Today and tomorrow, Kigali is hosting the 8th National Dialogue, under the theme, ‘Our responsibility is to offer quality service.’
The annual event has increasingly become so popular among the citizens, not only because they get to listen and see the Head of State put leaders – both at the central and local government levels – to task over certain mismanaged government programmes, but more so because the Dialogue often delivers instant results.
The most recent example is the well-known ‘Girinka’ (one-cow-per-family) programme which dominated last year’s Dialogue, after gross irregularities marred the cattle distribution process. Listeners raised the matter through direct telephone calls to the audience, and the President, who chairs the National Dialogue, ensured that a solution was immediately found.
Dr Agnes Kalibata (Agriculture Minister), honorably admitted there were flaws in the ‘Girinka’ programme, and with her team, were publicly given a deadline to rectify the mess. The mission was also instantly spelled out - Recover all the cows that were diverted into the homes of local leaders and other relatively well-off families, and redistributed to deserving poor families.
Just a few weeks later, thousands of cows had been recovered and handed to those who needed them most. It was one of the biggest results of the annual national dialogues, especially since the matter was brought forward by an ordinary citizen (Muturage ), during the proceedings of the Dialogue. That’s the epitome of democracy and a people-centered leadership.
Needless to say, Rwandans now understand their rights more than ever. They well know that their rights are sacred and inviolable and that no one, not the mayor, governor, army officer, minister or anyone else, can take that away from them, or simply fail to deliver to their expectations, and get away with it. They will cease every opportunity and expose the incompetent and dishonest leaders – that’s why many will impatiently wait for forums such as today’s.
There’re many reasons why the Baturages cannot wait for the opportunity to address their grievances to President Kagame himself. First, they trust him. They know he genuinely cares for their wellbeing, and will stop at nothing to solve their problems. Examples are countless; from the previously uneven land ownership in the Eastern Province, to the Girinka programme, among others. Second, they know there’re no untouchables in Kagame’s administration.
They are convinced the President does not tolerate corruption and any form of social injustice, whether perpetrated by a founding member of his own RPF party, or a politician or military officer who was previously affiliated to the divisive governments of the past. Third, the citizens of this country believe Kagame is a man of action.
Rwandans need no convincing on this. They have seen him promise something today, and it’s perfectly delivered. Ordinary people like good policies, but you can only win their hearts over if you translate these good policies into life-changing actions. And, that’s exactly what Kagame has done for them. He has raised the bar so high and successfully convinced the Baturages never to settle for crap.
Last but not least, the President has proved to be a good listener. Citizens are fond of leaders who give them the opportunity to air out their grievances and propose the way forward. This is what you see when the President visits the countryside; after he has addressed the people, he gives them an opportunity to not only pause questions and to speak out their problems, but to give suggestions on various developmental issues. The same can be said when he appears on live radio shows. Listeners call in and interact with him. And the same now happens with the National Dialogue.
And, as soon as they have spoken out, they are sure the solution is already on the way. That’s what has shaped and strengthened the relationship between President Kagame and the ordinary people of this country. Their relationship is so insurmountable that it has somewhat rendered irrelevant or at least lessened the significance of NGOs and the media (both often highly dysfunctional and ‘briefcase’ in nature) in the eyes of the ordinary people.
It appears the ordinary people identify more easily with President Kagame and, actually, have more ways through which to address their issues to him, than to the countless NGOs and media outlets, which are all but detached from the people. Similarly, the President himself seems more comfortable hearing from the people directly and not through third parties, perhaps due to the latter’s deficient reliability.
Therefore, as hundreds of delegates gather at the Parliamentary Buildings in Kimihurura for this year’s National Dialogue, one thing is certain: as long as listeners and viewers will be able to call in and to send SMS and emails, as was the case last year, they will not hesitate to air out the very issues that are close to their hearts, whether it’s about the controversial ‘Bye-bye Nyakatsi’ programme, performance contracts, Nine-Year Basic Education programme, agricultural produce, public hygiene, or anything else. They know this is not another ‘talkshop’; they have seen the results before and will not settle for anything less.
The writer is a training editor with The New Times and 1st VP of Rwanda Journalists Association