Rwanda has many critics, both admirers and detractors. But they all agree on one thing: the country has made enormous strides in the last 22 years in almost all spheres.
Even detractors cannot hide this fact. Nearly always, the first three quarters of their criticism is devoted to acknowledgement of Rwanda’s progress. The remaining one quarter contains their scathing attacks, which are merely rehashed stories from the past with little resemblance to reality. In actual fact they are more wish than fact.
The progress is therefore indisputable. The many accolades the country has received in different fields– economic growth, competitiveness, effective government, doing business, and so on – attest to this.
Reasons for this are not had to find.
First, all Rwandans are responsible for the achievements the country has registered, although there are persistent attempts to downplay or even deny their efforts. And so we are constantly reminded that most of this is due to foreign aid.
Second, and more significantly, the reason for performing well has to do with the quality of leadership we have. President Paul Kagame is always urging the country’s leaders to cultivate a new mindset.
It is not enough to be contented with things as they are, even if they are good. In fact, that attitude might even be dangerous. His advice: no sitting on your laurels, please, and singing your own praises. You must always strive to improve and do things better.
At every opportunity, be it at Umwiherero (National Leadership Retreat), Umushyikirano (National Dialogue Council) or when visiting with citizens in the provinces, President Kagame stresses these two points – efficiency and improvement. I suppose he does the same in cabinet meetings.
If government were a religion, efficiency would be a virtue that should take people to the kingdom of wellbeing and is at the root of all that has been achieved. Conversely, mediocrity would be a mortal sin to be avoided at all costs by anyone who does not want to languish forever in the hell of poverty.
If sometimes President Kagame feels frustrated and even gets angry, it is because there have been cases of inexcusable inefficiency.
His frustration reflects his concern for the wellbeing of Rwandans in whose interest he and other leaders govern.
If he occasionally appears impatient, it is because Rwanda does not have the luxury of a leisurely pace.
It is not unusual for the President to take his ministers and other government officials to task about shortcomings in their areas of responsibility. It is not that they do not perform at all.
They do, but sometimes the pace is not fast enough or there have been lapses. Telling it as it is therefore becomes necessary – for officials to keep national targets in sight and stay focussed on the means to achieve them. The slow movers also need to be pulled along.
The President does not tire from reminding all Rwandans that no one owes them anything. The development of the country is their sole responsibility. It is a message that has been repeated so often and should have been learnt by heart now.
Finally, there is another compelling reason for striving to do well: Rwanda’s recent history; the tragedy of genocide. The lessons from that period are enough to galvanise anyone into action. More importantly, the lessons have given Rwandans the resolve, tenacity and resilience that has brought the nation this far. These are the same qualities that can carry it forward.
Rwanda is certainly on the move. But the country lagged behind for a long time and in order to catch up with the rest must leap forward high and far. On the journey to the future, Rwandans cannot walk or run in the normal way. They must run and jump at the same time.
There is urgency and even impatience but with method. In this, focussed and engaged leadership is absolutely essential. You can understand why Rwandans overwhelmingly asked President Kagame to stay on a little longer.