Home Op-ed A Chronicles article that confuses much more than it illuminates

A Chronicles article that confuses much more than it illuminates

By Alex Muhumuza

Rwanda’s Covid-19 commandpost. Rwanda’s efficient, ultra-competent response to the pandemic seems to have confused the writer of the Chronicles article.

A bizarre article titled: “Rwanda Governance, a time for introspection”, by one Louis Gitinywa has appeared on The Chronicles website this Thursday. Reading the piece – which Chronicles has lifted from the website of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German organization that says it is a non-profit political foundation – it is hard to understand what the writer is trying to get at. Except perhaps if it is to please his sponsors (a short bio says Gitinywa is “a fellow of the 2019 ‘CEU’ and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Constitution Building Summer School”) by writing what he calls an “analysis” of Rwandan politics.

Gitinywa begins his article by, rightly stating that Rwanda was the first country in Africa to go into lockdown, with all the restrictions on movement it required. But in the next paragraph he jumps to something totally unrelated to the Covid-19 response.

“The Rwanda governance model is built on two competing narratives”, Gitinywa claims. One is that Rwanda is a “donor darling”; and a “successful example for development in Africa”. So what? How is this linked to the Coronavirus response?, the reader will ask. There is no answer. The second (of the two alleged competing narratives according to the writer) is that Rwanda is “an authoritarian state based on a tightly centralized economic and political power within the RPF…”

If you close your eyes, you can easily imagine someone feeding Gitinywa words. They are words usually informed by a Eurocentric view, whereby any society that does not ape how they do things in the West must have something wrong with it! But ordinary Rwandans know their system of governance well. They know it derives its authority from the consensus of the governed – right from the grassroots level where people’s concerns, needs and so on will be listened to, and on up to the government’s highest decision-making levels where different political parties are well-represented. And not only by RPF politicians.

In short the Rwandan state works for the people.

But Gitinywa message, albeit a jumbled one, is that people should only be suspicious of their government. Using obviously contrived language, like someone straining hard to come across as an “intellectual”, he writes: “it is important to understand the national context where you do not often see Rwandans publicly criticizing the state.”

This writer must be one of those few people for whom “criticism of government” is an end in itself. It is good for him that he is criticizing through Chronicles, even as he claims there can be no criticism of the Rwandan government! But why does he think the majority of Rwandans should be in the same boat as him? If people have voted for an administration, and that administration is delivering on its mandate – in fact over and above it – the people give it a thumbs up.

Gitinywa should take a drive around Rwanda: look at all the social infrastructure that’s come up; look at all the programs to lift millions out of absolute poverty, then perhaps he will understand why Rwandans are not so interested in badmouthing their government. He then meanders into figures purportedly showing “serious poverty” in Rwanda – as if this is a problem any country has ever solved! – as he quotes Rwanda’s economic growth figures.

He then veers back to Covid-19 issues, to wonder why Kigali is yet “to announce an economic mitigation strategy to assist businesses and the private sector in dealing with the economic effects of this crisis.”

For the man to write this, it reveals he does not bother to do some basic homework about matters he wants to talk about. Just for starters, on 18 March Rwanda’s central bank announced a series of measures including allowing banks to restructure outstanding loans from borrowers who suddenly were experiencing difficulties servicing those loans. To assist them cushion the losses of commercial banks, the central bank extended them a facility of US$ 52 million – which they could borrow from at the central bank rate (very low).

However Gitinywa isn’t someone that seems to dwell on facts. Again he simply zooms off, on a tangent, into another direction, serving up the canard that, “This crisis has shed light on the growing political fictions within the government, given the recent sackings of the minister of internal security, Gen. Patrick Nyanvumba, and the minister of state for East African Cooperation Olivier Nduhungirehe.” Concocting a talking point, Gitinywa continues: “It seems that the turmoil illustrates the absence of a clear government strategy to deal with this crisis. Today it appears that through this pandemic, the myth of an organized and efficient state is being shattered!”

What reality does this man live in? First of all what does the relieving from duties of the government officials he mentions have anything to do with Covid-19, when none of them ever were tasked with Covid-19 related work? His claim that the pandemic has shattered Rwanda’s reputation as an organized, efficient state is even more bizarre. The opposite actually is what has happened. Rwanda has been one of the states lauded by organizations such as the WHO for the speed of its lockdown decision, and for the organization and competence of its testing, tracing and treatment program.

Gitinywa is out of his depths writing about issues like these.

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