NEWS about the ongoing recovery of taxpayers’ cows that landed in the hands of non-bona fide beneficiaries at the expense of intended recipients – the poorest of our society – has dominated our local news for weeks now.
It all started at last year’s National Dialogue (Umushyikirano) during which aggrieved callers exposed the embarrassing fact that Girinka (one cow per household) programme had actually been turned into ‘Girinka Muyobozi’ (one cow per leader) project.
Hundreds of delegates at the National Dialogue as well as millions of Rwandans following the event live on radio and television, were dumbfounded as the shocking abuse of the otherwise noble government programme came to light.
Rwandans surely seized that opportunity with both hands and aired out issues in their respective localities, some of them challenging their respective mayors and other leaders to justify their deeds in front of the President and other dignitaries.
They expressed themselves freely, but the most satisfying is that the top leadership lent them an ear. As expected, President Paul Kagame rightly instructed the disgraced leaders to immediately redress the mess.
Since then, every other evening we are fed on the news about new ultimatums given to the well-to-do people and leaders who took thousands of cows meant for the poor.
As a result, in a matter of just weeks, thousands of cows have already been recovered, and some re-distributed to the right people.
That itself points to the fact that leaders, especially those at the grassroots level, already knew everyone who received a cow illegitimately, or worse still, they themselves and their families had grabbed the cows.
The revelation seems to have taken everyone by surprise, and yet a number of parties are responsible for this regretful situation in one way or another.
How on earth could such selfish acts go unabated for years under the nose of the successive leaders of the Ministry of Agriculture, governors, mayors and a string of other lower level leaders?
What are our parliamentarians doing in as far as overseeing government activities is concerned if they cannot unearth such widespread excesses going on in their own constituencies?
This scandal also casts a serious doubt over the credibility of various other players, notably the media and other civil society groups. Do these groups really concentrate on their stated missions, or do they even understand their role in the society?
As a journalist, I may partially understand the claim of Kigali-based private media outlets which will forever blame their financial difficulties to their failure to investigate such corrupt tendencies in the countryside, but what about rural-based community media organs? Why doesn’t the public media (Orinfor) – with correspondents in every corner of the country – stand and be counted?
Now that the ordinary Rwandans have themselves stood up for the truth, and exposed the injustices they have suffered at the hands of their own leaders, everyone seems to care.
Those directly responsible are working round the clock to rectify the problem most likely because of the President’s categorical instructions to do so, not out of their genuine attempt to reclaim the public trust and to fight injustice.
The obvious question here is: Does President Kagame have genuine partners within his own Government, to fight corruption and other forms of social injustice?
A handful of leaders will only talk about corruption in passing and in most cases do so after the Head of State has publically talked about the vice.
The majority of others hardly mention corruption in any of their public addresses. Even when they do so, no one will do it as passionate and you often sense something like hypocrisy.
Many look totally uncomfortable talking against it, which is partly why there are not many surprises whenever some of our big fish are arrested on corruption charges.
Well, it’s debatable, but I get the feeling that President Kagame simply does not have as many genuine allies as he would like to combat this vice.
The only luck is that Kagame has proven that he’s not ready to lose momentum against this cancerous vice no matter what. He will not hesitate having half his Cabinet members imprisoned when his zero-tolerance against corruption policy is at stake.
A spate of high-profile arrests over the last couple of months is a testimony to that.
That’s why ordinary Rwandans can’t wait to have another opportunity to air their grievances to him – say during another live radio show, or in the next National Dialogue.
But it is certainly healthier for every official to serve the people as faithful as the President himself.
James Munyaneza is the First Vice President of Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ)