Democratic or non-democratic – good service delivery builds a loyal customer base

Kigali day 2. Interview with Minister of Finance Mr. John Rwangombwa, a tall, no-nonsense looking man who has worked at all levels in Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and knows the system inside out.

I have sent my questions in advance to the Minister, and we have hardly sat down in his office before he starts outlining Vision 2020, which states that Rwanda aims at becoming a middle income country (i.e. society with per capita income of 900 USD per year) in 9 years. He goes on to explain that Vision 2010 can only be achieved by intense investment in human resources development through education, healthcare for all, ICT and infrastructure development.

Then he stops himself, pauses for a few seconds, looks at me as if there is something he really wants me to understand and says:

The 1994 genocide was orchestrated by a government, which built its powerbase by deliberately keeping the majority of the people locked in poverty and illiteracy. If people are poor and lack knowledge it is possible to manipulate them and emphasize lines of division like ethnicity and in turn, mobilize them into a genocide such as the 1994 one.

Unity, where every Rwandan is a player and a beneficiary therefore plays a huge role in strategy explains the Minister. The elimination of social, gender, political or ethnic divisions is therefore are all important ingredients. As a result, Rwanda is the only country in the world where women hold a majority of parliamentary seats (55%). A national healthcare reform where all citizens have to be pay for medical insurance and in return get free medical treatment is another achievement.

Central to all these initiatives is the policy of zero-tolerance to corruption that ensures individuals within the government and the government in its collective entity is accountable to the people as a private enterprise would be to its own customers and shareholders. The thinking that one can glean out of all this seems to be that, good service delivery builds a loyal customer base.

Our President runs the country as a CEO runs a large company, Mr. John Rwangombwa says and continues with a controlled smile; As our leader, he gives all of us in government a lot of sticks to perform even better.  

Phrased differently but in essence it is the same tune I hear from many other people who I speak with in Kigali. As a matter of fact everyone I speak with. The Head of State demands a lot, so they say –  hard work, accountability no corrupt tendencies, no impunity, value for money and no waste of state resources. This is also exemplified by the austere use of public resources. In Rwanda, government cars are for government business unlike in some other East African countries and I am sure many other places as well.

In return for this public centred leadership, the President not only gets unlimited respect, but also provokes worries about what will happen when he is not there to keep it all together. He has categorically declared that after 2017 he will go.

The country has moved impressively far since 1994, but the institutions are still weak in terms of capacity and financial resources at their disposal. And there is no clear, groomed successor at the level of who the next Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda will be, –  apart from urban rumours pointing to the present Head of the Tunis based African Development Bank, Dr. Donald Kaberuka and a remark made by the President himself at a press meeting in Kigali the other day and quoted in Uganda’s New Vision on June 28th, “My preference or wish would be to have a much younger person take after me and to be more gender sensitive, a lady would be fine.”

People seem to be genuinely worried about “post Kagame” life, and further, non of the people I speak with, think that Rwanda is ready to open its democratic space right now if opening up a democratic space  includes embracing the two main wings of opposition off springs from the present government and the Victoria Ingabire led FDU-Inkingi

Since I began gaining interest in Rwanda and  read Francis Fukuyama NEW IDEAS IN DEVELOPMENT AFTER THE FINANCIAL CRISIS from 2009, I  wondered why the official Rwanda maintains that it wants to be a democratic country.

Fukuyama argues that, due to the post global economic crisis, we are witnessing a shift away from the Western free-market or neo-liberal economic model in the developing world and that particularly Africa’s unconsolidated democracies increasingly will start looking toward Singapore and China – as Ethiopia and Rwanda’s leadership already have done for a while. In other words it is not cast in stone that a democratic system is the only workable governance model in this world, particularly if you have a history of division as Rwanda does. So I asked the Minister if democracy is an end goal for Rwanda?

Yes, we want a democratic system, but we don’t aspire towards a democracy as we see it unfold in some countries where election results are based on irrelevant issues like tribe, ethnicity, old rivalries and who has the most money to dish out, answers John Rwangombwa

In other words, the Rwanda of  2011 is not yet ready for democracy with total open debate and press freedom that might be skewed to lead to destructive divisions. And it will not be ready before it has reached an economic level and a sense of unity where there is no way that any political disagreement can rock the boat!


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