Last week’s Leadership Retreat had as critical issues on the agenda as past similar gatherings. Had the resolutions of all the previous seven retreats been fully executed, the country’s socio-economic situation would, perhaps, be a bit different today:
jobs would not be as scarce, many SMEs would not have run out of business, and our education system would be starting to churn out graduates, who are, technically, skilled enough to fix the challenges facing our labour market.
Yet, it is also true that domestic and international dynamics over the past eight years have helped reshape the realities on the ground, and thus changing the magnitude of the problem.
For instance, while in 2003, the government seemed more concerned with the small number of university graduates in the country at the time, today, the biggest worry is that our labour market is no longer big enough to accommodate thousands of youths that graduate every year.
The government has realized the mismatch between what is taught in our schools and the needs of the labour market. Those in the know say the same issue was first discussed at length during the 2006 Leadership Retreat at Akagera Game Lodge.
But the debate then revolved more around technical and vocational education, and not the general education system. As a result, in 2008, the government approved an integrated technical and vocational education and training (TVET) policy.
The policy was meant to help clean up the mess that existed in the previous technical and vocational training programmes, by not only upgrading and integrating the two non-conventional education wings, but also linking the new TVET system to the entire classic education system.
Three years down the line, there’s little to show on the ground, with most technical schools and vocational centres still running archaic curricula. Not because there’s no institution responsible for implementing the policy. Rather, due to lack of a clearly defined roadmap, with well articulated objectives and targets, informed by national priorities.
Rwanda is known for dreaming big. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, I don’t think our biggest challenge lies in unrealistic plans; rather connecting the dots to make these dreams a reality.
There are cases where top government executives have taken the lead in making things happen, but the implementing team follows rather sluggishly. Steam has run out of many great government projects at the implementation stage.
Take the example of the banana fibre project. In May, 2007, President Kagame invited experts from Japan’s Tama Art University to transfer to Rwanda a technology to convert banana fibre into garments and several other valuable items.
In August of the following year, the Japanese university sent a delegation to Rwanda as a follow-up to the President’s invitation, and workshops were organised during which dozens of people (would-be trainers of trainers) acquired skills in the amazing technology.
The country got excited at learning that our banana plantations were another goldmine. Banana is a staple food in Rwanda, and other than removing the fruit and discard the stem, the latter can be processed and converted into textiles, bags, ornaments, sandals, etc.
Thousands of new jobs were to be created, and rural communities were bracing for a new source of revenue. In fact, the government sent a group of technical people to Japan to learn more about the technology and to ensure it’s fully introduced in Rwanda. And, an expatriate was specially hired to fast-track the project.
Yet, it’s now three years and the project appears to have died a natural death. Examples abound of similar projects that were announced amid high expectations and have never seen the light of day.
No doubt, the annual leadership retreat is one of the best things that have happened in Rwanda’s modern politics. This is when leaders are tasked to present their ‘balance sheets’ and are openly criticized, if necessary.
But concrete plans are also laid out to register progress in as many sectors. Nonetheless, it appears that not everything is subsequently implemented accordingly.
Therefore, that the Prime Minister will now be assessing the progress on each resolution taken in these foras, after every three months, cannot come at a better time.
From experience, we are yet to reach a level of ownership that drives people to deliver without having someone keeping tabs on them. That’s the bitter reality.
The author is a training editor with The New Times and 1st VP of Rwanda Journalists Association