I’ve been ruminating over the message President Kagame gave to local leaders on 22nd September 2011. The local leaders were a group of more than 400 sector (umurenge) executive secretaries, locally known as ‘Gitifu’ (a complicated Kinyarwanda corruption of the French ‘exécutif’.
The sector is a level of administration one rung below the district).
If I got it right, the crux of the message was that the civic education (itorero) that they’d just undergone should guide them in appreciating, for person and country, their value; or their self-worth; or their dignity.
What is the implication? That men and women who are involved in the political organisation of their communities should consider their worth and that of those they lead, first and foremost.
When you value yourself, you cannot fall prey to self-aggrandisement temptations. You cannot take the cheap way of dipping your hands in government kitty for personal get-rich short-cuts.
When you value those you lead, you cannot eat ub-ugali (bread/breadth in Kiswahili/Kinyarwanda) of the road that will be constructed to serve them.
The essence of that is that these leaders should respect themselves but also respect those they lead; which means they should treat their people as they treat themselves.
In the final analysis, it means that leader and led should work together as equals. And it is as it should be.
Yet again, doesn’t it go against the grain of the very nature of man? Isn’t man made either to be led or to lead (no allusion to gender insensitivity, as I use ‘man’ in the biblical sense to imply both genders) as superior or inferior?
Even in the family, there is boss and there is underling. And that boss is distinguished by the privileged position s/he holds over that underling.
The head of the family guides the family as s/he knows best and her/his charges follow, no questions entertained. If entertained, only patronisingly.
Sticking to politics, leaders have guided their people and the people have followed without question, down the stretch of history.
Except for a few true advanced democracies perhaps (yes, perhaps), this is still the case today. The people have come to take for granted the fact that there are people who are born with the ‘seeds’ of leadership.
These are the people who must decide how affairs in societies are managed. In managing the affairs of societies, leaders have also come to take for granted the fact that they must decide on the distribution of administrative and material powers.
In my peasant reasoning, I think that is where the politics of entitlement sprang from. For taking on the difficult task of managing their people, leaders came to feel that they were entitled to special benefits.
And as successive leaders sought to entrench this entitlement, so did it end up becoming a culture. It got to a point where a leader could appoint and disappoint at will, like in a game of juggling objects.
So, you had a Mubutu who could dispatch a presidential jet from Paris to Kinshasa for a replenishment of the stock of his favourite Tembo beer, during his visit to France.
Or an Omar Bongo whose presidential jet could be dispatched to Rio de Janeiro for even better commodity, in the form of a Miss Universe, even if the intended fleshy exploits were not successful.
You have a West African presidential garage packed with a fleet of shiny stretch limousines which, nonetheless, cannot venture abroad because the country’s dust roads are too narrow.
Or a statehouse twice the size of Buckingham Palace, when your citizens’ feet are acting as lodges for jiggers, because the jiggers are unchallenged by insecticide (i.e. no money to purchase it).
As I get it, then, it is this order of things in leadership that Rwanda seeks to turn on its head. Leader must recognise the fact that s/he is one with led and led, with leader.
The society, as one people, one team, must have a common understanding, a common vision, and pursue common goals. This necessarily demands exchange of ideas and heeding one another’s advice.
That is how the sense of entitlement can be uprooted. And this endeavour to eradicate the politics of entitlement found expression in the gathering of Gitifus, as they listened to the message.
All of them were recent fresh-out-of-university graduates whose hungry appearance spoke to the thirst for work that was burning inside them.
Gone are the days when a local leader was a backward-bent, pot-bellied old man who, at the request of a service, poked a hole in your tummy with his walking stick because you had dared speak with your mouth, rather than your pocket.
Gone are the days when you had to have 5 years’ experience of work to secure a job, which experience you can only get once you have a job!
However, in that gathering one problem stubbornly stuck out like a sore toe: gender imbalance. In a country that boasts a world record in women parliamentary representation, the same should be reflected in the local leadership.
The peasantry, more than anywhere else, needs to see a leadership that mirrors its more-than-50%-women membership.
An egalitarian society has never been attained, but the process of trying can be made a culture.