Former Rwandan officer discusses victories, challenges

Kathleen Flaherty

A top official in the Rwandan rebel movement during the early 1990s discussed the country’s past and future challenges Wednesday afternoon in “Rwanda: A View from Inside,” the third installment of the four-part “Rwanda Series.”

Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa, who was secretary-general for the Rwandan Patriotic Front, talked about the East African nation’s troubled history and optimistic future to an audience of about 20 in the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies’ conference room. Rudasingwa, who was the first ambassador to the United States from post-genocide Rwanda, is currently the vice president for global affairs at Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, an international aid organization.

He first pointed out the connection between Africa and the rest of the world. The amount of aid Africa receives, he said, will fluctuate with the economic events that unfold in donor countries.

But Rwanda needs to become “less of a begging nation and more of a nation that’s able to produce,” he said.

He then described his “triangular model,” a three-part guide for the country’s economic independence: knowledge, skills and capital. The speaker said the model will help minimize poverty and curb the spread of HIV/AIDS by helping to sustain the benefits of foreign aid.

With that in mind, Rudasingwa wants Africans to “create avenues for wealth” by equally distributing the resources they already have into the public, private and civil service “sectors of society.”

“You want to deploy them in such a way that, acting together, they increase the accumulation of capital, so that we become capitalists with capital,” said Rudasingwa, who spent most of his life in refugee camps before serving in the Tutsi forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front as a field doctor in 1990.

One side of the triangle, the private sector, should mobilize to create small and medium-sized businesses, he said. That plan would create more jobs and allow a middle class to rise up between the handful of rich people and the masses of poor citizens.

Rudasingwa also said educators need to emphasize science in school.

“Science and technology and innovation are at the center of the production process,” he said. Just as important as money, he said, are “knowledge and skills that will allow you to have an idea and convert it to a product or service that you can sell in the market and make a profit.”

Profit, however, cannot be the only organizing principle for a society that wants to make progress, he said.

“I’m not saying we should convert the whole nation into profit-seeking individuals,” he said. What Rudasingwa envisions, rather, is a society that will benefit from both private and public goods and services.

He said that President George W. Bush never tossed and turned in bed thinking about how to solve the problems of Rwanda or any other nation. According to the former ambassador, neither will President-elect Barack Obama.

“At the end of the day, nobody cares more about your nation more than you do,” he said. “Rwanda is within our palms, and we can control it.”

Toan Phan, a doctoral student researching economics at Northwestern, said he thought Rudasingwa is too optimistic.

“He said Africans have to stand up and help themselves,” Phan said. “But what if the leaders don’t want to get together and solve their own country’s problems? Then what can be done?”

He also noted that military intervention and emergency aid will help get Rwanda back on track.

“You have to call 911 when you are in an emergency – there’s no way around it,” he said. “Only after the bleeding is stopped you can start to look for the cure.”

Political science professor Stephen Kinzer, who delivered the series’ second installment, was excited that members of the NU community had the rare opportunity to hear Rudasingwa address Rwanda’s challenges from two different angles. Kinzer, who teaches the political science seminar “Rwanda: Past and Present,” is the Charles Moskos Visiting Professor of Military Studies.

“He’s been a revolutionary and he’s been a government official,” he said. “He has seen Rwanda from both sides – trying to overthrow the government and succeed, and then helping to establish and run the new government.”

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