By the time of colonialism proper in Africa, a key lesson the colonizers had learned from their previous conquests was that the natives could be subdued using methods other than brute force. They could achieve the same ends with different methods in order to minimize material and personnel losses. This is how a more “humane” colonialism – unlike the conquest of the Aborigines of Australia and American Indians – was possible for those societies that could appease and surrender with brute force reserved for those – like the Herero and Banyoro – who persisted in their resistance. The modern colonial project, therefore, might have started elsewhere but the lessons learned there ensured that it was perfected in Africa. This explains why Africa’s version has been that of “killing me softly” with a song that the Africans appear so eager to dance to and in ways that has them subdue themselves long after the colonizer has departed, sort of. The song is about the wisdom of acquiescing to being subdued but the melody is catchy so the natives dance because no one is there to tell them: it’s the crisis of confidence and crisis of leadership.
The nature of the crisis suggests that it possibly manifests itself in different facets of society. However, it is commonly reflected in terms of the political management of African society. This is especially in terms of the failure by Africans to define their political reality. Consider the subject of good governance. Africa is known to be poorly governed.
This apparent lack of good governance is often identified in the areas of democracy, freedom, and human rights, where on most global measures Africa is a perennial underperformer. Much of the subtext of such discussion – whether it is by Africans or non-Africans – questions whether African is worthy of self-rule. Occasionally, a courageous soul will say it loudly, that that colonialism might have ended far too soon.
The politically correct subtext, though, asks whether the intrusion into African matters is warranted or not; whether Africa isn’t better off by continuing to take lessons from those who perform better than it on these measures. It is, invariably, a discussion about control.
But Africans have much blaming to take, as well. Even when they have expressed the desire for self-rule, they still give signals that suggest they are not ready for it, especially on things as important as democracy, human rights, and freedom.
This hesitation to take the mantle of self-rule is demonstrated in the clamour for it on the one hand; on the other, to cede control over its definition. The tendency has been for Africans to seek validation on whether they are going about self-rule in the right way rather than to define and pursue it.
This explains the preoccupation with standards set by others – often through rankings – where they are implicitly asking whether they measure up to expectations. When the news is good, it is condescending but reassuring and validating. When it’s bad, it’s depressing and self-condemning.
One of the countries that suffers this fate is Rwanda. Few Rwandans – especially the educated elite – would be eager to engage on the subject of good governance. They don’t know how their country performs on democracy, human rights, and freedom. The bold ones will cite the most recent good governance index and invariably imbibe the language of the reference point; for instance, they will repeat the phrase that never misses in such reports, “but.” Consequently, their analysis will also underscore that Rwanda is doing well on the economic aspects of development “but” lacks on good governance, i.e. democracy, human rights, and freedom.
Rwanda is known, even to its critics, for accountably and order. Accountability focuses the resources of the country to the pursuit of the common good. Order ensures predictability and stability. Kigali is perennially ranked amongst the safest and cleanest cities in the world. The ordinary person is embedded in the production of these outputs, to a greater extent through Ubudehe, Imihigo, Umuganda, Umushikirano, diaspora outreach, etc., and to a lesser extent Umwhiherero.
In other words, the inclusive participation of Rwandans in the production of accountability, order and stability, are key features of good governance. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the world a freedom higher than participation in the production of accountability and order; or to find greater freedom than the kind that comes from the assurance of personal safety.
In other words, there are no “buts.” However, most people commenting on Rwanda – not excluding Rwandan elites – are conditioned to think about good governance, democracy, human rights, and freedom as something that is not supposed to exit in their midst; they don’t see it even when it’s their lived reality. Indeed, Rwandans – even and especially government officials – are often defensive when talking about democracy, human rights, and freedom for this very reason.
Crisis of introspection
Ironically, African countries that have conditioned themselves to think about good governance in the traditional sense, and that perform rather well on them, would perform rather dismally on the indicators of accountability, order, and meaningful participation of their people in the production of these ideals.
However, since they are perennially praised as good performers on the traditional conception of democracy, human rights, and freedom, they are sedated –with a shot of validation – and prevented from pursuing, as Rwanda has done to much chagrin, an introspective view on good governance, as noted above. In the end, such countries dedicate themselves to being students who never graduate and in need of a seasonal morale boosting shot or sanctions whenever they deviate from the models they have been gifted.
On the contrary, an introspective perspective on good governance suggests that the natives are, and are capable of, graduating. However, the resistance to accept this reality lies in the possibility that the natives may begin to think dangerously: that enlightenment is not a one way street, even start to claim the prerogative to do some of the teaching.
Is Africa poorly governed? Yes. However, the deficiency in good governance lies in the collapse of the sense of introspection and the self-confidence that occasions it. What Africa performs poorest on is that it is not looking within itself for a conception of good governance that reflects the genuine aspirations of its people rather than a conception that is a vehicle for seeking validation.
African society’s crisis of confidence is greatly felt in the crisis of leadership where there remains a generalized suggestion that Africans neither know who they are nor what they aspire to be. As a matter of fact, even those African countries – like Rwanda – that have made inroads in this quest are yet to get out of the woods of desiring validation, which they demonstrate by appearing apologetic for having discovered themselves.