The Chief Ombudsman, Tito Rutaremara, is one of the public officials who were the core cadres during the inception of the liberation struggle. As Rwanda celebrates its 16th year of liberation, Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah of The New Times spoke to Rutaremara, in an exclusive interview, about the journey that Rwanda has covered so far and what is anticipated in the near future.
WHAT does liberation 16 mean to you?
As we celebrate the 16th year I am more than convinced than ever that liberation is a process. It is something that unfolds in phases. The first phase had entailed those who came up with the idea. The second phase is the actual spread and preaching of the ideology. Next is the launch of the struggle through military, diplomatic and political fronts.
After the military struggle we still have other equally challenging aspects of the war that needs to be fought. Along the way the war is based on removal of obstacles that hindered the growth of our people. Next is the process for laying the foundation for a new order.
This entails establishment of rule of law, attracting investments into the economy and setting out a new path of growth and prosperity. So the struggles still continues as we are still facing serious challenges within the society.
So the next question is, where do we stand as we usher into liberation 16?
While it can be said that Rwandans are free politically, the same cannot be said of other basic rights. Rwandans are still held hostage to the crippling forms of poverty and ignorance which calls for concerted action.
This is the stage where we are as we celebrate the 16th year of liberation. I am very optimistic that by the year 2020 we shall have won the war against poverty and ignorance. Liberation 16 therefore means that Rwandans have laid a strong foundation for an equally strong nation-state. Rwandans are now busy building a new brighter future.
In short what is your perspective on the status of the liberation?
I am saying that while some progress has been registered we still have a long way to go.
Elaborate the bit that has already been covered.
There are several areas that can be said that progress is visible. On the political front we can talk about national stability which is the key pillar. Another key pillar is that Rwanda now has its dignity back, that was lost along the way. This is very significant gain. The next significant gain is that Rwandans can now transform their own home grown policies into action plans.
Let me interject by saying that while there is political progress some critics of the progress you are pointing out , are saying that Rwandans have been starved of political space. What is your response?
Such critics have to define political space.
For instance these critics say that the upcoming polls are not likely to be competitive.
What these critics need to know is that the President Kagame, as an incumbent is just about the only good leader Rwandans can relate to as the polls approach. What is wrong with that? That is not the incumbent’s problem. I must point out that such situations are not unique to Rwanda even right here in Africa. Look at South Africa’s situation with Nelson Mandela.
If Nelson Mandela would make a come back no one would stand a chance of beating him. It is all about a leader’s character. When such a situation obtains, one cannot say that there is no political space. That assumption would be totally wrong.
Still on the polls complaints abound from external sources to the effect that some political parties are not going to field a candidate like the unregistered FDU-Inkingi.
It is a question of interpretation of what is good from what is bad. This political party that you are talking about has been branded as cooperating with known terrorist elements by the same western critics.
Once this same organization has been branded that way, how does the same western nation expect us to treat this political organization back at home? Do they want us to allow them to operate?
The answer is a plain no. For us FDU-Inkingi is facing justice, endering it technically incapable of participating in the upcoming polls. Investigations for this case is actually being sourced from these very western countries.
In conclusion, I can only comment by saying that such critical views whether they are from the West or wherever, can only be termed as hypocritical.
Tell us more on the progress registered with the economic sphere.
The economic outcomes are closely related to political programmes. Since we have managed to institute prudent measures at policy level, the net effect spills over to Rwanda’s new economic system. We have managed to stop hunger and starvation which had plagued this country for long before we came in.
To take this war further we are now modernizing agriculture for the very first time in Rwanda’s history. We now have actionable programmes in line with our aspirations for the future. Our human resource development policy is another aspect of change that is likely to impact on the working of the economy.
It is radical as it seeks changes which will deliver on our aspirations I have talked about earlier. Rwandans are now set to be trained within different professions from accountants, engineers you name it. I must conclude on this point by saying Rwanda has now come up with one of the best economic blueprints in East Africa that is meant to transform its economy into middle income status in the next ten years.
Meaning that Rwanda now has a very clear road map on where it intends to be in ten years, having started from ground zero. For instance Rwanda is now regarded as a favourite investment location in East Africa. We also have sustained double digit economic growth for quite some time.
I tend to think that while having such policies to bring in foreign investors is a good move, it would also in one way or another mean that only such foreigners will be controlling the economy, say by the year 2020.What is your take?
Rwandans have no choice but to open up their economy. It is about lack of resources including lack of capital that has informed this policy. The combination of local and foreign inputs will deliver on this envisaged transformation much as challenges are bound to crop up. It is part of the struggle. We are encouraging joint ventures so that locals can have tangible stakes in the new economic dispensation unfolding.
Tell us about the social progress
First of all there is peace. From the chaos of Genocide in 1994 we now have tangible peace. After Genocide we embarked on home grown solutions to the problems brought by Genocide. We have gone a step ahead and instituted unity and reconciliation.
Within the health sector which is an indicator of social progress we have made strides with our own unique grassroots universal health scheme. Other indicators are within the education sector. When we started we had only one university now we have more than 29.
What are we anticipating after celebrating liberation 16?
One thing I must point out is that we have been undertaking some kind of self assessments as we prepare for future programmes. For instance we have been asking ourselves a question. How is our speed in delivering transformation? If we have to move forward how have we fared so far?
This question leads us to gauge what the future holds in several areas. For instance what is the progress on the agriculture transformation agenda such as crop intensification programme?
What are we expecting?
We have a medium term framework which is expected to deliver on aspirations within several areas of the economy.
As someone who has been there ever since it all started, what is your take on its future?
I see it as an on-going process. Much as there is bound to be challenges specifically with respect to going off the track. However these are challenges that are bound to happen. A perfect case is corruption.
This is a disease that needs to be treated as we move forward. During the struggle such shortcomings are bound to interfere claiming even some of our comrades who fall out with how we think in terms of discipline. However, I must say much as we encounter challenges here and there we will strive to attain our objectives.
This brings me to another question related to the observation you have just made about team spirit within the struggle, now and in the future. A lot has been said about some of your former comrades such as the renegades now in exile. Such former comrades are now fierce critics of the struggle. What is your comment?
Some of these former comrades are themselves hypocrites. When one talks about accountability, this should start at the individual level before it spreads out to other levels. The question that begs is that, how accountable are these persons who are now criticizing the very system that made them?
Let us talk about corruption. There seems to be a struggle against this vice. As the concerned public official what are we expecting in the days to come?
There is a political will to fight it especially at the highest levels. We wish to have this kind of will to trickle down to the smallest unit in Rwanda. Sensitization is another issue along with other measures.
When one reads the Auditor Generals previous reports it is clear on who should be named and shamed
The Auditor General only scrutinizes the books of accounts. However, I must say that as highlighted it becomes an issue of how entries have been made. Not whether theft has occurred. This is a point that needs to be taken into consideration. As and when such accounting officers make such shortcomings, does not necessarily mean that there is theft of funds. This brings to the surface the issue of professionalism. We need to have more professional staff capable of recording correctly some of the transactions within public offices.
As somebody concerned what is your take on this fight against corruption?
It is a case of continuing with the fight. We have to step up the momentum. Corruption has a potential of taking us backwards to the dark days of impunity.
Last but not least, what is your conclusion on this whole thing known as liberation?
Much as we are in the right direction we need to step up the pace to liberate ourselves from the shackles that have served to divide and imprison us into grinding poverty and ignorance, now that we have a solid foundation of freeing ourselves from such evil vices.