Today thousands of Rwandans will throng Amahoro National Stadium eager to witness their president take the oath of office. Several million others will be glued to their radios and TV sets to hear the president pronounce the solemn words of the oath.
For all of them this is an event with enormous significance to their future. Their interest is not just in the ceremony, although the pomp and pageantry remain attractive. They will follow the events at the stadium with a lot of keenness because their expectations are tied with what goes on there.
All of them have tremendous faith in President Paul Kagame to deliver on his promises. That faith is matched by their enormous expectations from the president and his administration.
The massive turn up at campaign rallies and at the polls, and at the stadium today is a ringing endorsement of the president’s policies. It is also an expression of the satisfaction the people have with where they are now.
That gives the president a strong mandate. But as he has said many times since the election on August 9, the huge turn up at the polls was a signal the people were sending to the government. They were saying: “We trust you; we are putting all our faith in you to lead us. On our part, we are ready to play our role.” And the President has, in turn, challenged the leaders: “Are you also ready?”
The turn up at the polls was significant in another sense. The people’s vote was free of any bias – ethnic or otherwise. Rwandans showed that they are prepared to go beyond petty differences and forge ahead as one nation. This is political capital that the President and his government will build on.
President Kagame and the cabinet he will appoint to help him govern, and the local leaders that will be elected early next year have their work cut out. They must reciprocate the trust the people have put in the government. They must meet the enormous expectations of the people for accessible and quality education, better health services, improved agriculture, employment, more planned settlements and many others.
As a first step, the president will have to appoint a cabinet of ministers with multiple abilities. They must be able to understand, interpret and respond to the mood of the people. In order to do that effectively, they must be prepared to leave their air-conditioned offices and go down to the people and work with them. It will no longer be acceptable to hear that a project has stalled for whatever reason and the minister knows nothing about it.
The type of minister who will help President Kagame to fulfil his promises to the people is that one who is prepared to design new and more efficient solutions to challenges of development ad is equipped with the methods to get quick results. The days of the bureaucratic minister or, indeed any other public servant are over. The future belongs to the problem fixer.
Judging from President Kagame’s statements since the election, he expects a lot of work from leaders at the local level. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, they are the implementers of national and local policies that have a direct impact on the livelihoods of the people they lead. Secondly, they are closer to the people and, therefore, can mobilise, motivate and guide them in activities that are beneficial to individuals and the community as a whole.
Thirdly, the decentralisation of authority and decision making on which governance and socio-economic activities are based depends on the performance of leaders at the local level. This in turn hinges on the calibre of the people occupying those positions and their adaptability to the demands of the future.
We can therefore expect that the President and the people will exert a lot of pressure on this cadre of leadership to deliver on.
Today an unprecedented number of heads of state and government, and heads of important international organisations have come to celebrate with Rwandans. Their presence is not only an expression of solidarity; it is also a signal to the rest of the world that they agree with the way this country does business. This can only be good for Rwanda’s standing in Africa.
But it also means that the spotlight on Rwanda is stronger and brighter. The international media is here. The gaze of most of the world is on us. All our actions and words are going to be scrutinised and studied for all manner of meaning and will be interpreted to reflect the biases of the various media organisations and the people for whom they speak. That is nothing new. We are used to being misrepresented and maligned. It has become a sort of existential hazard.
The intense media gaze will surely also reveal what we really are – a hard-working and resilient people, eager to get on with the business of improving our lot. The beauty of our country, the gem in our hearts and the purity of our collective spirit will certainly shine through the mud our country has been smeared with.
Rwandans are celebrating today. Tomorrow the work of building the nation resumes. Everyone will be at their work stations to carry on with the same enthusiasm and single-minded commitment we are now used to. The best is yet to come.