Who says Rwandan politics is colourless?

Rwandan ministers have earned a reputation of being quietly efficient, never out of step, always on top of their respective briefs. They don’t steal from the public or lead obscenely opulent lives. Rwandans outside official circles can hardly recognise most of them.
Joseph Rwagatare
Joseph Rwagatare

Rwandan ministers have earned a reputation of being quietly efficient, never out of step, always on top of their respective briefs. They don’t steal from the public or lead obscenely opulent lives. Rwandans outside official circles can hardly recognise most of them.

Those given to blunt speaking, or the less charitable, say our ministers are colourless, ordinary and boring.

This is a reputation ministers (not all are politicians) share with other Rwandan politicians. Rarely do you hear of a shameful act from what elsewhere is a scandal-prone class. No gaffes, either, followed by the inevitable, if unconvincing response – I was misquoted, or my remarks were taken out of context. You don’t see any fistfights (belly fights, really) in parliament. They are altogether too civil, too correct and, well, colourless.

There is, of course, the odd exception that proves the rule.

Many of us can remember the popular minister of culture – Joe to everyone – whose colourful language and lifestyle used to be the talk of the town. Wherever he appeared, especially among young people, he was met with squeal of delight and excitement. He enjoyed it, too.

Another minister, who had been moved around quite a bit in a bid to heal the itch in his fingers (unsuccessfully as it turned out) provided colour in a different sort of way. He was given to much bluster and chest-thumping (obviously this is not a monopoly of silverbacks). He once famously described houses of some Kigali dwellers as birds’ nests.

Both colourful men left the scene and we were left with the machine-efficient lot and boring public life.

Not for very long, though. The minister of internal security took it upon himself to save us from the quiet and monotony of our political life. Now, the minister, also a Sheikh, is the man to do this. He is a colourful man. He loves the sound of words and enjoys appearing at public functions in resplendent Islamic dress.

The honourable minister chose to wade into constitutional waters and attempted to disturb their calm by pushing for a lift on term limits to allow President Paul Kagame a third term. President Kagame had said on many occasions that he wasn’t seeking another term.

The good Sheikh begged to differ. He would urge the President to reconsider his decision and ask Rwandans to support him. He would not even be deterred by the gentle admonitions of his boss. Nor would he be stopped by the fact that he was a lone voice that excited more bemusement than support. And the more lonely he became, the more passionate he grew in his lonely crusade.

Yes, the minister has stirred the political waters and caused some laughter, but that’s about all. The calm has since returned. Sure, he has given content to some media and fed the scepticism and prejudices of some foreign reporters, but no more.

While still on constitutional matters, during the National Dialogue Conference towards the end of last year, another minister invoked the protection of the venerable document in matters linguistic. Right or not, it was the first time many had heard the constitution cited so to cover linguistic inability.

Still, it was good to see that people are prepared to defend their rights – and forcefully, too. Where do some people get the notion that Rwandans are docile creatures?

The lack of colour is not limited to government. There are heads of political parties whom many Rwandans have never seen or heard speak. Is it because they have nothing to say? Surely they must have a programme! Or is it because they don’t know how to say it? Then they have no business in politics.

Occasionally you get one who will say the unexpected with such innocence as warms the heart. Take the example of Madame Mukabunani, head of Parti Social-Imberakuri. As 2011 was getting to a close, she was at pains to stress her party’s credentials as the opposition. In the same breath, she asked for posts for members of her party in government. Only the stone-hearted would not be warmed by this.

We can expect more colour in our politics – certainly in terms of style – in the new year. We have a Prime Minister with a different style of management. Mr Pierre Damien Habumuremyi is more likely to be found walking in the fields up and down the hills of this country, inspecting progress and, one can almost be certain, dispensing wisdom. He will be seen in a factory coat and safety helmet at diverse factories. Of course, he will also get time to meet visiting dignitaries in his office.

One hopes that he will keep on walking with the same energy and consistency, like another fellow revellers in this festive period know only too well.

In the senate, too, we can expect a new style. With the soft-spoken Dr Vincent Biruta, you had the feeling that some people had to strain to hear what he had to say.

The new president of the Senate will not give you that option. You will hear what he says whether you want to or not. There is no room for misunderstanding either. With Dr Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, there is no ambiguity.

President Kagame has told us that with him there is no vagueness – what you see is what you get.  He has a Prime Minister who is an outdoors, field man and a plain-speaking President of the Senate. In the years ahead, we shall certainly not be bored for lack of colour.

Welcome to 2012.



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