Kagame’s critique of his govt shows media, civil society missing in action

If I were asked to name the best critical voice against President Paul Kagame’s government within the country whether individual or institutional, I would say: President Kagame himself. For it’s when he speaks, often at the annual government retreat or at the national dialogue that we get a glimpse of what the government isn’t doing right while everyone else tells us it is performing well.

If you doubt my assessment, consider what he said at the opening of the five-day government retreat that concluded last week.

After reminding his officials of the history of genocide and why we must always ask ourselves “Why is it us who had this history.” He also asked the officials whether they were matching the country’s ambition with action and a sense of urgency to overcome that history.

In his view, ambition isn’t matched with deeds or urgency. He told them, “You take your time doing what needs to be done, you do not talk to one another and you feel entitled, that people owe you. What are you entitled to and who owes you?”

And while he didn’t name names, the president said there is “carelessness, even recklessness,” that “If you were to ask how much we have lost from this carelessness,” and failure to communicate and co-ordinate, “it’s incredible.”

The president said the country loses huge sums of money from contracts with service providers and “It’s not about lacking competence. It’s that some of those involved are gaining. That those who represent us gain with the other party,” at the expense of the country.

He added that, “Every time you look at the contracts, you find they are in favour of the other party, not us. The safeguards are about the other party.”

While promising to eradicate this vice, he reminded the officials that matching ambition with deeds requires not only having the brains but also the heart.

The president’s message is threefold: That there is big corruption going on managed through contracts; that there is lack of patriotism on the part of some and finally, that a costly sense of entitlement exists in some.

Traditionally, this kind of critic or exposing of the government’s dysfunction and corruption should come from the political opposition or civil society, oversight institutions and the media.

Yet, in Rwanda, we rarely hear such news. And I agree with the president that it isn’t due to lack of competence or capacity.

And even if it were a problem of limited capacity in the media, the president simplified the journalists’ work not only by pointing at the possibility of corruption, but also classifying what his government is doing into three categories that can act as a framework of analysis and further investigation by journalists.

The categories he provided are: (1) “Things done well” (which is normally reported); (2) “Things not done so well; sometimes done terribly; with a huge loss to government,” and (3) What we aren’t doing yet are capable of.

Looking at our media, we often mainly read or hear about the things the government does well; little about “things not done well” and never on what we are capable of doing but fail to.

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By Christopher Karumba

Picture credit: Zacharias Abubeker/Getty Images