Shape up or…How is that for a Christmas present if you are a leader?
It is not the conventional sort of present you would expect – loaded with both opportunity and dire warning as it is. But it is one some of them will grab with both hands. How else can you ensure a firm grasp if your hands are shaking?
In many forums, including last week’s National Dialogue (Umushyikirano) and President Paul Kagame’s upcountry visits and meetings with citizens, leaders at all levels have been taken to task about their performance.
Questions are often raised about delivery of service to citizens, unmet targets, unacceptable living conditions, and so on. How can you explain the persistence of chronic malnutrition when every day we crow about food self-sufficiency and even excess for export?
What is the explanation for crumbling school infrastructure, even as we build new schools? How is it possible that we got rid of nyakatsi (grass-thatched huts) and all the attendant issues of hygiene only to replace them with jiggers?
These are some of the tough questions leaders have to answer. In some instances there are no satisfactory explanations.
Now, in some countries this might appear strange. At this time of the year, leaders expect baskets or boxes of real goodies, not an unusual package you have to appreciate whether you like the contents or not.
They are gearing themselves to hard partying, not answering tough and awkward questions.
For the rest of the year, the main concern is granting themselves hefty salaries and allowances, ensuring their status is recognised by the way they are dressed and their mode of transport.
The people’s welfare is way down on their what-to-do list and so they do not have to worry about it very much.
The concept of leadership in Rwanda is different. Citizens too have different expectations of their leaders. Leadership here is about performance of one’s duties that leads to the transformation of the country.
As the President has so often reminded them, it is about results and productivity, and having a visible impact on people’s lives.
If you do not have these qualities, you simply do not measure up and will have some explaining to do, or to ship out.
This is what is behind the remarkable progress the country has made.
What happens when there are failures and explanations are unsatisfactory, or when one is caught in the act as they say?
The usual way for politicians is to talk their way out of a sticky situation. Most of them are good with words. They use them to get where they are, maintain their positions and often to wriggle out of difficulties, with much success.
In Rwanda, words alone will not do. Only actions and results are acceptable.
What then is the advice to Rwandan leaders who have fallen short of expectations? It is simple. Accept failure. Say mea culpa. Promise to do better.
Maybe they should say this prayer (edited) many of us were taught to say when preparing for confession: “I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. I firmly resolve to sin no more and to avoid anything that may lead me to sin”. That should do it.
As may be seen from this advice, seeking pardon involves three conditions: genuine contrition, confession of a mistake and willingness to make amends.
Rwandan leaders do admit mistakes and actually ask for pardon. Whether they meet the above conditions is a matter of their conscience.
This is one of those uniquely Rwandan practices that are not easily accepted in other places. In such places, it is inconceivable that many leaders will admit wrong-doing.
It is simply beneath the dignity of a leader to do any such thing. Admission of a mistake is tantamount to a breach of a professional code that in normal circumstances should see the offender deregistered.
But here we do it and much good will it do the country.
Of course not all have the humility to admit they can do wrong. They would rather be living in places where they can obtain undeserved entitlements. These will likely not open the Christmas present. But the loss will be theirs, not ours.
We are entering the festive season, a period of goodwill when good wishes come in from every side. For all of us, leaders included, there can be no kinder wish than the advice to up one’s game.
Of course, there will be baskets and boxes too to make for a joyful celebration. And well deserved too, considering that we have made some important gains, shortcomings notwithstanding.