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At this rate, bakeries will run out of cakes

Comments made by the minister for public service and labour at last week’s event to launch the Kora-Wigire self-employment scheme caused a stir in the media. On social media, the parody took on a life of its own and the minister, probably sensing the damage done, weighed in to clarify on what she had meant to say.

Comments made by the minister for public service and labour at last week’s event to launch the Kora-Wigire self-employment scheme caused a stir in the media. On social media, the parody took on a life of its own and the minister, probably sensing the damage done, weighed in to clarify on what she had meant to say.

Credit to her, she didn’t try to hide behind the usual ‘I was quoted out of context’ that people in similar positions often make when in hot water. However, that she didn’t take that opportunity to express even an iota of remorse for the words she had said is highly regrettable.

 

She didn’t have to say what she said. The drama starts with a journalist baiting the minister into an outburst with a question about why it is not the leaders who should be creating jobs through self-employment since they are the ones with the capital instead of focusing on the youth who don’t have it.

 

The minister could have responded to the narrow question about the individual circumstances of the leaders, which was the bait. Or she could have responded to the broad underlying question about challenges in accessing finance for the youth – and everyone else, really – and how this poses a serious threat to the solution of entrepreneurship as a sustainable response to the problem of unemployment.

 

Instead, she offered herself as an example. She also offered to rest the case on the matter once and for all, “reka nsubize nahuranyije,” an entry that suggested that this was a recurring question that had become something of a pest to the minister. And so, she let it rip.

“Igisubizo ni iki: Ninumva nshonje, nshaka amafaranga, nanjye nzagira uruhare mu guhanga cyangwa mu gushyiraho icyamfasha kugirango mbashe gufungura. Niba ntarabigeraho nk’umuyobozi ni uko amafaranga mfite ampagije, wowe utayafite gira uruhare mu kuyashaka kuko ni wowe bifitiye umumaro, ntabwo ari umuyobozi. Nizere ko cyumvikanye.”

To paraphrase: 

‘I have enough money. I am not hungry. I am not forcing anyone to create jobs. Anyone who is hungry will create a job. Those who create jobs don’t do it for the sake of the leaders. I hope I’m clear.’

Leadership and self-awareness

Our culture considers such speech “kwishongora” which implies a lack of self-awareness where one treats others as if they are of a stock that is beneath him or her. It is socially frowned upon because it is devoid of the humility that recognises that no condition is permanent.

This is how the minister revealed herself to be out of touch with the daily struggles of the ordinary people and helped to create a perception that she is either unfit for the job or that she lacks the political dexterity required for someone in her position.

But we lose focus when we preoccupy ourselves with the minister. That’s because at issue is the recurrent underlying contempt in the relationship between leaders and the people they lead, a theme that President Paul Kagame spent much time on during one of the recent leadership retreats.

At the time, Kagame warned leaders against “kwiremereza” because it’s through it that they become a burden – umuzigo/umutwaro – for the people they lead.

Contempt for the people

African societies exist in a state of generalised elite contempt towards the ordinary person. Moreover, since leadership often comes from this elite class, the contempt often morphs into indifference and neglect for the concerns of the ordinary person.

This deep wedge where leaders are out of touch with the aspirations of the people they lead explains the gulf in state-society relations, the inability to effectively serve the people and to effect any meaningful societal transformation.

A state gets to exist at war with itself. You cannot claim to lead a people whom you hold in contempt and think that you will inspire them into any meaningful endeavour.

They are likely to return the contempt by losing confidence in, and withdrawing consent from, the leadership. If the leadership decides to impose itself on them, they lose hope in their own ability to escape the predicament in which they find themselves, ultimately leading to societal hopelessness.

It’s why societies thrive or stagnate. Rwanda thrives because President Kagame conceives of himself as a football coach. Tactically, he positions players, and then inspires them into believing that they are capable of achieving more than they ever thought themselves capable of, and out of bouts of self-doubt.

The reason Kagame succeeds where others fail is because he understands that he cannot divorce his aspirations from those of the people he leads however much his personal circumstances – material and otherwise – may differ from theirs. Their struggles are his struggles; their dreams are his dreams; etc.

A coach who loses the trust and confidence of his players is said to have “lost the locker-room.” Once the players start to question whether you are invested in their well-being then you are cooked; you become deadweight – umutwaro.

In societies like ours, where challenges that have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of people are still many (including unemployment), leaders ought to handle each and everyone of these with the requisite sensibilities.

When a leader does not demonstrate this sense of awareness, they are subtly suggesting that those in difficult times are in them out of their own volition.

It’s rough out there. People are struggling to make ends meet. If you cannot give them material support you ought to empathise with their pain (moral support). If you cannot do any of these two, then the least you can do is say nothing.

Leaders ought to be subjected to an empathy test.

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