paul Kagame’s term at the helm of the African Union comes to an end, Africans are debating on the many reforms that have been taking place, wondering if the promises will be kept.
Hopeful yet still cautious. We have been disappointed so many times, many African would argue.
The debate between those who think that AU is toothless and cosmetic and those who believe that it is finally endowing itself with the necessary tools to serve its purpose continues to rage on.
Without doubt, most Africans remain skeptical about its ability to design and see through a cohesive agenda.
During President Paul Kagame’s mandate at AU seemed to have changed the institution’s mode of doing business so much that some of those locked in their bureaucratic comfort where slowness prevails under the guise of endless consultations which often result in an unbearable inertia, complained of the rate at which reforms were conducted.
However, one might argue that it’s only those who have forgotten the purpose of AU and with little knowledge of Kagame’s work ethos who were surprised and offended.
Reliable institutions are difficult to set up, but finding competent, determined and disciplined persons to drive them forward is even tougher.
Africa has for long struggled to find individuals who match words with deeds and with enough courage to inspire the Pan-Africanism ideology beyond slogans.
The emergence of President Kagame, one of the most emblematic African revolutionary, at the helm of AU seems to have provided the institution with the much need impetus to reforms.
From the beginning, Pan-Africanism was promoted by men and women endowed with a revolutionary soul.
These revolutionaries also referred to as the founding fathers in some circles were aware of the common challenges faced by the continent and its people.
Some of these include Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Modibo Keita of Mali, Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Sekou Touré of Guinea, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Ben Bella of Algeria, and Emperor Haile Selasse of Ethiopia.
They clearly understood that in the face of the predators’ lust for the continent’s vast natural resources, solidarity and unity had to transcend divisions not only on the continental or regional scale, but also within each member country.
Here one might argue that President Kagame is an incarnation of the founding fathers’ spirit and inspiration for the continent.
President Kagame’s exemplary revolutionary spirit speaks volumes when one takes a closer look at his leadership of the Rwanda Patriotic Front as a rebel group (later an official political party since 1994) and then as the transformative leader of Rwanda as a country.
Discipline and dedication
From the moment Paul Kagame took over the RPF rebellion then weakened by the tragic loss of its founding leader, Major General Fred Rwigema, the motto for his troops—as he explained in a documentary film entitled Inkotanyi—was clear: Discipline.
This may seem like a self-evident military concept but it is the very foundation of any collective action.
The lack of discipline had cost so many lives and was one of the main obstacles to the success of the RPF military campaign.
The objectives to be achieved already defined, it was then necessary to find a team of men and women devoted to the cause, ready to give the best of themselves without sparing their efforts.
During his tenure as chairman of the A U, the Rwandan President seems to have applied the same principles.
The team of African experts he surrounded himself with displayed both discipline and dedication.
There were no public scandals, fists fights, battles of ego in that team—and God knows we, Africans, are accustomed to those when it comes to our governments—but only tangible results that were enthusiastically welcomed and supported by the majority of Kagame’s peers.
In 2000, Paul Kagame became the President of the Republic of Rwanda. Among the crucial missions conferred on him by his people, unity and reconciliation were paramount given the immense tragedy that had almost entirely destroyed the nation—the genocide against the Tutsi.
In the years that followed, the Gacaca Courts—popular courts- judged thousands of cases. What many Africans do not know is that the purpose of these courts was not to simply hold perpetrators to account, but above all to reconcile Rwandans and rebuild the social fabric.
Victims were given the much needed space to express their pain, to confront their tormentors, but equally important, perpetrators were given an opportunity to express remorse so that communities could live together again.
Once more, the revolutionary soul in President Paul Kagame made a difference.
Turning their backs to the so-called European experts who proposed to separate the Rwandan population along ethnic lines with the aim of creating two different countries [a Hutuland and a Tustiland], the RPF and its leader made an irrevocable and bold decision: stay together and build a common future. 25 years later, the results are spectacular.
On a continental scale, unity is equally paramount if reforms are to be implemented. In the meantime, some events suggest that silencing the guns on our continent is a realistic objective.
There are some undisputable indicators for African unity and peaceful co-existence that have manifested in the last couple of years.
Africa overwhelmingly supported the candidacy of Louise Mushikiwabo to lead the Francophonie.
Morocco has resumed its place within the African Union. Diplomatic and economic relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been restored.
The DRC supported by neighbors in its transition seems determined to address the issue of armed groups operating near its eastern border.
Despite some hindrances East Africa Community member states’, Heads of States and delegations present at the last bloc summit unanimously supported the Rwandan President to chair the regional organization for the next 12 months with the mission to accelerate the integration process.
Not to mention that if peace agreements yield positive results in South Soudan and Central Africa then there are grounds for optimism.
We cannot conceive a country without a people and the same goes for our continent. All reforms to be undertaken should be people-centered.
Although African elites insist on democratic principles and while many countries face social movements demanding improvements in governance, it should be recalled that the Pan-African organization is not intended to replace governments but to accompany and encourage reforms that best meet urgent needs.
There is no doubt that the priority of the African Union reforms was given to the economy, the free movement of goods and people being its main components.
I suspect that the rationale behind such an approach is that the economic prosperity of the continent is a common goal easier to establish.
It is up to the African peoples to define the modes of government they want for themselves based on the historical and social contexts of each Member State.
However, whatever choice they will make, poverty, unemployment, education, and access to health services will remain some common challenges.
Rwanda’s success story in many of these areas surely means that President Kagame will be a valuable asset in the battles still to be fought for the dignity of our people.