Rwanda isn’t a gravy train…

A few days ago, two new entrants in parliament, PS-Imberakuri and the Democratic Green Party (DGP) called a news conference to demand for cabinet positions.

Having secured two seats each in parliament only six months ago, it’s a bit disappointing to see that their first demands once there, are not on policy reform but on new positions.

Why is that a priority to the electorate? This article argues that it is not, and shows the dangers of a politicised cabinet in a poor country.

According to the World Bank, Rwanda has averaged 7% on annual growth for the last fifteen years. This is among the fastest GDP growths on the planet, competing only with China and Ethiopia.

At the same time, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Index, ranks Rwanda as the 7th most efficient governments in the world – ahead of Switzerland, Luxemburg and most Nordic countries such as Denmark and Sweden – that’s as high as you get, when you score higher a Scandinavian country on just about any ranking.

Finally, Transparency International consistently ranks Rwanda among the least corrupt countries in Africa and in the world. These rankings are directly related.

But Rwanda is also a welfare state, where education and healthcare are subsidized by government and vulnerable people assisted through direct cash payments like in Europe, livestock, free housing for the needy, training and micro-finance (SACCO) facility.

This ensures that Rwanda achieves rapid growth without straining the population – both present and future, or by creating economic bubbles and disgruntled segments of the population - to quote English eminent economist Sir Paul Collier, Rwanda has achieved a ‘developmental hat-trick’ of rapid growth, sharp poverty reduction and reduced inequality’.

Reducing inequality is very important, for judging by the malaise in other fast-growing economies, no growth is sustainable if it leaves many of the people behind.

How has this been possible? This was made possible by appointing the right candidates for the right jobs.

One of Lee Kwan Yew’s famous quotes was: ‘I wanted Singapore to be a developed nation in the shortest time possible’; while his aide Dr. Goh Keng Swee, the architect of Singapore’s economy wrote: ‘We must strive continuously to achieve economic growth. We should not be distracted by other goals’.

That is the mindset of a winner. It would be foolhardy for intellectuals and politicians, mimicking their western systems to demand political appointments in poor countries.

It is economic suicide to implement a western political system in an African, let alone Rwandan socio-political context.

Western nations have strong private sectors capable of running the economy amid dysfunctional politics. In Belgium for instance, the country has gone for twenty months without a government, and trains have continued to arrive on time, electricity and water seamlessly supplied.

That is possible - to a certain extent - in Kenya, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire too; strong middle income countries whose stressed but resilient economies face and resist seasonal political headwinds during electoral times, but it is impossible in Rwanda, where by design, the government remains the centre of citizens’ daily life.

Alas! Section 62(3) of the Rwandan Constitution stipulates that: ‘Cabinet members are selected from political organisations on the basis of seats held by those political organisations in the Chamber of Deputies[…] the same provision states further that ‘it is not prohibited for other competent persons to be appointed to Cabinet.’.

There are 26 members of the Rwandan cabinet and out of them; at least nine have no known political affiliation.

There might be others but they did not need to wield their political affiliations for their competences to be recognized, especially the younger ministers, gradually taking over the Rwandan cabinet.

However, there are 77 Members of Parliament. It is thus easier to allocate parliamentary positions to each party than cabinet ones.

But the problem lies elsewhere. In a developmental state pursuing stellar economic growth, the first criteria of appointment to cabinet is one’s technical competence rather than party affiliation – and Rwanda has done just that: hire technocrats - whom would otherwise score high-fly jobs in the private sector – to run the state as a 21st century business.

Most of them are not politicians but technicians with a clear ideology. While nothing prevents our ministers from joining any political party of their choice, it is their performance, not their politics that would maintain them in the job.

However, ‘imperative mandate’ is prohibited by the constitution, meaning that once one is appointed to serve as a minister or elected as a member of parliament, they represent all Rwandans – not this or that political or regional group.

Most Rwandan public officials have no constituencies for the simple reason that we have not let our progress be consumed by politics.

There are still many issues in our country that need solving, yet positive change in Rwanda can be affected from in and outside of government. For instance, a young man with no money recently took it upon himself to build a road in his village with his bare hands.

Smaller political parties in need of cabinet representation would be more inspired in using exisiting platforms such as the National Consultative Forum for Political Organisations and the floor of parliament to bring to the fore their brilliant ideas for all of us to benefit.

Finally, asking for cabinet positions in meritocratic-technocratic government such as Rwanda is treating the country as a big pie, ripe for slicing-up among politicians.

Reading their requests in the media yesterday, I was reminded of Agathon Rwasa, a Burundian warlord-turned politician, who posed as precondition for his violent FNL to lay down arms – to be appointed head of the country’s guarantee fund, with no prior Finance experience.

His request was granted.

It was such a big circus at the fund for a couple of years, that the Burundian economy’s head is still spinning.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.