Of the Kigali City road closures, let me do a Melania Trump on what American author Seth Godin said about the importance of information; that the less people know, the more they yell; the void created by failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, poppycock and distortion.
That is what we saw early this week in the comments’ section of The New Times where readers freely voiced their uncensored views, in response to an article about the extensive road closures mainly around the new apple of Kigali’s eye, the recently opened Convention Centre (KCC).
From being everyone’s pride, people are now torn between loving and hating the KCC; quietly, some have since nick-named it the ‘Kigali Inconvenience Centre.’
It is a shame considering the number of years that people watched it under construction, praying for its quick completion, and eventually when their prayers got answered, they celebrated a new landmark; they walked in pride as it hosted the African Union Summit.
They then patiently waited for the summit to end to properly enjoy its beautiful facilities. But almost a month later, the area around the KCC has become a no-go zone for reasons members of public don’t quite know or understand.
James Humes, another author and former presidential speechwriter said it best; that the art of communication is the language of leadership.
The City of Kigali (CoK) and Police authorities fell short in this art when they failed to communicate the continued road closures almost a month after the end of AU Summit. In absence of official communication, theories often emerge which tend to cause anxiety, fear and confusion.
Some, for instance, are suggesting that KCC is a target of a terror attack by groups that don’t wish Rwanda well. Of course that is not true. But the unexplained road closures only make the theory more believable.
Now we are now risking effects of ‘reverse psychology.’ For instance, in cyber security, the higher the protection the more the interest from hackers to break-into the system, just to prove that it is possible.
In Public Relations planning, the best communication must be proactive which means answering questions before they’re asked and handling complaints before they’re made. Unfortunately, it is reactive communication that we have often witnessed.
As toddlers in the discovery process of what was good and bad, we would put our little fingers on the heated lantern only to pull it out fast after getting burnt; a lesson learnt, the hard way.
Following the public fury on social media, City authorities came out of their comfort zone and issued a lame duck communiqué; however, this was like putting the cart before the horse. For all future decisions, CoK should seek to communicate better before not later.
It is fair to argue that Kigali is a much easier city to govern compared to its contemporaries in the region for we have less politics which allows city technocrats to work and plan in silence with limited political distraction; the results are clear, a beautiful and organized city that we all love.
Comparatively, it is easy to spot cities where politics thrive over technocracy; the symptoms are often in 3D; disorganised, dirty and dangerous.
Any attempt by technocrats to administer order in such cities is always met by strong opposition from area politicians as they fight to protect their support base and votes for the next election.
Our neighbours in the region often joke that Rwandan politics is not competitive and that people here are so loyal and compliant that every directive that authorities put in place is followed without challenge; it is a jibe that we have learned to accommodate.
However, critics also concede that the nature of Rwandan politics has helped produce leaders who are more focused on planning for the country’s next generation rather than the next election.
As a result, leaders have built a track record of conceiving and implementing decisions that are generally in the interest of Rwandans which explains the high compliance levels.
But such an approach requires that the leadership is constantly in touch with the populace in order to develop policies that provide solutions to their needs; President Paul Kagame’s regular ‘meet the people’ trips upcountry are a good example of how leaders keep in touch.
The inconvenience caused by these road closures, the impact on economic activities of enterprises that create jobs and pay taxes only point to one possibility, that City Authorities are not only bad communicators but also disconnected from the very people they lead.
It appears there is a conflict between the priorities of the city dwellers and city authorities. While Her Worship the Mayor wants car-free-days and streets, her people need steady electricity and water supply, jobs for the urban youth as well as affordable housing for low income earners.
Communicating better in future will help create harmony between things that City authorities want to see in Kigali and those that the city dwellers need; without that, we are breeding discontent in an otherwise loyal community.