Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paul Kagame: Relevant Than Mandela?

My promise to bring you my experience in Bongo still stands, but I thought of sharing my reflections on Paul Kagame. I will tell you why in a minute.

My job requires traveling. As such, I get a privilege of reading news for “free”. I still don’t know why most hotels in the US have chosen US Today as their favorite newspaper, but I do enjoy a “free” reading anyways. So I just happened to pick my copy of the paper today and guess what was the main headline? “American finding purpose in hopes for Africa’s future”.

You can also find the electronic version right here.

The story has so many angles, but what caught my attention a quote from Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Drive Life book and a pastor of the Saddleback Church, based in California. This is what he said about Paul Kagame: “He is going to be more important to Africa than (Nelson) Mandela…He's the George Washington of Africa. I don't state that lightly."

That is a statement that the entire African continent shouldn’t take lightly either.

In his own words, quoted from the US Today newspaper, Paul Kagame has described himself as a purpose driven man. But is he?

I have relatives who do business in Tanzania. In my recent visit to Tanzania, I had a chance to chat with them. Their extensive travel experience has afforded them an opportunity to visit Rwanda. In a nutshell, they were amazed at how Rwanda has progressed in a short-time, despite all the negative experiences that the country encountered in early 1990s.

I was unaware of this, but the current trend for the haves in Tanzania is to shop in South Africa. Well, my relatives told me at the speed at which Rwanda is transforming their country, Tanzania international shoppers will change direction heading west of the boarder. They were certain of that. And that could be what Rick Warren has seen.

I didn’t interview Rick Warren to understand why he views Paul Kagame as potentially more relevant to the African continent in comparison to Nelson Mandela. Nevertheless, I’m convinced I have enough understanding of the role Mandela played to get Pastor Warren’s viewpoint.

In so many ways, Nelson Mandela’s fight wasn’t a fight about internal forces (though he had to overcome internal struggles). His victory was over external, visible forces. His victory was over the apartheid system that was imposed on the black South Africans. He provided a model for resiliency. He provided a model for the power of having a vision and a dream. Mandela provided inspiration and the possibilities of victory even in the most difficult situations. He inspired folks beyond South Africa.

Nevertheless, Mandela’s victory over apartheid did not stop the emergence of dictatorial tendencies from Robert Mugabe, just in the neighborhood of Mandela. Mandela’s victory over apartheid did not provide answers to electoral problems in Kenya or atrocities in Sudan. In a nutshell, Mandela’s victory over apartheid did not do much to challenge or change Africa’s self-destruction.

Briefly stated, Mandela’s victory over apartheid just didn’t bring with it a new model for economic and social progress in Africa.

It is due to the failure of Nelson Mandela’s story to propel the creation of a new Africa that Paul Kagame could become a champion of a new Africa. I have always been of an opinion that in order for Africa to change, there must be a sense of personal responsibility and a paradigm change. I have always brought forth arguments on this space that white folks are not intellectually superior to any folks of the Negroid origin. It is just the western world has embraced certain development principles, both on a personal and national level.

Given lack of evidence that Rwanda has received more donors’ funds than other African countries, Paul Kagame must be doing something different.

I’m certain he has realized that certain principles, particularly development principles, are beyond culture, religion, history, time and space. I am sure he has realized that talking about potential is one thing, but realizing that potential is another. I am sure Paul Kagame has realized that the color of one’s skin, while has historically been relevant to certain experiences, does not stop one from building a brand new future.

Surely, Mandela has his place in the African history, but it would be nice to have a new direction for Africa. I just can’t wait for the day Paul Kagame will prove Rick Warren’s prophecy to be true. I can’t wait for the day that Paul Kagame will write a new chapter in the history of the African continent.

And why not? The guy has already built a country from ashes, while Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe.

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