The news of the resignation of Sports and Culture Minister Joe Habineza took some people by surprise especially some of us whose origins can be traced from the other East African Community (EAC) countries. It is important to note that the surprise emanates from the fact that some of us come from the other EAC member countries where such high profile persons cannot just be brushed aside easily, especially for such reasons that forced Uncle Joe to throw in the towel.
While at the very moment I got the news, it kind of surprised me, however, I was told by friends and colleagues not to be very surprised, as the former minister’s resignation was a reminder that Rwandan public officials need to stand the moral high ground at all the time. I was further reminded that here in Rwanda there is a big difference between merely saying and walking the talk in as far as observing the conduct of public officials.
The situation obtaining in other countries would mean that former minister Joe Habineza would ideally hide behind all manner of legal, political and administrative barriers that would protect him while the public debate would drag on.
The idea is that such a debate would eventually run out of steam after which Uncle Joe would be reinstated to his position as an honourable minister. I was quickly told that such a scenario can never happen in present day Rwandan political dispensation.
Habineza’s resignation- I was told, is a stern reminder to all public officials that Rwanda attaches very high expectations regarding the moral standing of such officials within society. While it can be said that within other societies as media reports indicate, public officials can get away with alleged acts of questionable conduct within the confines of their private lives, I was reminded by friends and colleagues that such acts can be very difficult to escape the intense public scrutiny prevalent in Rwanda.
Thus it was without surprise to a vast majority of Rwandans that the only honourable thing that was left for Joe Habineza to do was to tender his resignation as a minister. The main reason that is cited is that Habineza had no option but to protect the integrity of the public service that he has served very diligently and with dignity during his time as minister.
In my typical mindset from other EAC countries, I tried very hard to argue that Joe had done quite well as minister and that malice could be the over riding reason that brought about the publication of the photos that led to his resignation. Some of my colleagues begged to differ with my reasoning. “However diligent Joe Habineza may have served his country, it must be pointed out that he is expected to adhere to certain expectations of standing firmly within the moral high grounds as a senior public official”: was the response that I got from my colleagues.
Others countered that minister Habineza’s own resignation, without undue pressure from the general public, should be seen as some kind of maturity on the part of the former minister. By resigning rather than waiting for heated public debate on his misconduct as a senior public official, some of my friends and colleagues added, Joe Habineza did what was expected of any public official given the circumstances currently facing him.
With his resignation, I was reminded that the message from the general public is very clear. No public official of whatever seniority or rank is expected to exhibit unbecoming conduct and that society is constantly on the lookout every other day holding public officials to account for their acts whether in private or public arena.
Hardly had the dust settled on Joe’s resignation than I was struck by another equally big surprise. Again while I was very shocked at the arrest of legislator Alexandre Ashinzwuwera, my colleagues reminded me that the legislator’s arrest is just another normal and routine accountability issue facing another public official who it appears must have crossed the line. The speed by which parliament voted for the lifting of his immunity was astonishing to some of us from other neighbouring countries.
The author is an editor at The New Times