This week has seen a flurry of activity in the country’s top leadership circles, with President Paul Kagame, in an arguably surprise move, appointing a new prime minister, consequently causing a major cabinet shakeup.
Anastase Murekezi replaced Dr Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, who had unexpectedly been picked as the premier a little less than three years ago, having previously had a short stint as education minister.
A few previous Cabinet reshuffles had not seen major changes with President Kagame preferring to keep faith in his “winning team”. However, the latest changes at Primature sparked talk of an imminent major Cabinet reshuffle.
Indeed the timing was significant: Just a year ago, the government launched an ambitious national growth blueprint, the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy II; the education sector is undergoing key reforms, especially at the tertiary level; President Kagame is halfway into his second term in office; there are historic infrastructure projects that are ongoing, including a railway line that would link Rwanda to the Mombasa port, a major international airport, among other developments.
So when the public woke up to the news that Murekezi, 62, would take the oath of office just a day after his appointment and go on to unveil his new cabinet lineup, many expected, and probably hoped for, major changes.
And, yes, the changes came – ministers were dropped, others moved, and new faces brought on board.
Murekezi , after consulting and agreeing with the President on who makes the new cabinet lineup, named ten new faces, with one of the most notable entrants being Joseph Habineza, the flamboyant former Sports and Culture minister.
Habineza, whose appointment provoked many reactions on Twitter, with hashtag #Joewhileyouwereaway immediately going viral and many Rwandans on the social networking site expressing delight at the news.
Joe, as Habineza is fondly referred to, resigned back in February, 2011 after circulation of pictures on the internet that were construed to depict indiscretion on his part.
His popularity among the youth and sports fans, especially those who care about the country’s football – following a run of mediocre performances by the Amavubi – was evident on social media yesterday.
Indeed, the return of Joe was possibly one of the most exciting aspects of the reshuffle.
Yet there were more significant changes. Prime Minister Murekezi announced two new dockets; State Minister in charge of Economic Planning and State Minister in charge of Agriculture. These are critical structural changes and an indication that the government is keen to do better in the two areas.
In the Agriculture docket, Agnes Kalibata was dropped as the minister, while former permanent secretary, the youthful Tony Nsanganira, was elevated to the newly created post of state minister in the same ministry.
The move is proof that agriculture, a sector which Murekezi understands all too well having previously served as an agriculture minister and with academic background in that field, remains at the centre of Rwanda’s growth agenda, and that the government is convinced that we can do much better than we have done in recent years.
Equally, the reinstatement of the post of state minister in charge of economic planning in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning – with Dr Uzziel Ndagijimana appointed to the position – points to a renewed commitment to accelerate the implementation of EDPRS II, with the government evidently challenged to deliver that ambitious target of 11.5 per cent annual GDP growth rate during the blueprint’s five-year implementation period.
Also important is the decision to transfer Prof. Silas Lwakabamba, an accomplished academic, from the tricky infrastructure docket to education, a sector that’s undergoing and needs further structural reforms, including the recent merger of all public institutions of higher learning into the University of Rwanda, besides the unending challenge of matching education curricula with the needs of the labour market.
Rwandans, especially the academic community, will expect Lwakabamba to replicate the impressive legacy he left at both KIST (now College of Science and Technology) and UNR (now College of Social Arts and Humanities) where he served as rector, in the broader Education sector. As a vice chancellor, Lwakabamba was known for pulling off strategic partnerships that helped mobilise the much-needed resources for the two institutions.
Hopefully he will set us on a path to truly becoming a knowledge-based economy while fixing the elusive quality of education.
Meanwhile, Francis Gatare, formerly Presidential Private Assistant, returns to all-important Rwanda Development Board as CEO, a post that gives him the status of Cabinet minister.
Gatare, an economic expert, has a great deal of experience with RDB having worked there previously as principal deputy CEO, and was involved with the institution from the time of its formation as a merger of several parastatals.
Previously, Gatare served as director general of the former Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA), one of the agencies that would be put under one roof to constitute RDB. He’ll be expected to work with the other technocrats at RDB to deliver on their critical mandate of selling Rwanda as a destination of choice for investors and tourists.
The transfer of Valentine Rugwabiza from RDB to the EAC affairs docket may have come as a surprise since she had just assumed the position in October last year, but the appointment of a former World Trade Organisation deputy director general to the EAC affairs ministry demonstrates the importance with which the government attaches to the regional bloc’s integration agenda.
The appointment of a new state minister for energy and water may not have caught many people’s eyes since this is one docket that has changed hands many a time in recent years, but it’s a portfolio that remains critical to the country’s development agenda. Energy is one area where performance remains considerably wanting and we can only hope that Germaine Kamayirese has answers to the problems that continue to afflict this sector.
Also notable is the choice of former youth MP Francis Kaboneka, who joins Cabinet as the Minister for Local Government and Social Affairs, replacing James Musoni who moved to Infrastructure. Kaboneka will be expected to use his vast experience as a parliamentarian and cadre to mobilise local leaders to deliver quality services to the people to help implement the President’s Manifesto – at the grassroots – in the best way possible.
And, as was the case in previous Cabinet, women remain an integral part of top leadership, with 12 out of 32 Cabinet members being female, constituting 37.5 per cent. Importantly, women hold several critical portfolios, including Foreign affairs and Agriculture.
For the new prime minister, Murekezi, having been part of Cabinet since 2004 with spells in several ministries, he boasts a rich understanding of government business and priorities as well as what needs to be done to achieve the middle-income economy this country has set its sights on in the foreseeable future.
With government saying it wants to double the country’s current GDP per capita, to at least $1,240, in five years, it’s almost certain the President and the Prime Minister picked a team they believe will deliver this dream.
For the ministers, the excitement of being appointed will slowly fade away but the time to roll up sleeves and get to work is now. The expectations from the Rwandan people are ever growing.
Good luck to them!