The difference is why
The dichotomy; are you in favour of altering article 101 or not? That is our dilemma here in Rwanda, whether to change the article restricting a president to 2 terms only. We always knew we would reach this point, it was a Rubicon far off that we knew we would eventually have to cross. Many African nations face this same dilemma, all African leaders are painted with the same brush as wanting to stay too long or holding on to power. These African leaders stand with different records of achievement and cannot be put in the same box. Kagame is one of the best achievers in terms of development and his development programs are copied worldwide. Critics will hate him for what he is and his supporters would love him for the same reasons. Say to an average Rwandan that Kagame is autocratic, militaristic, target-oriented with little regard for human rights, and favouring development above individual rights – and they will say they love him for those reasons that HRW hates. It is like saying Beyonce is too beautiful or Messi scores too much, it is what it is. Even among his supporters there is a question of why. Kagame once said “Would I be changing it just for the sake of staying on or for a better reason.” I am no longer opposed to extending 101 but it has to be in the right way and for the right reasons.
What is change?
Many of the people making the case for Kagame staying are doing a bad job, playing on fears without a vision to unite for the future. Quite often, it is obvious in their writings that they are purely concerned with protecting their assets. No change means no change in their bank accounts. If another person came along who could guarantee their assets they would bolt and join the fracas outside. What is change and what is continuity? Is it changing the person in charge? Or changing policy, attitude and values? CCM in TZ has had term limits, swift handovers but their policies remain backward and self-defeating. Real change is policy change, attitudinal change. Vision 2020 is 4 years away, we did well when we had a long-term plan, we need a new one. Above all, we need a change in the way policies are implemented on the ground, the top-down approach cannot work anymore. Our first successes were “low-hanging fruit” reducing malaria deaths, child mortality, immunisation, AIDS, women’s empowerment, land reforms, are very much commendable but harder structural problems take longer to fix. Let us look at how policies start on the conception side.
Oh ye of little faith
The government of Rwanda and its RPF core are an unusual lot, they start with an article of faith – Malaria will be destroyed!!! They have no funding, no immediate plan, but an unbreakable will to resolve the issue. Donors see the fire burning in their eyes and give them the means to do so, there is total agreement within. Then all arms of government and the pseudo-private sector are pushed towards that problem. Except you can’t call it a problem “IT IS A CHALLENGE!!!!” when working for government you learn to never use the word – problem, you say challenge. What difference does it make if you call it SUSAN, it is still a problem, such semantics underline a deeper problem – accepting there is a problem. If you dare raise the “Challenges” you are accused of killing the vibe, of being negative, and you won’t be invited to the next meeting. Yes-men always win, the bandwagon rolls and cannot be stopped, the fervour is infectious but fake and it always fades to nothing. Eventually these challenges manifest and we call them excuses, but the harbingers of doom warned you. It is like Mao and the sparrow – Mao looked out his window and saw a bird eating an ear of wheat, imagine if every sparrow ate a kilo a year, then 1 billion of these birds must steal a 10m tonnes. Kill the sparrows! Every Chinese person went out and killed the sparrow until there were none left. The next year they had famine, worms which the birds ate devoured the harvest. We have so many policies implemented like this, like “Bye Bye Nyakatsi” where all Rwandans were ordered to removed all thatched roofs in 5 months, another quick fix. This has killed our bird population like the sparrows of Mao, One-dollar campaign, Agaciro, Ndi munyarwanda, so many good initiatives that die out after an explosive start.
To be strong or flexible
A mahogany tree stood firm and unmovable, but when a storm hit the tree it could not stand against Mother Nature. Next to the Mahogany tree was a bamboo tree, soft, supple, flexible to roll in the wind and it survived. The law of nature is not survival of the strongest, but of the most adaptable. If it were strength then elephants would rule the world, the species that survive are not the strong, but the adaptable. Rwanda prides itself on strong government, this strength becomes a weakness when it overestimates its abilities or assumes strong leadership can enforce change against institutional memory. So we have Muscular Government, aid donors love it, it gives them the power to use us are guinea pigs for their programs. They have their Gulliver’s Giant, they sit on the shoulder of this giant and make requests that are enforced to the letter. HPV vaccine for all girls, DONE, 2 million male adult circumcisions in 2 years DONE, and without any question. We need more flexibility, we need more choice, we need more respect for people as mature human beings.
The Tsunami Effect
I will use Health and Education as my examples
In 2010 we moved to English as a teaching language in schools. The only problem was that our teachers don’t speak English, this was not seen as a problem. The teachers supposedly were taught English in 3 months and told to go out and change the world. Except almost 5 years later, English has not caught on in any way, the teachers still don’t speak it but they lie that they do to keep their jobs, only the children suffer. This was the tsunami effect, the fervour in upper echelons, the sycophancy of middle management to lie and cover up the problem and the resignation of the teachers to make the best of an utter mess. When they see a problem, they flood it like a tsunami and destroy everything in its wake, it destroys the problem, the solution and the people. Countless children have had their educations disrupted in this human experiment, an edict from high means your life chances got slimmer. Some proposed a gradual shift in policy, to allow the policy to embed. Some proposed to import 2,000 English speaking teachers to start teaching from P1, and expanding gradually so as not to disrupt education of people. This was not seen as cool, people wanted the grand gesture, the “Big Think” the Tsunami effect. What do we have now? Low quality education for all, to give you worthless degrees and certificates, many still leave university without mastering basic English or French. On paper all the targets are being hit, we prefer quantitative analysis over qualitative. Any person who raises the “Challenges” in this fervour becomes an outcast, like an atheist in an Evangelist crusade you pretend to sing along.
