One of my favourite stories is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. At one level, this is the story of Santiago, a shepherd boy who has a dream of finding treasure under the pyramids of faraway Egypt. He sets about pursuing his dream, encountering adventures and setbacks, romance and betrayals, promise and perils along the way, but eventually succeeding in discovering his treasure.
At another level, The Alchemist is about Santiago discovering his inner strengths and learning that it is possible to realize his dream and in the process, unveiling treasures far better than gold: the journey itself, the discoveries made, the wisdom acquired.
The Alchemist provides lessons about the intrinsic attributes for realizing one’s aspirations: purpose, passion, and perseverance. As Rwanda continues its march to modernity, just like Santiago, it is faced with setbacks, betrayals, promise and perils. These have all in many ways strengthened the national character, and in turn, enabled the country to defy odds in its current journey towards greatness.
In Africa, the centre of economic gravity is shifting towards a rising Rwanda, and Rwandans should ride this tide and seize the opportunity to move even further forward in its ongoing journey to greatness. As part of this, Vision 2020 is an integral part of Rwanda’s strategy, one which will help galvanize our community to scale new heights and contribute to Rwanda’s transformation. As in our Alchemist allegory, purpose, passion and perseverance will help us overcome challenges, see possibilities, and fulfil our promise.
Even with the strongest of purpose, passion and perseverance, however, perils may still disrupt our journey. The first is the crisis of complacency. Complacency often stems from misguided contentment or unwarranted arrogance, a feeling of having arrived or being in the lead, even as the competition catches up: “We’ve done enough. We’re good enough. We’re high enough in the rankings. Let’s consolidate.” Complacency spares no one. It can catch us unaware. It can lead other risks, enemies, and competitors distracting us.
The second peril is what sociologist Max Weber calls the “iron cage” of bureaucracy. Bureaucrats see themselves as guardians of rules and regulations, which certainly have a purpose in organizations. The mindless bureaucrat, however, makes each procedure an end in itself. They are themselves trapped by blind and unquestioning adherence to regulations and procedures. Mindless bureaucracy is a timeless problem; it enslaves talents and cripples dreams and enterprise through excessive caution or perfunctory expediency. This iron cage insulates and isolates, preserving the status quo. In a period of rapid change, we maintain the status quo at our own peril.
To speed us on our journey of greatness, and fight this peril, we need an enlightened bureaucracy, one that enables and facilitates excellence. Enlightened bureaucracy does not constrain nor contain. Enlightened bureaucrats see their role as facilitators, rather than as mere enforcers of rules and regulations.
They possess a sense of service and a desire to help. They take pleasure in making life and work easier for others, trusting them to act responsibly. At the highest level, enlightened bureaucrats dedicate themselves to furthering organizational goals.
Like the flu, none of us is immune to the ills of complacency or mindless bureaucracy. With courage, vigilance and enterprise, we can keep the two perils at bay, and better still, keep them in their own iron cage.
In conclusion, we have built up momentum and my hope for us, both as individuals and as a community, is that we journey far – very far – farther than others expect us to. I believe Rwanda will be a place where each of us can dream the impossible, and make possible what is glimpsed.
I am convinced that Rwandans will be enabled to discover their passions in life, fulfil their promise, and serve country and society wholeheartedly.