Being Minister in Rwanda is a Kiss of Death

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Still Astonished by What Happens in Rwanda?…Then you should be astonished by your astonishment

Monique Mukaruliza, ex-minister seeking forgiveness

Monique Mukaruliza, the recently-fired Rwandan minister, seeking forgiveness

By Dr David Himbara

The above photograph shows Monique Mukaruliza, the recently-fired Rwandan minister, seeking forgiveness; fellow ministers are looking on with anxiety – we return to this matter below. We begin with a broader matter – Rwanda is today subject to what one could term the ‘law of diminishing astonishment.’ Nothing is shocking anymore. Rather, it would be more shocking if nothing shocking happened as a matter of routine. Put differently, if anyone is astonished by what happens in our country today, then she/he should be astonished by her/his astonishment.

And that is what a reader is asking me to do – highlight some of the most shocking things over the past several years to which Rwandans have become immune. The reader’s point of departure is the just concluded RPF’s meeting of Saturday 13 July 2013 where sacked ministers Protais Musoni, Monique Mukaruliza, and her Permanent Secretary Bill Kayonga asked for forgiveness. The fate of the former Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama’s situation remains most worrying and unknown as he was not part of the repenters.

In addressing this ‘assignment’, however, the problem is that it is difficult to chose which astonishing things to highlight because they are so many.

Here is my random sampling that includes domestic and regional political as well economic issues. Readers are free to share their own analysis via public or private channels on facebook.

SHOCK NUMBER 1 – BEING MINISTER IN RWANDA IS KISS OF DEATH

Pity the men and women who are called upon to serve in President Kagame’s cabinet. Reshuffling and dropping ministers has almost become a sporting and frequent event. The year 2013 alone has witnessed three such forms of entertainment:

* February – Claver Gatete, former Central Bank Governor swapped seats with former Minister of Finance and Planning John Rwangombwa; at least 8 other ministerial changes were made;

* May – Protais Musoni, Cabinet Affairs, and Tharcisse Karugarama, Justice Minister, the ‘last RPF historicals’ were dropped – the latter for hinting that he is opposed to removal of term limits to allow Kagame to extend his rule beyond 2017;

* July – East Africa Community affairs mister, Monique Mukaruliza and her Permanent Secretary Bill Kayonga were sacked for incompetence.

Appointing or sacking cabinet ministers in Rwanda is strictly a one-man affair – unlike say in next-door Uganda where Parliament vets appointees before they are confirmed by the head of state. Kagame hires and fires at free will. No wonder it is one of the scariest things in Rwanda to be told you have been made a cabinet minister.

Why?

It is scary because once you are fired by the President of Rwanda, no one in the country will want to be associated with you not only in public sector but also in the private sector and NGO community. Your compatriots begin to avoid you like a plague. Careers are ruined – until Kagame himself ‘rehabilitates’ you, if at all. Even repenting is not always an available option. Someone who disagreed with President Kagame on principles – which I believe is the case with Karugarama, is doomed.

I personally observed the case of Rosemary Museminali, who was recruited from the Red Cross to eventually become Minister for Foreign Affairs. When she was literally thrown out of an afternoon cabinet discussion and consequently dumped from the cabinet in December 2009, Rosemary languished in her family compound for one year. She then got a job outside the country – but even then she had to get an OK from the Rwandan powers that be.

Kagame’s cabinet management style recalls cases of earlier autocratic rulers such former Kenyan president Moi. President Moi’s long-serving deputy, Professor George Saitoti, only heard on a Kenyan radio station that he been “relieved” of his vice-presidential post and his home affairs portfolio in 2002. Moi left vacant the vice-presidency post, much like Kagame had quietly scrapped vice-presidency from 2000 to the present.

Saitoti’s sacking was hardly shocking; it was in line with Moi’s style of leadership. Moi despised his ministers and merely used them for his political purposes as opposed to seeing them as sector leaders with own capabilities. Above all Moi did not tolerate independent thought. He once famously stated that “everybody must toe the line…No room for dissenting fellows…I shall use all mechanisms at my disposal to silence them.” On another occasion Moi reminded his cabinet: “as vice-president, I sang like a parrot after Kenyatta; now I am President and you must sing like a parrot after me”

Similarly, the idea that cabinet ministers are high-level appointees given the responsibility of overseeing specific areas of public policy (such as finance, national defence, or foreign affairs) is simply alien to President Kagame. He seems to believe that he is the expert in each field. And to prove that he is the expert, he has to continuously humiliate his ministers and officials publicly – a fundamentally-flawed motivation tactic that merely fosters silent resentment. Put in another way, President Kagame is closer to an old-style headmaster, complete with the language and demeanour of punishment for disciplinary infractions as well as sanction and dismissal of his ‘pupils.’

