You can fool some of the people some of the time….
…. But you can’t fool all the people all the time. The president of the nation recently opened the Local Government annual forum with a brilliant speech that winded round through anecdotes and metaphors to a succinct point. He talked of Rwanda’s problem as a landlocked country, how some nations block our way to the sea, just like how a rich neighbor can erect a wall to block you from going to fetch water. In our long list of problems, there are some beyond our control, but there are other problems we invite on ourselves. People are being denied quick services by obstruction, local leaders are putting up barriers between themselves and the people, and becoming more aloof and arrogant. I have seen this myself in local government, your file gets pushed back because there was a tiny box you forgot to fill out of 100 questions. You hardly find local officials at their place of work, or if they are there, they are in a meeting. The president castigated local leaders to eradicate child hunger, they said they’d have a meeting about it, they said reflexively, but the president was furious, NO MORE MEETINGS. This is the problem, the question is often asked as to who they are accountable to? Is it to the executive alone? Or is it to the people? Are they just ticking boxes and hitting their benchmarks without really impacting people’s lives? Rwandans are very understanding, just showing that you empathise with the sufferers goes a long way. However, we often see local officials denying a problem even exists, even in the face of empirical evidence. When they are cornered they say people are lying about them, they have enemies, finally, they ask for forgiveness. As if that will fix the problem?
Narcissism kills development
Pride comes before the fall, these mayors saw 70% of their previous incumbents removed prematurely, but they still have the temerity to be arrogant. They think previous mayors were stupid, they won’t make the same mistakes, but they often repeat the same mistakes. Firstly, let us dispense with this “Nyakubahwa” business, a local mayor can’t have the same title as the President of the Republic. That title in not to be given lightly, calling yourself Excellency or Honorable when you have done nothing to earn it, yet puts you above the people. How can an ordinary citizen talk to a mayor honestly while stroking their ego? This narcissism is killing our development plans, to have self-importance stops you from serving the people. Leaders are there to serve the people, to solve their problems, to be accountable to them, and to understand their needs. Another reform we need is referendums to either recall or sack mayors who haven’t performed, it should be done by the people. Let the executive select local officials, but the local people decide if they are performing or not. Let local leaders be servants, not mini-gods, little big men accountable to the Executive alone. We need to redefine what it means to be a leader. Go to a Chinese building site in Kigali and ask for the Chief Engineer, look for the most humble among them, the engineer will be digging with the laborers. In Rwandan building sites, the engineer is the fat guy doing nothing, sweating in the heat and yelling at workers. The Chinese know that if the leader puts in hard work, the others follow with even harder work.
Where are these mayors chosen from? We have no gender parity among local officials like we do in parliament, around 90% were men, a boy’s club. What kind of training do Mayors, Executives, and Cell Leaders get? Leadership is now a science, it can be taught to most understanding people. All public service officials in Rwanda should do a course in Servant-leadership. The principles of Humility, Integrity and Willingness to Serve, that is at the heart of our problems. Leaders feeling they are above the people they serve, having no humility so they can never be accountable. Integrity without humility will be corrupted, you will find a way to justify your theft in your mind, or to steal but still do the project. Willingness to serve is a big problem in Rwanda, to go the extra mile, like the Chinese engineer digging with his Bayede. Officials are looking for a reason to deny you service “You missed out this part” or “You attached only 3 photocopies, not 4.” This means problems which should have solved ages ago stay in the system. All it would take an official change it is attitude change. Taking of responsibility is lacking in Rwanda, passing the buck, it wasn’t me. Before we instill accountability, we need to instill a sense of responsibility in people. What we have now is blame-culture, accountability is innate if you feel responsible, but if not, then it is just blame. People will be accountable to themselves, correct themselves, report themselves. We should have systems that allow flexibility and responsibility. Walk into an office with a problem that is not straight-forward and staff cannot help you, because something could go wrong then they’d be blamed or even sacked. This is against accountability, this is blame. So we hope our local leaders got the message, but we also need more flexible systems to allow them to take risks in order to solve problems and not be punished for it.