Learning to pick our bills is a sign of dignity

It is said that when time came for colonial masters to hand over tools of power to this nation’s first post independence regime, the man was hesitant. Gregoire Kayibanda could not imagine a life without the Belgians. He could not envisage survival in a situation where the white man was not in control anymore.

It is said that when time came for colonial masters to hand over tools of power to this nation’s first post independence regime, the man was hesitant. Gregoire Kayibanda could not imagine a life without the Belgians. He could not envisage survival in a situation where the white man was not in control anymore.

While other Africans were putting their lives on the forefront, fighting running battles with colonial masters to regain their dignity, Kayibanda was doing the opposite, lost in a dream of fear as to how he would manage without his master’s guidance.

Things did not get better when this lunatic was overthrown by his Army Chief, the self-declared ‘Ikinani’ or the immortal, Juvenal Habyarimana. He spent much of his time limping to the gates of the Elysee, not for any serious business/investment deals but to wash the feet of his post independence master. In return he received assurances of survival of his repressive regime and a few droppings in the begging bowl he carried along.

This syndrome of dependency planted over 30 years under the leadership of these individuals became a lasting feature of this nation. It killed creative minds, killed the spirit of hard work, killed the culture of entrepreneurship and forever made the ordinary person look to the skies as a means of survival.

Indeed the mentality of having to survive on hand-outs or at the mercy of well wishers was to a certain extent entrenched in the footprint of this nation and accepted by the ordinary person as way of life.

It did not leave out the so-called well-to-do individuals. Infact, because the system was overly corrupt and highly sectarian, the well-to-do, ended up benefiting from government hand-outs more than the ordinary person. So the culture of dependency was deep rooted in all spheres of life.

That is why issues on cost-sharing in education or health sector raise eye-brows when today’s leadership wants to implement them. It’s not that these individuals (classified under ubudehe) lack the capacity. It’s the historical baggage of perpetual dependency that is at play.

In my view, the decision by government to scrap living allowances for some university students deemed capable of meeting these costs was long overdue.

There’s no country I know of, developed or in the process of development where students are paid for studying.

Actually, unlike here where government remains with the burden of footing tuition for all these students, the situation is opposite elsewhere. Tuition is a responsibility of the parents/guardians/students. Where the parent cannot foot the bill, then a simple loan is taken in anticipation that the student will graduate, find a job and eventually pay the loan.

But what makes the justification of cost-sharing in today’s Rwanda even relevant? Simple, Rwanda of today is not the Rwanda of 10 years ago. Today, the economy has grown in leaps and bounds. Economic indicators show that recovery and growth after the 1994 Genocide averaged 8.2 percent annually between 1995 and 2005. This growth was sufficient to reduce income-poverty levels by 21 percent from 78 percent in 1995 to 57 in 2005.

From 2005 to-date, economic growth averaged 8.6 percent, giving indications of further reduction in poverty levels. GDP per capita that was less than $185 in 1994 is at $541 as of last year.

An increment in per-capita incomes means that more and more of our people are seeing increased incomes in their households. Ideally, this should translate into lessening government’s burden of being the sole provider of all services. We must make a contribution either wholly or under a cost-sharing arrangement.

And this is the thinking behind the new policy on the medical insurance scheme, Mutuelle de Santé. This new policy classifies different categories of our population depending of their income capacities. Those falling under extreme poverty category, government will continue to intervene and foot their health bill to a tune of Frw2000 per individual. For those with substantial incomes, the contribution will increase from Frw1000 to Frw3000 per individual.

The reasoning behind this increment is not far from that of the students’ allowances. It’s about cost-sharing. It’s about making our systems self-sustaining and it’s about taking up full ownership. It’s also a reflection of the reality on the ground. If per capita income of our country has risen to $540, an average of about Frw 324,000, does it make sense anymore that for one to access healthcare, an individual part with only Frw 83 per month? What can this amount of money buy you today? Not even candy for children, not even a match-stick!

Therefore, as we seek to become economically self-sustaining, the process must start from the Rwandan individuals themselves. It must start with plucking off the feathers rooted in the thinking of the regimes of Kayibanda’s and Habyarimana.

As the economy grows, so are income levels rising and so must we start to appreciate the value of footing our own bills to supplement what government provides.
Otherwise, even a boy grows into a man and eventually leaves his parents home to start his own family. Times have changed and the Rwanda of toady is not that of yesterday. We must outgrow the culture of tagging our survival to government.

On twitter @aasiimwe, aasiimwe.wordpress.com
akaeus@yahoo.com

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