2017 Elections: Sustaining a transformational leadership

Early this month, two of Rwanda’s major political parties, namely Social Democratic party (PSD) and Liberal Party (PL), endorsed President Paul Kagame as their presidential candidate even before he could officially be fronted by his own RPF – whose National Executive Committee is slated to meet this weekend.

The move was misinterpreted by some observers for reasons best known to themselves.

They allege that leaders of these parties voted with their stomachs as the endorsement ensures that they will retain their jobs after the August 4 elections.

This allegation is simply malicious in that, whether these leaders endorse President Kagame or not, their parties are assured of jobs by virtue of the form of government in place where the winner does not take it all.

Our national unity government is such that even if RPF won hands down it is bound by the political arrangements in place to share government positions with other parties who have been in the governing coalition for some time now. In fact, the RPF cedes 50% of all senior positions to other parties depending on their performance in elections.

This is true for ministerial positions, parliamentary, senatorial, ambassadorial and other senior positions in the country. Thus the aforementioned argument is nothing more than distortion of facts. 

Some of the commentators also argue that, since these parties  supported the 2015 referendum that led to the amendment of the constitution that allowed President Kagame a chance to seek re-election, they can’t stand against him in the forthcoming election.

Whereas this argument is valid, it nevertheless leaves out facts that led to such parties backing the referendum in the first place. Some of the explanation to this development is informed by the experience of the leaders of these parties with President Kagame.   
    
Hands-on experience

Some of these leaders have held ministerial and other senior positions in the country and have hands-on experience of working with and for President Kagame. If one is open-minded (and most are), you can’t fail to appreciate the leadership skills and decision-making capacity endowed with President Kagame, that leaves the rest questioning their own.

His charismatic leadership style that is idealistic in nature, and yet delivers real results, has baffled those who work with him. His ambitious out-of-text supply driven economics has demystified the laws of economics, such as demands creates its own supply.

For President Kagame, supply creates its own demand. This is unorthodox in traditional economic theory, but one that has worked in Rwanda mainly due to Kagame’s high moral authority.

It is such admiration of his leadership qualities that are rare among most Rwandan leaders that has set him apart and led to his transformational capabilities against all odds. It is this person of President Paul Kagame that these leaders endorsed. Thus he’s their candidate as well.

In my opinion, this is a personal endorsement of President Kagame, and not party endorsement (RPF) for even if they are in national unity government each of these parties espouse different ideological agenda.

Secondly, their endorsement is as a rational choice as it was for the 95 per cent of Rwandans who endorsed him in the 2015 referendum and should not be misinterpreted for selfish intent as this would be an insult to the intelligence of the overwhelming majority of Rwandans whose endorsement was in national interest and not self-interest. 
 
Elite political consensus and ideological maladroitness?

Other commentators have argued that, such a vote highlights weakness in these parties, while to others it was a sign of ‘elite political consensus’, and ideological maladroitness.

It is unfortunate to misinterpret high sense of discernment and appreciation of a heroic leader by leaders of other parties as a sign of weakness or elitist when his transformational leadership has changed the lives of the poor through such schemes as Girinka andUbudehe that provide safety nets to the poor folks; to the elite and businesses as can be evidenced by our urban economic landscape.    

With regard to elite political consensus, such term defines the opposite of Rwandan politics that is grassroots driven as it serves all interests, devoid of entitlements, cronyism and ethnic distributive economics that characterised the old Rwanda for far too long.
 
Transformational leadership and changes

That our country experiences transformational changes in all sectors of the economy and by extension in the lives of all Rwandans is not debatable even among the most ardent critics of our government, most of whom have not been part of this change, and do not want to accept that it happened, for doing so would be to vindicate the mess they left in our country and with our country.

This transformation has first and foremost, been acknowledged and appreciated by rational Rwandans and later on put on record by both multilateral as well as bilateral agencies, which have either been party to this change, or watchdogs over the same and have to give reports on such sectors as economy (in particular record poverty reduction levels such as uplifting one million Rwandans out of poverty in a space of five years), social sectors such as health, social security, unity and reconciliation, law and order, orderliness…pick any sector. These have been rated tops by international independent rating agencies.

But these changes have not been self-propelled. Rather, there has been a causal process responsible for this. The exemplary leadership of President Kagame has mobilised and coordinated the underlying causal process that has led to the changes we witness today.

Research evidence

In his research on development economics and defence, Bellaver (2004) posits that leaders emerge once in a lifetime of a developing nation and leave a developmental record that is unmatched for generations to come.

He points out that it is only strong institutions that can sustain such transformational record after such leaders have left office, and without which such a record is but a golden passing cloud.

He then argues that leaders are born and managers trained; and that a country with a manager, and not a leader, has nothing to show for its transformational agenda. If his theory can be validated in our case, President Kagame is the transformational leader our country has ever had.

For most part, our institutions/achievements are still work in progress and some are even in their conceptual framework that they cannot withstand serious shocks, internal or external if they were to be subjected to change in leadership.

We have come from quite far as a people and country, but the journey ahead is much longer. Disrupting this process by any means and forms for emotive reasons or otherwise has a price tag that we may not afford to pay as a people. 

The writer is an economist and financial expert based in Kigali.