Nyakubahwa, we have a capacity problem

If you have not heard of “imbogamizi” that is caused by “ikibazo cya kapasite” then you either have not been around for quite some time or you have been around but haven’t been paying attention.

If you have not heard of “imbogamizi” that is caused by “ikibazo cya kapasite” then you either have not been around for quite some time or you have been around but haven’t been paying attention. 

When cornered to explain failures, the person responsible is likely to respond blaming one or both of these things: amikoro (finances) or kapasite (capacity), with the former being the trump card in circumstances where finances have been provided and the results are missing.

If you are in such a pickle, therefore, always remember that you can wiggle your way out of it with these simple words: nyakubahwa twagize ikibazo cya kapasite. The beauty of such an excuse is that it is amorphous – it can mean anything.

Moreover, the person thus defending himself or herself, is usually betting on the unlikelihood of being asked to explain the exact kind of capacity challenge that they faced. Cornered, the person is able to survive to fight another day.

Also worth pointing out is that the person raising such a defence is usually pointing fingers, not at himself, but at others lacking the capacity. That is because including himself among those lacking the capacity would be self incriminating, implying that he or she is incapable of the assigned duties.

As a result, the problem of capacity is everywhere: in public and private institutions, civil society and non-governmental organizations, institutions of higher learning; you name it. The solution, of course, is capacity building.

If we concede that capacity is important, we must concern ourselves with the kind that we truly need. Otherwise, assigning the same solution to all problems is likely to lead us astray. I say that because capacity building has become monotonous.

In terms of development, the argument is that inadequate capacity is one of the reasons socioeconomic transformation is taking place at a rather slow pace despite rising economic growth in many parts of Africa, for instance. Capacity building is, therefore, needed for this kind of transformation.

Students of economic history know that from the time of political independence in most of sub-Saharan Africa to the late 1980s the capacity gap was often filled by ‘technical experts’ who were often part of the dreaded aid ‘conditionalities’ requiring recipient countries to not only buy inputs (materials) but to also hire ‘technical experts’ from the donor countries to show the locals ‘how the thing works.’

But that thinking has changed, somewhat. Shifts in development cooperation since the 1990s has introduced new ideas and approaches: aid became development funding and donors became development partners, for instance; and henceforth they were to be governed by a relationship based on mutual respect.

But other, more substantive, things changed, too. One of these was the insistence by recipient counties for the removal of ‘conditionalities’ in general and the transfer of knowledge in particular so that with time locals can come to replace foreign technical experts.

It is this trend has been responsible for the pouring of resources into capacity building programmes over the past twenty years, which also helps to explain the proliferation of seminars, trainings, and conferences on the same; today, it can easily be called an industry.

Accordingly, one is likely to hear of capacity building seminars for civil society groups to be able to ‘hold governments accountable.’ And a while back a controversy arose about a group of Nigerian governors invited to attend a capacity building training by a leadership ‘guru’ in one of America’s finest universities.

I was personally intrigued by a YouTube video of behind the scenes preparations for our very own Miss Rwanda competition. In the video one could see a European lady brought in to instruct our beauty queens how to comport themselves with the ‘correct postures’ and whatnot, the whole thing taken out of the Emily Post Etiquette shebang.

The point is that we need to differentiate the importance of contentious training – something that is of significant importance to organisational and institutional growth –from some brazenly questionable shenanigans.

Which is why those called upon to account for failures must be specific about the kinds of capacity challenges they are facing. Moreover, they must be reminded that offering moving targets such as ‘ikibazo cya kapasite’ simply won’t do any more.

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