You remember the cartoon in these pages: a suited-up government dignitary at the head of an entourage of mollycoddling local leaders tossing up his coat behind when he feels hot.
And, sure enough, the leaders are jumping over themselves, each to carry the prised coat for the honcho as others are attending to his shoes.
Of course cartoonists will always exaggerate for the sake of their sharp, concise expression. But that’s exactly the reason we are attracted to them.
So the cartoon in The New Times was a piercing kind of summary illustration of President Kagame’s impassioned plea to government officials to puncture their self-importance feeling and serve us citizens with humility.
That they, at whatever level in government, should shed their pomposity and do what they are hired to do: work. That what they earn is not meant to build them prestige but that, rather, it’s a form of facilitation during their tour of duty.
The President was especially irked by the fact that everybody drops whatever they are doing to swoon around a senior government official, when such an official appears in the area.
That’s the cartoon’s pithy point of illustration.
It’s an illustration of a message that warms the hearts of the hoi polloi of this land.
It could warm the people’s hearts many centigrade degrees higher, however, if they remembered the deep cesspool of wastage and vainglory we have dragged ourselves out of.
It used to be that whenever a person was given a post in government, they’d gather friends and family and party hard because the position came with power and riches.
In fact, I remember a gentleman who, on being named to parliament, partied himself so zonked that he could not be sworn in the following day as he couldn’t even pronounce his own name!
Today, you don’t hear of those lavish parties anymore. If there are any perks that go with the post, you’ll sweat for them. A delegation to a working visit consists of one person; two if extremely necessary.
The dirty, self-satiating old days are gone. Then, apart from claiming huge travel and entertainment allowances on such visits that none ever touched, dignitaries used to be accompanied by a horde of attendants to see to their every need.
These, in turn, would claim their generous allowances.
In the village, the local leaders would bring out all the citizens to tiredly sing and dance for the big officials after hours of waiting, after which they’d be dismissed to trudge their worn-out way back to their hungry homes.
A wasted day, baking in the sun or soaking in the rain.
Meanwhile, the visitors and their hosts would be sheltered in tents, after which they’d extravagantly entertain themselves to food and drinks because the local leaders, too, would have drawn substantial allowances for that.
Day wasted for all. Still, the dignitary’s assistants would churn out copies of so rosy a report on the ‘working’ visit that it’d charm the most sceptical of superiors.
Those allowances were chicken feed, however, compared to other perks. When it came to a ‘ka-mission’, which nobody seemed to get enough of, it was partying plus.
It was called a ‘ka-mission’ because getting it was as good as striking gold, despite the fact that many officials used to be experts at manoeuvring to always be recipients of it.
That prefix ‘ka-’ denotes a petite, rare thing, as a foreign working trip was considered a treasure for its accompanying foreign currency allowances that translated into fat bags of local currency.
It was common, therefore, to see a government official and his train of report-crafting attendants hopping from country to another for a seemingly endless string of conferences.
The officials had mastered the art of conniving with conference organisers who always knew which country would host which conference next, every after attending one.
The rest was for the dignitary’s assistants to spice the report in a way that would make such a conference, and the next, and the next, etc., sound ever so relevant to their boss’s line of work.
In those old gravy-chomping swollen self-importance days, the dignitary would have tossed all their clothes up and not only junior officials but also all villagers would have fought over being first to carry the pot-bellied mass of nudeness on their shoulders!
It was not until the year 2000 that the dirty rot was halted, and we know why.
After all, among all those leaders, only one man always returned to the Central Bank every penny of the unspent contingency allowances during those gravy-hunting days.
To a man or woman, no other leader ever did or does, even today.
From that year then, this one crusader has been tirelessly working at bending fellow leaders towards selfless commitment to an ethic that drives one national ethos: serving the advancement of this country and these, her people, in all humility.
Our leaders may still be having a distance to cover towards that, but I am optimistic that they’ll reach there.
Then our cartoonist can give us some pithy pleasantries to chuckle at.
The views expressed in this article
are of the author.