President Paul Kagame, on Monday, shook up his cabinet, with changes that directly affected seven ministries, including Education, Infrastructure, Finance, Natural Resources and Health.
The reshuffle saw six entrants, including four ministers, namely, Prof. Silas Lwakabamba (Infrastructure), Oda Gasinzigwa (Gender and Family Promotion), Séraphine Mukantabana (Refugees and Disaster Management) and Claver Gatete of Finance and Economic Planning.
Three crucial portfolios of Minister of State were also created, namely Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), Public Health and Primary Healthcare, and Mining.
The President named Albert Nsengiyumva (formerly Minister of Infrastructure), Dr. Anita Asiimwe (formerly deputy director general, Rwanda Biomedical Center), and Evode Imena, until recently a geologist with Rwanda Natural Resources Authority, as state ministers in the newly created posts, respectively.
And former Minister of Finance, John Rwangombwa, was appointed the new Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda.
The changes saw the cabinet soar to 29 members, including 10 women, equivalent to 35 per cent – well over the constitutional minimum requirement of 30 per cent.
Whereas the vast majority of the cabinet members remain unchanged, the reshuffle is significant in many ways. The changes affected some of the most important ministries.
Take, for example, Infrastructure. The Infrastructure Ministry oversees the country’s investments in energy, perhaps the single most important resource for socio-economic development; transport of all kinds, among others.
As the country aspires for middle-income status come 2020, there is need to mobilise resources necessary to implement key infrastructural projects to help bring to fruition this aspiration.
The mega project of an international airport in Bugesera, the long-talked-about Isaka-Kigali railway line and a badly needed oil pipeline are some of the clearly laid out assignments to tackle.
From academics to politics
These are very expensive ventures, which need a versatile, innovative leader, capable of conceiving and selling ideas to strategic partners.
Prof. Lwakabamba has largely led an academic life. But he has demonstrated high levels of performance in his previous postings, particularly as rector of the National University of Rwanda (UNR), and previously, Kist, where he’s credited for mobilising resources from within and outside the country.
During Lwakabamba’s days at Kist, the institution improved in global university rankings, at one time overtaking UNR as Rwanda’s top ranked varsity, but the latter has since regained its position under Lwakabamba’s leadership.
We can only hope he replicates his success both at Kist and UNR at Mininfra, one of the ministries which have probably had the lowest stability (in terms of personnel) at the top level in recent years.
Lwakabamba replaces the youthful, soft-spoken Albert Nsengiyumva, who rose to the helm of Mininfra from the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) where he was the director-general.
Nsengiyumva’s redeployment to the education sector is a strategic move that could help change Rwanda’s education setup forever. It’s a demonstration of the government’s commitment to TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) as a major growth vehicle.
Nsengiyumva, who has now held three senior positions, including two ministerial posts, in just over three years, is a hard worker and skilled performer. When he was appointed WDA director-general in January 2010, be brought a sense of purpose and urgency to the institution, and set the tone for what WDA has hitherto achieved.
TVET is a new phenomenon to Rwanda as it is with many developing countries. Nsengiyumva has a rich understanding of TVET and what it means to the country’s development.
The government wants at least 60 per cent of all A’level students to take TVET courses by 2017.
The idea is to produce graduates who are empowered with the hands-on skills that are needed on the labour market. Yet it would be difficult to realise all this without deliberate efforts at the highest level, with a clear structure and policy orientation, to shake things up and help shape a new mindset.
With a new ministerial portfolio dedicated to this form of learning, coupled with the right policy decisions and investments, TVET will soon emerge out of the shadows.
Also significant is the creation of the position of a state minister for mining. Traditionally, Rwanda is known as a resource-poor country, with negligible resources underground. Nonetheless, this perception has been increasingly fading in recent years, with the mining sector emerging from near obscurity to a major foreign exchange earner, alongside tourism.
With new mineral discoveries, and several ongoing prospecting activities, most of which already showing positive signals, it is important that adequate attention be given to this sector, especially in the areas of regulatory framework, licensing, research, monitoring and contract management.
And, Imena, as a respected geologist should be in position to steer this sector, which has fetched well over US$100m annually in recent past, to greater heights.
Furthermore, the creation of the Minister of State in charge of Public Health and Primary Healthcare portfolio – under the Health docket – could not be more relevant in a country reputable for a functioning universal healthcare system.
One would expect to see a marked improvement in the provision of quality healthcare, including through the Mutuelle de Sante scheme.
Needless to say Dr Anita Asiimwe is no stranger to this sector and with her elevation to the new position, we can only expect her to maximise her potential and inspire a new generation of public health workers.
The changes at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees (Midimar) are no less significant either.
General Marcel Gatsinzi, one of the longest serving cabinet ministers, having previously served as Defence minister for many years, was relieved of his duties at Midimar, and replaced with Séraphine Mukantabana. The latter might not be as widely known as her predecessor, but she is by no means a newcomer in refugee matters and the ministry itself.
She was herself a refugee until August 2011, when she finally decided to return home. With just about three months to the time when the countries hosting Rwandan refugees are expected to invoke the Cessation Clause, adding impetus to the campaign to encourage voluntary repatriation could not have come at a better time.
As for the changes at both the Finance ministry and the central bank, the men that have swapped portfolios are each experienced and well versed with the operations of the respective institutions, having both worked at the top level in the country’s macro-economic setting for more than a decade.
I don’t see either the new Finance minister Claver Gatete or central bank Governor John Rwangombwa introducing drastic policy shifts, but rather continuity with a few adjustments here and there. Besides, their tasks compel them to complement each other.
And it is expected that the former chief gender monitor, Oda Gasinzigwa, now the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, will carry forward the good work of her predecessor, the late Aloisea Inyumba. Rwanda may have made significant strides in gender equality, but if there is one person who understands the true intricacies of the remaining challenges and how to get them fixed, then it is the former chief gender monitor.