Engineer Albert Butare is the Former Minister of State for Energy and Water. Senior Reporter EDMUND KAGIRE of The New Times, caught up with him at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) Graduation Day to talk about his past experience as a Minister and his life after Cabinet. Below are the excerpts.
TNT: I can see you are dressed in graduation robes and are part of the procession, in what capacity are you here?
Eng. Butare: I have always been invited to participate in these ceremonies as someone who has served the Institute as a Vice Rector, in fact the first Vice Rector In charge of Academic Affairs. I find time and I am happy that I managed to attend as I have learnt a lot on the strides KIST has made over the years.
TNT: How do you find KIST six years after you left?
Eng. Butare: I can see a lot of progress. Growth in the student numbers graduating, growth in qualified Rwandan staff as well as some infrastructure. I am always happy every time I find my former students happily serving in different departments (public and private) in the country. This is the very capacity and endowment the Government has always struggled about, isn’t it! It is all encouraging.
TNT: What are you currently involved in?
Eng. Butare: I am doing different things; the main anchor has been the World Bank and the European Union where I serve as a Senior Consultant advising on different energy related aspects.
While for the Bank I have been playing a catalytic role in enforcing the World Bank - Africa Energy Strategy through energy related initiatives. I also follow up on the Bank supported projects within the Regional Economic Communities and Regional Power Pools, for the EU. I advise them as a resource person on energy aspects for the region especially on their “post-Copenhagen” engagement on Climate Change related initiatives.
Another activity is that I have been requested by the German Government (through the Minister of Development and Cooperation - BMZ) to co-chair an International Steering Committee that is preparing a high level International Conference on Energy, Water and Food Security – nexus to Green Economy focusing on poverty reduction, that will take place in Bonn in November, 2011.
The outcome of this conference is going to make key inputs into the “Rio plus twenty”, a UN Conference on Sustainable Development that will take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 to assess the progress made following the ground breaking “Earth Summit” that took place in Rio back in 1992.
These are my activities outside Rwanda. In the country, I have registered an energy company (Africa Energy Services Group) which is now three months old through which I am able to continue providing on-the-ground energy related services to the country.
TNT: Sounds impressive; do you think this is all coming from your strength as a qualified engineer who holds a Doctorate?
Eng. Butare: I don’t think so. These features are what I would term as “added advantage”, not the real yellow part of the egg. You know as good as I may be, there are thousands of qualified engineers out there; there are equally thousands of Doctorate holders out there.
To me, it is about the leadership environment I am coming from. It is about this country and its leadership. It is about the experience I have acquired under the leadership of President Kagame. If he is a star out there, certainly his trainees should have bits of his qualities.
That is the major flagship and I think that this is what they did base their choice on. In fact some of the people who appoint me on certain roles have never met me before. I myself have never known how they look like. What you can be sure about is that they know Rwanda, and they know about her leadership.
TNT: Don’t these people ask you the reason you left Cabinet? How do you justify your competence?
Eng. Butare: In fact many do, and it’s a tricky question, isn’t it? However, I have always tried to tell them the truth, and this is how I go about it. I ask them whether they know Rwanda and whether they have been following Rwanda’s progress.
Many of them do. I go further to ask them whether they know or have taken interest in knowing about President Kagame. Some say yes, others say, yes a bit! At this juncture, I tell them that serving under President Kagame may make me appear a star and a performer out there, which indeed is the case, but might not necessarily make me a star and a good performer that meets entirely his standards and expectations.
I tell them that if they were keen enough to follow and see the progress Rwanda has made in the last 16 years, it is by all standards beyond any one’s expectations. These results do not come by through the normal going that people are used to.
There must be something extra, something special, some unusual level of effort. Those are Kagame’s standards of doing business. And therefore, all I tell them is simply to try me out, they have done this and trust me they are not disappointed. Those are the fruits of extraordinary standards for which I feel are worthy.
TNT: Do you think the decision to relieve you from your cabinet duties was fair?
Eng. Butare: You never asked me whether it was my right or the President’s obligation when he appointed me as a Minister. When the President appointed me, he did not owe me anything, so why should I or anybody else, including your good-self, today question about the legitimacy of my departure?
However, back to your question; yes, the decision was fair, very fair. You may know President Kagame does not tolerate non-performance. He tolerated me. I had my weaknesses. He nevertheless tolerated me for good 60 months. That was long, especially in MININFRA. I was lucky I must say.
TNT: It is often speculated that when one leaves Cabinet, they have fallen out with the President, and therefore, with the system as a whole. What are your views on this?
Eng. Butare: To me that is a very stupid perception to both parties; on the one hand, the person who thinks that the fact that he has been relieved of his duties should declare himself non-partisan to the system, then let it be, it is up to him. It is a big mistake; it takes us back to the question of whether in the first place, it was really your right to be a Cabinet member, and especially, one who should not be touched.
Equally, those who are still serving and fall in the same thinking are not any better. And I think nurturing this kind of thinking will, at most, spoil than the reverse. What about the experience you have freely benefited while in service? How do you make use of it to bring returns to your Government and the people?
TNT: How was your experience in the Cabinet?
Eng. Butare: The Cabinet is one of the most special training colleges I ever attended in my life. Upon graduation from this academy, as long as you are conscious of how you have performed, you have still acquired momentum good enough to push you through life.
It is now that I see the benefits and enjoy the fruits of that training. From there you can easily fit anywhere, trust me. Unfortunately, the time you are there, you may not feel this and more often than not, you do not make better use of that opportunity.
TNT: Do you think you served the country well?
Eng. Butare: You mean while in Cabinet? At one time I thought I did when I got appointed, the electricity access rate was 4 percent, and by the time I left we had reached 10percent. A growth of 6 percent; Good job! But what about the remaining 90 percent? Would they regard it as a good job? It is a tricky question.
TNT: Life seems to be going well with you, do you prefer continuing to engage in the outside world?
Eng. Butare: Yes, the kind of engagements I am involved in are quite interesting. However, there is something you can never acquire out there; the true sense of belonging, the sense of accountability because there will never be any better place than your home. Please do not misinterpret me; I am not trying to be selfish. May be I have been spoiled over time.
TNT: Tell me about your company, the Africa Energy Services Group?
Eng. Butare: The AESG is a young energy company registered here. It offers all round advisory services and consultancy on a number of energy related activities in the country. AESG has a number of expert affiliates with varying skills who come in to assist on needs basis. We are about three months old. It is my anticipation that as activities increase, I shall reduce the time I spend on outside activities.
TNT: Given the opportunity, would you wish to come back to public service?
Eng. Butare: Well, I have vowed to serve the country as a priority undertaking. And if the President wanted me to undertake a certain responsibility, I will take it up immediately, whatever it may be.
However, one of the Government’s key initiatives has been to promote and support private sector that eventually shall be the main driver of our economy. Now, if this has to happen, somebody must engage in this undertaking. So who should that be? Do I look like I cannot make a good businessman?
TNT: What message would you give to incumbent Ministers?
Eng. Butare: The post-Cabinet life can be smooth or tricky depending on how you take it. All I can tell my former colleagues as well as the new ones, is that they should make the best use possible of the time in that training academy under the principal-ship of HE President Kagame.
What I am seeing now, that I did not necessarily see that much then, is taking every bit of those lessons—especially the hard ones—with dedicated seriousness. These lessons are invaluable assets of their future.