Resign if you can't lead

“Bayobore cyangwa baveho,” the Prime Minister, Anastase Murekezi, rebuked poor performing mayors at the Imihigo ceremony at the Kigali Convention Centre last week. On this occasion, the PM put aside his usual soft demeanour and assumed a tough posture that is characteristic of his boss. This surprised many.

Bayobore cyangwa baveho,” the Prime Minister, Anastase Murekezi, rebuked poor performing mayors at the Imihigo ceremony at the Kigali Convention Centre last week. On this occasion, the PM put aside his usual soft demeanour and assumed a tough posture that is characteristic of his boss. This surprised many. 

The PM was tough on the mayors. But he wasn’t alone. When the President spoke, he doubled down on this issue of leadership noting that it was clear that it is what separated the best from the worst performing districts; that in the former good results were due to the commitment to serve the interests of citizens whereas in the latter the leaders were preoccupied by nothing other than serving themselves.

 

Indeed, this defect has persisted in Imihigo. However, the way it has expressed itself has varied along at least three elements of leadership: integrity, commitment, and teamwork. Integrity is possession of the sense to differentiate between right and wrong and the courage to choose the former over the latter.

 

In the context of Imihigo, commitment is grasping that leadership is charged with improving the welfare of the citizens under your authority; and teamwork is the skill to balance the value of consultations while avoiding the trap of group-think. 

 

For district leadership, and by extension Imihigo, the challenge must have been finding leadership that is in possession of the three qualities.

In other words, from the results from the past five years or so, one could shuffle the matrix of integrity, commitment, and teamwork and find answers for why this or that district performs the way it does.

For instance, initially the problem was in the way Imihigo were designed. At evaluation, almost all districts were performing excellently; the average score was around 95%, with the least performing district scoring above 90% and the best missing only less than half a percentage point to reach Imihigo nirvana, a perfect score of 100%.

Mayors would even announce celebrations in their districts before the results were announced, a phenomenon that this column once referred to as “premature jubilations.”

In practice, however, the celebrations reflected advanced skills in “tekiniki” where some mayors could manipulate Imihigo due to their design.

Crooked mayors would thrive. The more honest ones would have a tough time pointing a finger to the reasons why they lagged behind; some knew that their colleagues were up to no good but their integrity wouldn’t allow them to do the same.

Soon after, the loophole was found and closed. For instance, one of the key adjustments required mayors to identify only those targets that have the highest impact on the lives of their residents such as access to water, electricity, feeder roads, and the like.

Just like that, the scores dropped dramatically. The best performing district scored around 85% where in the past the worst had scored 5 percentage points more. This was good; but it was not excellent.

Crucially, this revealed two things; one, that much more improvement could be achieved across the board; and two, that nefarious mayors had nowhere to hide. The spirit of Imihigo was alive once again.

As the design of Imihigo became sophisticated, it became difficult for dishonest leaders to thrive and made it easy to reveal the calibre of leadership in any given district, at least along the three dimensions noted above; it was clear who was in it to advance the interests of the citizens and who was in it to look out for number one: the ego-driven trinity of me, myself, and I.

But even as the spirit of Imihigo has returned, one area remains problematic even for well-intentioned mayors: the technical aspect. With Imihigo tailored along national development priorities and reflected in the District Development Plans (DDPs), the challenge has been how they can reflect district peculiarities. This has circumscribed many a mayor.

Consider this. Setting targets for agricultural mechanisation for a hilly terrain like Gakenke should mean something different from those of a flat terrain like Nyagatare; nor should targets for agricultural transformation for rural Burera mean the same thing for urban Kicukiro District.

The urban peculiarities of Kicukiro District demand a shift to targets such as affordable housing, not the misnomer that places such houses at around 65 million francs; or public-private partnerships that lead to employment creation, not the kind that says the current unemployment rate is 3%; or to create incentives for investment in sports facilitates given our dismal performance in the Olympics in Rio, and the fact that we are now doing sports in roads.

The point is that there’s a need to encourage innovation around district peculiarities.

If Imihigo are to retain their value as a vehicle for transforming people’s lives, there ought to be room for innovation in line with changing district dynamics. Other than that, the common denominator in determining success or failure is the quality of leadership.

Bayobore cyangwa baveho!

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