Dogmatic rigidity and idiosyncrasy
Once one has encountered a “challenge” several times over, one has an idiosyncratic method of dealing with it, it becomes a force of habit. Take our company formally known as Electrogaz, Ewasa, Rweco-Rwaso, Ewasa, Wasac, every time the govt has done the same thing, split it up, then merge it, then split it up, then merge it and split it up again. It is now reflexive and automated behaviour, it shows a lack of new people and ideas at the top, it also shows a pull and push between centralisers and decentralisers of power. We gave Rwandans the right to own their land, then we make a City masterplan and the government tells you your land is designated for a 5-star hotel so you must sell it for pennies on the dollar. You see a most picturesque view, ideal for high-end housing, but it is designated for factories, no flexibility whatsoever. Flexibility is seen as weakness as opposed to strong government. We are destroying the industrial heart of Kigali with over $500m worth of equipment and infrastructure to make way for a mosquito-breeding zone, a wetland in town. So we add the cost on business to move them to an expensive Economic Trade Zone. Can we afford to destroy $500m from Gatsata to Rwandex? This is self-defeating at best, we need to reappraise our goals, to be more realistic.
Slower is better sometimes
“Kagame is going so fast he is leaving us behind” said many a poor citizen, they feel happy that the economy is growing but feel excluded from it. 7% growth is very good, but fast growth can create income disparity and those on our lower economic scale are not getting the increase in income. We are stuck with the mantra of higher growth is better, but we need more even growth across society. We could grow at 5% and be better off if the pie is shared equally, and be worse off with 15% if it is only going into certain sectors. It will be hard for a government so addicted to numbers and targets to take a more qualitative approach, but a qualitative approach is more effective, it empowers people to solve matters themselves. Look at health
One of the best policies is the Mutuelle Program, however, it had quantitative aims first and foremost. To get as many people registered as possible, many could not afford so it was like a tax on the poor. Yet the monies raised are negligible, a dollar per head barely raises $2m, local officials collect and eat the money. It could have been funded better, a 5% tax would make more, then they made it one size fits all. I pay the same as a 90 year old poor man, I would have gladly paid $100 a year for the care, it should have been means-tested. To give a person on $20,000 and $400 the same price is not fair. We need more choice, Mutuelle is just a couple of policy-changes away from being a fully subscription-funded program without government assistance.
Drip drop drip drop
Our donors are addicted to big headlines, they demand the spectacular, more bang for their buck but this has made us like performers in a development circus. Our audience are demanded ever more daring feats, a triple summersault is not enough, they want a quadruple back flip with a side-turn and a cartwheel without losing balance. They don’t find simple, slow-burning but effective policies that cool, they want instant results, donors are cutting aid and nations are competing more for less aid. Donors cannot promise you money for a 10-year program, 3 is standard, 5 is the maximum you can get. We need slow-working policies that can tackle our long-term structural problems. We need to equip people to solve their own problems, and to look qualitatively at the obstacles facing them and mitigate for that. We need to stop overreaching, ambition is good but not if it leads to debt. We are addicted to Big, look at the Stadium in Gahanga, originally $50m, then came the pork. A stadium was not enough, we made it bigger on paper, added three 4-star hotels, 2 housing estates, another stadium and it came up to $400m, the Turkish developers ran in panic at the price. Now we have no money to build it. The airport in Bugesera clocked in at $700m once all the pork had been added, why should a terminal and runway cost that much? As ever, it started as a modest project then all the cronies added their cut, think big to eat big.
Many people advocating the third term do so for selfish reasons, those who oppose extending it often have respect and admiration for Kagame but seek a more flexible approach. They see a successor as being more flexible in policy and taking a different tack. If they could get that flexibility from Kagame they’d vote for him. Flexibility is the key to survival. Lee Kwan Yu was flexible especially in business, if the system is not flexible you open yourself to corruption, corruption is just selling flexibility. If we give into fear, if we do it because we are scared of the alternative, as opposed to doing it for the sake of hope and optimism for the future. If we do it to hold on to what we have, not to build more, we will have failed as a nation. If we do it the draconian way and not by consensus, then we will have failed as a nation. We all want a Kagame, but which one? A stronger or more flexible Kagame? He would argue that he’s been flexible enough, I recognise the constraints of the job, but it will win over his doubters. Rwanda must come first, not targets, not 5-year plans, appraisals, reviews, auditing, Rwanda and Rwandans must come first. If a person is dispossessed of their land to make something for the “greater good” we cannot be content. One person is valuable, as valuable as the whole, the whole is made of us. So I would be in favour of a third term but only as part of a wider reform process, not necessarily the political space aspect but policy implementation, to take into account the lives of people and how they are affected, not just quantitative counting driving everything. There is an old Roman saying “there are 3 types of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics” People matter.