SHOCK NUMBER 2: THE CATASTROPHE KNOWN AS MININFRA

President Kagame’s cabinet upheavals are most spectacular in the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA) which has had 5 different ministers in the past 7 years as follows:

* 2006: Stanislas Kamanzi
* 2008: Linda Bihire
* 2009: Vincent Karega
* 2011: Albert Nsengiyumva
* 2013: Prof. Silas Lwakabamba

MININFRA can no longer shock. Much of the country’s nightmare, official hype, and Kagame’s white elephants are based there, not least the following:

* The electricity nightmare before and after the World Bank stepped in 2009 with its Urgent Electricity Rehabilitation Project that financed the Jabana Heavy Fuel Oil Power Plant that increased supply from to 75 megawatts (from 41MW) in 2010; the hype that Rwanda will produce 1,000MW by 2017 is the lasted bogus claim;

* Privatisation of Rwandatel in 2003; its nationalisation in 2006; its re-privatisation in 2007; its re-nationalisation in 2011; its collapse and liquidation in 2013;

* Connecting Rwanda with fibre optic cables (2003-2006) as well as building broadband infrastructure on top of Mt Kalisimbi that was supposed to spread internet and television/radio coverage ended in a fiasco;

* The Kigali-Isaka-Dar Es Salaam 1,435mm standard gauge railway supposedly built by the American firm Burlington Northern Santa Fe; this US$4bil project was being hyped in 2006-2008 but has gone dead quiet, recently replaced by the Kigali-Mombasa rail and pipeline.

Meanwhile, the mess in MININFRA provides a haven for President Kagame’s money machine, Crystal Ventures Ltd (CVL). Key CVL’s portfolios, include civil works and concrete products, construction and real estate development, telecommunications, aviation charter services, building materials, property management and engineering services. These CVL’s products and services primarily depend on tenders from the Kagame government, and are regulated by it. It is a case of the wolf guarding sheep. CVL companies are what has become known as “tenderpreneurs” who cannot survive on the basis of their business acumen but on government contracts.

SHOCK NUMBER 3: WHEN TIGO’S CEO, TOM GUTJAHR, WAS SENT PACKING

The case of the former Tigo Rwanda’s CEO, Tom Gutjahr, sent a different shock wave when he was given 24 hours to leave Rwanda in July 2011. RPF’s New Times alleged that Gutjahr had been fired for embezzled funds and other fraudulent acts. Tigo Rwanda’s parent company, Millicom International Cellular in Luxembourg, quickly set the record straight – Gutjahr was not expelled from Rwanda due to corruption.

Gutjahr, it turned out, had refused to perform an uneconomical act. He objected to rolling out Tigo’s network to President Kagame’s 45 acre ultra-modern farm and its penny-less poverty-stricken neighbourhood at Lake Muhazi. And here is the sentiment for which Gutjahr was crucified: ‘Tigo cannot install a network mast in any area just for one man even if he is the president of the country.’ For Paul Kagame, however, Gutjahar’s refusal to build a network was not about economics. Gutjahar had to be unceremoniously expelled from Rwanda for his arrogance or ‘agasuzuguro.’ Which begs the question: why hadn’t RPF’s own MTN Rwanda not build Kagame a network mast in more than 20 years they have been in country?

Wonders never cease. In today’s Rwanda, not even a private sector operator can operate strictly on business principles. Public and private sector enterprises must cater to the strong man – President Kagame.

SHOCK NUMBER 4: THREAT TO HIT A FELLOW MEMBER OF EAST AFRICAN COMMUNITY

Perhaps the most recent shocking occurrence in Rwanda was when on 30 June 2013 President Kagame publicly stated that he was bidding his time to “hit” Tanzania’s head of state. The latter had months before the Kagame incident suggested that Rwanda should negotiate peace of rebels since fighting for nearly 20 years had failed to render the region more peaceful.

“Hitting” President Kikwete would mean Rwanda either declaring war on Tanzania or fighting the UN-mandated Tanzanian-led forces currently deploying to disarm rebel
groups in East DR-Congo.

Such crude and brazen act of undiplomatic behaviour is reminiscent of Uganda’s Idi Amin whose reckless and bombastic style led to the Tanzania-Uganda war in 1978-9. Threatening a fellow member of the East African Community and African Union illustrates the extent to which the Rwandan president has lost touch with reality.

For our purposes here, this brazen act of undiplomatic behaviour is proof, if any were needed of deeper extent to which the ‘law of diminishing astonishment’ is at work in Rwanda. It is increasingly impossible for Rwandans to be shocked.

WHAT NEXT NOW FOR RWANDA?

All manner of campaigns to change the constitution for purportedly allowing Kagame to finish the “great” things that he will not completed in 23 years between 1994-2017 are well underway. But where all this end?

As elsewhere in the world it is often difficult to advise someone you admire that they going in the deep-end. Few will dare tell him the truth especially as he is prone to shooting the messenger. Most will indulgently humour him and reassure him that he is the greatest leader Africa and Rwanda has ever had.

My sense and hope is that even the die-hard Kagame domestic and foreign supporters surely deep down know all is not well. The sooner more and more voices are heard among Rwandans and between them and our regional/international partners, our country risks descending into what Kofi Annan once termed the “evil from within” – powerlessness to stop a power-drunk regime from sending our country into unimaginable violence.

Dr David Himbara was the Principal Private Secretary to President Paul Kagame in 2000-2002 and 2009. He was the founding chairperson of the Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU), the founding chairperson of Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the founding chairperson of the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR).  A Rwandan-Canadian, David Himbara is an independent reform strategist and an Adjunct Professor at the University of the Witswaterand, South Africa which he has been associated with on-and-off since 1994. Himbara left Rwanda and returned to South Africa in January 2010.

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