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Lessons from Kagame’s Re-election and Inauguration, and the Kagame the West Knows Not

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Rwanda's President-elect Paul Kagame (C) takes the oath of office as his wife Jeannette and Rwanda's Chief Justice Sam Rugege (R) look on during his swearing-in ceremony at Amahoro stadium in Kigali, Rwanda, August 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana
OPINION: JOSEPH RWAGATARE

It was an inauguration ceremony like no other, everybody was saying, with lessons for Rwandans and fellow Africans. They were referring to last Friday’s swearing in of President Paul Kagame for another term.

A friend made this observation: The African Union Summit might well convene now and get some business done while the heads of state are all here. More than a third of Africa’s heads of state and an equal number represented at a very high level were present. You never get more than this attendance at regular AU summits.

He may have been joking, but he had a point. Such was the big number of African leaders at President Kagame’s inauguration you might be excused to think it was a meeting of the AU. And in one sense it was. The day after he was sworn in for another term, the President presided over a meeting overseeing reforms of the African Union.

For President Kagame and Rwandans, the presence of so many leaders was an honour as he said in his speech, with a hint of emotion in his voice. This was one of the first lessons for many.

The western media has portrayed him as a hard man, cold and calculating, who never smiles, almost has no feelings, or if he does, is so good at hiding them. In a sense they have almost succeeded in depersonalising him.

Yet as we saw last Friday and throughout the presidential campaign, he is as human as any of us. He can be moved by the expression of extra-ordinary and warm support from ordinary Rwandans. He can be touched by their uninhibited show of gratitude for the quality of life they lead and more of which they expect. Such is the trust they have in his leadership.

The feeling is mutual. He certainly feels for ordinary Rwandans who struggle to get by and sometimes do not get what they deserve. That drives his determination to see that their lives improve. He is equally grateful for their readiness to answer the call and put in their shift to realise Rwandans’ collective dream,

And who can forget the moment on election night at the RPF Headquarters when he couldn’t hold back his feelings as he thanked the many young people who had volunteered during the campaign and election and then proudly made their choice on polling day?

This is the Kagame his detractors don’t see, or more likely, refuse to acknowledge. They also refuse to understand this level of reciprocal trust based on the desire for improved well being of Rwandans. Yet this is who he is. Of course, he is also a strategic thinker and looks farther than most of us, and that’s what makes him an invaluable asset to Rwanda, and indeed the world.

As it turns out, Rwandans are not the only people who hold President Kagame in such high regard. His peers obviously have respect for him, so strong, in fact, that they could not be kept away from his inauguration by the glare of disapproval from certain quarters.

They have good reason. He has the same passion for Africa’s integrity and prosperity, and the right of its peoples to decide and shape their destiny as he has for Rwanda. And it was evident in his inauguration speech that has been hailed as a powerful statement of Africa’s agenda, and extensively quoted by other Africans.

This respect is not only from leaders; otherwise we might say it is expected from members of the same club. Other Africans, significantly young people, see in President Kagame and Rwanda the promise of a different, better, more empowered Africa. Young people from East to Central and West Africa followed the campaign and election very closely. They debated Africa’s future and all seemed to agree that the direction Rwanda was taking was the right one.

This was another major lesson from the presidential election and inauguration.

Another one was about Rwandans themselves. They can sure put on an impressive show. Not simply in terms of pageantry, but more as regards organisation and efficiency.

Of course you need some spectacle to make ceremonies of this nature exciting and memorable. But it must be the right amount to create the balance between atmosphere and substance of the celebration. The event must be of the right duration to maintain interest and avoid monotony and boredom. That requires appropriate selection of what to include, good timing and efficient management.

Rwandans did just that. There was just the right amount of local colour. The artwork with traditional Rwandan artistic motifs provided the right decor, discreet, cool and that blended so well with the surroundings. For instance, it formed the most perfect backdrop for the President’s farewell to his guests. The national ballet performed just enough to keep the guests interested. The military parade, which is the major attraction of most of the people at the stadium, was brisk and did not drag on.

The rest of the organisation was efficiency personified. And you wonder why Rwanda is making such strides?

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