David Himbara, Ph.D.

It was my great pleasure sharing thoughts on Rwanda throughout 2016. The year ended with a most interesting discussion about our history of dictatorships with friends overseas last week. The discussion was intense with strong views from all sides. I now share the highlights of our conversation.

There were five these things that we eventually agreed on after a tough but fascinating debate about the past and future of our country, Rwanda:

* The first one was the fact that our history is dominated by dictators from the days of kings and queens to post independence presidents.

* The second consensus was that while our dictators grab power, Rwandans themselves sustain dictators by following them blindly until it’s too late when the regime of the day is crashed by a new one by brute force.

* The third agreement was it is the ethnic mindset in the Rwandan character that leads to the worship of dictators. It is evident that among Rwandans there is this notion that “my dictator is better than yours.” A Tutsi will in other words worship a Tutsi dictator, and likewise a Hutu will defend a Hutu dictator to the very end.

* The fourth agreement among the discussants was Rwandan politics is obviously a product of our evolutionary history. What becomes clear from our evolutionary history is that Rwandan people line behind dictators because they believe their group faces an existential threat. Tutsi or Hutu seem to believe that dictators are more capable of crashing internal division and mobilizing collective defence of their “own” group. The two groups realize of course that their respective dictators may pose their own threats to group members, but the threat of ethnic extinction looms far larger. Hence the following like sheep behind a terrible dictator of “our own kind.”

* The fifth consensus was that the sheep-like following of a dictatorship in Rwanda seems irrational to the outside world. Not so in Rwanda as just noted; perceived threats to an ethnic community increases people’s willingness to grant “their” dictators’ more coercive powers.

We concluded our discussion on a more hopeful note as follows: because the current regime is brutal to all Rwandans, a new mindset that rejects “my dictator is better than your” should set in. Only then will it be possible to even imagine a Rwanda with a shared purpose.

I wish all my friends a fabulous 2017😂☝️

David Himbara