National Leadership Retreat: for leisure or for labour?

LAST FRIDAY, March 7, was ‘exodus day’ for our leaders. From the lowest to the highest, in the public and private sectors, the leaders were packed together in college buses, bound for the north-east. Gabiro, in the Eastern Province, would be their hibernation nook for three days.
Pan Butamire
Pan Butamire

LAST FRIDAY, March 7, was ‘exodus day’ for our leaders. From the lowest to the highest, in the public and private sectors, the leaders were packed together in college buses, bound for the north-east. Gabiro, in the Eastern Province, would be their hibernation nook for three days.

Meanwhile, it was interesting to see the countenances on the faces of the citizens who thronged the Kigali-Kagitumba roadside, as they watched their leaders’ convoy rumble by. 

Some wore that déjà-vu expression that said they remembered the same ‘migration’ last year and others elsewhere before. However, there were expressions that betrayed anxiety and one couldn’t help imagining. Perhaps some citizens feared that, with these irregular rains, their leaders were hightailing it to greener pastures, leaving them to the mercy of a looming famine that, inexplicably, they anticipated? 

And, indeed, it would have been flight to comfort if it were not for the distress of crowding in buses and vans. And, for those with generous girths, ‘compacting’ themselves to fit on narrow double-decker beds in common dormitories. For those without, dealing with the painful contact between an un-fleshy bone and wood/metal, with only the intervention of a mean-sized mattress.

Still, though, when time came, the leaders seemed to glide comfortably through their power-point presentations. Execution of the government’s well-thought-out programmes was going on without a hitch. 

To be sure, the leaders were here for the good times. Or were they? 

Led by their president, the leaders put each presentation and its presenter under what one can only describe as ‘brutal scrutiny’. 

Why were projects and programmes that should have been completed six years ago still limping on today; buildings still incomplete, five years beyond completion deadline; the beasts of corruption still breathing, even if haltingly? 

Where was improvement in agriculture, the mainstay of the economy? Where, affordable housing; electricity expansion; facilitation of teachers; equipped classrooms, hospitals/health centres; investor facilitation; communication and collaboration across the board? On and on.

Where is the sense of urgency? Where the leaders have promised to take the country as if it were an emergency case, did anyone dare enjoy the luxury of dilly-dallying? 

After the self-inflicted grilling, many of the leaders whose department-performance was found wanting looked like victims of a devastating hurricane.

The celebration of those whose departments posted positive scores was not without trepidation, either, as they knew that if they hadn’t faced the grill in the 10 retreats before, there were yet others to come. 

Even as they fretted, however, the leaders knew they had history to draw inspiration from. The significance of that first day of October 1990 will never be lost on them.

That’s the day a few Rwandans set off on an improbable journey to coalesce all compatriots around the cause of unity so as to haul themselves and their country out of their primitive state. 

The journey was traumatic but, knowing they’ve come a long way, the citizens of this land know they will never look back. Mistakes here and there notwithstanding, the leaders should know that as long as the citizens are behind them, they can never go wrong. 

However, unfortunately for our leaders, to keep that trust they have to stay fast fixed on the grill! 

For, lest they forget, December is nigh, when this time they will account for their performances to the citizens and the wider world. After all, the National Leadership Retreat (Umwiherero) in March is only a dress rehearsal for the National Dialogue Council (Umushyikirano) in December.

But if our leaders demonstrated how they engineered the drivers of the transformation of this country, they did not forget to show the ‘reforming’ they’d done to their Kinyarwanda so as to speak the same language. For, owing to their diverse backgrounds, in exile in different areas or inside the country, it so happens that some of them find themselves speaking “Icirimi” (no such word in Kinyarwanda!) rather than “Ururimi” (language)! 

That apart, one cannot help wondering. In a country where leaders bare their all to the world in this form of accountability and transparency rarely found in other countries, where do some foreigners base themselves to call Rwanda a closed autocracy? Or are they referring to the ‘brutal scrutiny’ mentioned above? 

If leading this commitment to serve Rwandans is what some foreigners call the “steely rule of President Paul Kagame”, who wouldn’t enjoy being so “ruled”? Especially if, that way, they are part of “a modern Sparta whose economic management is as widely admired as its disciplined army”, to quote a South African commentator on Rwanda?

The yearly retreat and dialogue may be unfamiliar forms of transparency and accountability particular to this country. But, considering where she was in 1994, hasn’t Rwanda undergone unfamiliar transformation to be where she is today?

Where other leaders get busy to conjure up patronage networks once out of sight, Rwandan leaders know they cannot engage in political gimmicks. They must stick with their people to drive the transformational growth of this land.

Rwandans, haunted by their history, demand it of them.

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