Democracy and development are inseparable - Kagame

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President Kagame and First Lady Mrs Jeannette Kagame, with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (3rd left); Ghana Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur (2nd left); outgoing AfDB president, Dr Donald Kaberuka (left); and Azeb Mesfin Haile, former Ethiopian First Lady and founder of the Meles Zenawi Foundation after the opening of the Foundation's inaugural symposium in Kigali yesterday. (Village Urugwiro)

A governance model known as the democratic developmental state should be embraced by African countries in order to fast-track their development and pull millions of citizens out of poverty, participants at the Meles Zenawi Foundation’s inaugural symposium on development heard yesterday.

Bringing together more than 200 delegates from African governments and different institutions in Kigali, the symposium explored a governance theory developed by late Ethiopian Prime Minister  Meles Zenawi, which he believed to be key in ending poverty which he saw as Africa’s greatest threat.

The governance model, which late Meles Zenawi developed and applied in  Ethiopia to achieve a fast-growing economy and reduce poverty in the country, promotes the state’s prominent role in building robust accountable institutions and facilitating rapid sustainable development.

Yesterday’s symposium in Kigali sought to foster rigorous intellectual debate on issues related to development and governance with participants discussing on  what model of governance Africa needs to both get out of poverty and achieve democracy.

Speaking at the symposium, President Paul Kagame reminded participants that Meles Zenawi thought that the government and private sector go hand in hand and so does democracy and development.

“He (Meles Zenawi) rejected the false choice between the state and the market. Every developed economy, without exception, is the fruit of a free market, and a strong developmental state, working in tandem. The orthodoxy of shrinking the state to the bare minimum, and replacing it with externally-funded non-state actor (here you can say NGO), left Africa with no viable path out of poverty,” Kagame said.

He added: “Second, Meles’s starting point was that democracy and development are actually inseparable. There is no trade-off, no choice to be made between them. Indeed, they are almost the same thing.”

Kagame said that many African countries have indeed managed to achieve both democratic governance and economic development despite some critics who fail to grasp that situation.

“While there may be some examples of non-democratic developmental states, they should not be the example for Africa, with all its diversity. You cannot make sense of the development gains that have been recorded in parts of our continent without understanding how deeply our citizens are involved in governance and accountability,” he said.

The President challenged critics of the developmental state to look beyond their prejudice perspective of Africa:

“It is time for clarity. The democratic ideal has been at the heart of our various liberation struggles from the beginning and it has guided us ever since as we build new modern institutions. Ours is the true democracy of citizens, not the false one of institutionalised corruption and division. We cannot be bullied into accepting policies that misrepresent us and do us harm in the end.”

“We cannot afford to apologise for the very things that work for us and make us strong. Deference is too easily mistaken for agreement,” Kagame added.

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Participants follow proceedings at yesterday's symposium in Kigali. (Courtesy)

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, described a democratic developmental state as one characterised by leaders’ obsession for eradicating poverty; including the full commitment within the ruling party and the governing bureaucracy, inclusive and accelerated broad-based growth, fighting corruption, as well as espousing democracy.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister added that the most important element to successful development is the presence of strong leaders who can build the institution and deliver transformation. 

The symposium was organised by the Meles Zenawi Foundation in partnership with the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Government of Rwanda.

The widow of Meles Zenawi, Azeb Mesfin Haile, praised her late husband and President Kagame’s leadership style, describing it as bold.

“The ability to think big, critically and compassionately informed their leadership,” she said.

Both Ethiopia and Rwanda have been developing fast as a result of integrating home-grown solutions in development processes, she said.

The AfDB’s outgoing president, Dr  Donald Kaberuka, praised the democratic developmental state as yet another form of governance model that leaders in Africa can emulate to back up their efforts at economic development.

“Development takes place in a context. There is something new for all of us to think about. Today’s discussion is a conversation that is beginning,” he said in an interview shortly after the symposium concluded yesterday evening.

Participating from the audience during a panel towards the end of the symposium, President Kagame also challenged leaders to go beyond the rhetoric of developmental state and to put theories into action.

“What’s wrong with Africa that we must be dictated to, someone must chart our course and we accept it. That is self inflicted,” he said calling on African nations to be at the forefront of solving challenges.

Deliberations from the symposium will be submitted to the African Union, with the expectation that these will feed into the main AU development strategy, Agenda 2063.