Everyone agrees – friend and foe alike – that Rwanda has come a long way in the last twenty years. Some will admit it with enthusiasm, others grudgingly. But the fact is not in dispute.
Rwandans know that this achievement is not a miracle, or the work of a single individual, but the result of their hard work. They are also modest about what they have done and therefore will not sing their own praises.
But there will always be some individuals who, for various reasons, will behave differently. There are some who were not convinced about the common cause in the first place.
Others are dissatisfied with being lumped together with everyone else, and crave distinction. All want to sing praises for themselves and demand that others sing them too. They want to claim credit for what is a collective effort.
Many Rwandans frown on this sort of behaviour. For most of them, conceit and deceit are not particularly admirable leadership qualities. But humility is, and so is respect for everyone’s contribution.
They also recognize that leadership is key to the transformation of Rwanda and that the sort of leadership that will do this is that which places citizens at the centre of all its programmes and activities. Because of this, they expect their leaders to behave in a certain way.
The government of Rwanda and the governing Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) have defined and codified these expectations in a set of standards for leaders. The standards emphasis service, focus on national goals, openness, integrity and discipline. Leaders must be the custodians of the common good and public interest.
At every opportunity – be it in a meeting with sections of Rwandans, a public rally or other public forum – President Paul Kagame will raise the issue of the quality of leadership that must take the country forward. Those coming short of the expected values will be reminded about this and asked to place the common good first. Some heed the advice; others do not
Some people, of course, fail to live by the leadership standards and the expectations of the public, and fall by the wayside. Some find them too stringent. Others have personal weaknesses.
Some fail the test because they lack the humility necessary to serve others or the integrity to admit personal shortcomings. They are prone to greed, self-aggrandisement and even treachery, and so cannot fulfil their role of custodian of the public interest.
The biblical saying, “wolves in sheep’s skin” becomes an apt description of some leaders who fail the custodian test. And the warning to be wary of them is as valid today as it was in biblical times because they have a way of misrepresenting the truth.
When they fall by the wayside because of their inability to fit in with the rest, they cry foul and pass themselves off as victims of an intolerant system. Overnight the greedy and selfish and the criminal become political dissidents and even democrats.
Yet all they have done is to set themselves apart from the rest of Rwandans who look at the progress of the country as the outcome of the collective effort of politicians, technocrats and ordinary citizens. Everyone plays their allotted role.
Each is a cog in the wheel of progress, and all drive that wheel.
This is the Rwandan way that outsiders do not understand. It is a society of all for all. No one stands taller than others. None is indispensable. Everyone matters.
This is why so-called experts and commentators on Africa get it wrong when they start talking about cracks in the military or ruling party when they hear that a general has been arrested or a top politician sacked.
They tend to interpret these actions by applying the familiar experience in other places where such people are untouchable, where they hold the country to ransom because they have appropriated certain functions and powers of the state. It is different here.
Rwanda is an enterprise where citizens have equal shareholding. It is not controlled by a few majority shareholders.
That’s why there are no individual claims to the achievements that the country has made, and why there are no praise songs to such individuals, or any praise songs at all. The push for greater profits for the enterprise continues.