AS PRESIDENT Paul Kagame addressed a leaders’ fellowship on Tuesday night, one foreign delegate was having catnap at the back of the hall.
Suddenly, something happened. The huge Serena Hotel auditorium broke into an enormous round of applause that jerked the dozing delegate out of his slumber!
With dreamy eyes, he turned to his neigbour and enquired for an update. When he was told what the President had just said, he nodded his head approvingly and clapped his hands under the table-belatedly. He never slept again throughout the President’s speech.
What had Kagame said?
“As Rwandans, we shouldn’t be thanking God because there are people who are always carrying our burden. Instead, we should thank God because we are on the path to standing on our own feet. Dependency must end; a country shouldn’t be a burden to another—there should be self-worth.”
The President was addressing a leaders’ fellowship, a now annual event that is part the Rwanda Shima Imana festival held under televangelist, Pastor Rick Warren’s US-based Saddleback Church PEACE Ministries.
After the speech, another delegate from one of the thirty African countries in attendance asked a Rwandan in attendance: “Why is it that your President speaks with so much courage and confidence that is unlike most African leaders?”
But before the Rwandan could answer, someone joined them and interrupted the conversation, killing a journalist’s perfect eavesdropping moment. But that question isn’t hard to explain for anyone who knows the President Kagame’s story.
A man who assumed leadership of a liberation struggle at its most hopeless moment; reorganizing the men and women who had just survived a disastrous battle that claimed their commander, Kagame inspired morale and restored self-belief to lead a fight whose climax would be stopping the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi before embarking on the enormous task of rebuilding the country.
Another Kagame quote: “If Rwanda did it, anybody can.”
You might have also noticed that Kagame speaks without a script and if he has any, he rarely looks at it. But then, why would he even need a written speech to speak about a country whose story and people’s experience he has been so deeply a part of? On Tuesday night, there were no shuffles of pages turning as the President spoke from heart and experience.
Another quote: “God has done what He needs to do—given us life and the positions of leadership and now the question is what we can do with that.”
Observing the President’s high profile audience that night, one could easily notice that they were challenged. At times, the silence in the room was so loud that you could easily hear your neighbor’s heartbeat. It was the classic Kagame moment.
For young leaders in the room, it was a moment to learn and shape up. One such young leader is the newly appointed State Minister for Agriculture, Tony Nsanganira. In one night, he had just listened to two of the World’s most influential men in Kagame and Warren and this is what he had to say:
“Every word said tonight rings true to my own leadership experience but trust is the most important of all.”
In less than a year, Nsanganira has moved three offices; from heading the Agribusiness department at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), to becoming the permanent secretary Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources in March before being appointed to his current office last month.
Many agree that “purpose of leadership” is what best describes Rwanda’s leadership today and probably explains the country’s stunning progress made in the past two decades; just as what another of his quotes that night suggest:
“Leadership is about being practical, result-oriented, problem-solving and of course, it’s about people—it is not theory.”
Throughout his presidency, Kagame has demanded for results from those appointed to public office and the sense of urgency with which the President demands for goals can be a huge source of pressure but that could be exactly what it takes to rebuild a country from ashes to something.
Another quote: “Leadership comes with the weight of expectation.”
One attendee was overheard opining that, “every Rwandan who can afford should find and read the book that made the President write a letter to a stranger.” He was referring to Rick Warren’s best seller and one of the world’s most translated books, A Purpose driven Life.
The President believes that for Rwanda to grow into the self-sustaining nation that everyone aspires for; Rwandans must be people that live a life bound to purpose. And on the occasion for the country to thank God, Kagame challenges Rwandans to question their own contribution to the country’s achievements.
What’s your contribution to the things that Rwanda is thankful to God for?” the President asked. President Kagame says that Rwanda has been lucky, albeit in an ironical way, when he noted that the country’s bundle of good and bad fortune has helped everyone learn from experience.
Listening to the President speak that night, it was easy to see why he manages to recruit global icons such as Rick Warren, Bill Clinton and others to be a part of his cause of rebuilding Rwanda.
On Tuesday, the story of how Kagame recruited Warren to make Rwanda the first purpose-led country also came to light. And it’s the American televangelist himself who shared the story.
It would start with the President’s visit to his Chicago-based friend Joe Ritchie, a down-to-earth man also in attendance. The President was visiting Ritchie’s house when his eye landed on a title, a Purpose driven life.
It is after reading the book that President Kagame penned a letter to Warren asking him to help him make Rwanda a purpose driven nation. Initially reluctant to accept the invitation, today Warren is thankful that Ritchie managed to convince him.
“Joe told me that this man, Kagame, is the real deal and today, I can say that my relationship with Rwanda is one of the most thrilling things to have happened in my life,” he reminisces.
But why Warren has remained a close friend of Rwanda and the President is due to the fact that these two men have a lot in common—one factor being that both are practical and understand the value of servant leadership.
The President paid tribute to that friendship in a quote.
“Joe and Rick have been real friends of Rwanda who have stood and defended us in hard times (even though we have done nothing wrong.”
Warren’s speech on the night was a lecture of sorts to the leaders that attentively listened to him.
He shared eleven-points noted from his study of ‘leadership and influence’. But when Kagame took to the podium, he provided a practical example for most of Warren’s 11-point observations.
For instance, Warren observes that influence grows out of trust, (a leader’s credibility among his people); that the path to influence is sacrifice; that leaders should use their influence to speak for their people and that the price of influence is criticism. All those observations are so evident in Kagame’s experience leading Rwanda.
It’s not clear who said it first but both Kagame and Warren have used the quote before and for Warren’s latest, on Tuesday night, but it’s certainly true for Kagame.
“If you want to avoid criticism, be nothing, do nothing and say nothing but still, you will be criticised for that.”
Kagame’s leadership of Rwanda, while praised for unprecedented success stories, has also stirred some of the most spirited attacks from critics making one wonder whether a man could ever live without being criticised.
Here’s another Kagame quote.
“While its fine for leaders to be likeable, they shouldn’t be so obsessed with it as to forget taking the hard decisions.”
Since the end of the liberation war in 1994, Kagame has parted with former close allies, many who had taken it for granted that they could do as they wished because of their perceived high status.
For Kagame, the country and people’s welfare comes before anything else, including personal friendship.
Every line of the President’s speech that night was worth quoting and it’s just impossible to even imagine, that Kagame would ever have need to employ a speech writer.
Some people have, in their blond moment put Rwanda’s success in the past two decades to the country’s small geographical size. That it’s easy to achieve what Rwanda has because it’s smaller compared to others.
To those simpletons, Kagame had this to say;
“The people of Rwanda are not small. Rwanda is small only geographically but large in a sense that it has faced large problems and advanced big solutions to solve them; one of them being losing 10, 000 people every day for 100 days.”
So how should people identify Rwanda? “Identify Rwanda with big solutions for big problems,” says the President.