Take away your praises and accolades piled on Rwanda as a shining star of Africa. The song of Rwanda’s progress does not appease President Paul Kagame. Yes, he is happy with the achievement, but he is not satisfied by the level of growth and service delivery.
“What we are achieving does not match our capacity, we are operating at 40% of our ability,” Kagame said Monday afternoon in his closing remarks marking the end of the 13th National Leadership Retreat.
Rwanda’s growth is estimated at 7.6%. GDP has grown from $3billion in 2006 to slightly $10billion in 2015. And Kagame’s government has been scoring high on most of the global development indices.
For example over 90% of primary school enrollment and 79% for secondary school, 6th globally on gender equality and 1st continentally, 85% mobile cellular coverage, over 90% health insurance coverage, 100 debt payment, and being among the four least corrupt countries in Africa and so on.
However, poverty levels are still high. Despite household income having increased from $320 GDP per capita in 2006 to about $800 in 2015, Kagame insists this is not what Rwandans deserve. A couple of weeks ago, while in in the United Arab Emirates, he said he would be comfortable if the figure rose to at least $1400.
“What we want is efficiency,” Kagame said on Saturday morning while opening the retreat, insisting that there is so much room for improvement.
“How do we utilize the available resources to find what we don’t have or to achieve our goals within our means? How fast are we? How much time do we spend? How efficient are we?”
Kagame tossed these tough question to over 250 of his senior government officials who spent three days discussing how to sustain what has been achieved, improving service delivery and learning how to shape Rwanda’s future.
In Kagame’s view, the level of delivery is mediocre. And he suggested that the mediocrity is a “result of tolerating failures”.
Dr. Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a researcher on Rwanda and commentator on Rwanda’s political affairs, was invited to attend the retreat.
He told KT Press that President Kagame’s pressure for more is driven by fear for his government to become complacent.
“I think there are some who feel that the key task now is maintaining or preserving the achievements. He [Kagame], on the other hand, feels there is a danger of becoming complacent with a real of sliding back, which is why he keeps pushing them and keeping them on their toes,” Golooba said.
“He is shooting for a higher target.”
Despite the achievements registered, Kagame is still angered by a number of unnecessary failures on the part of government; failure in infrastructure development, health, agriculture, and service delivery in general.
Cases in particular, include an increase in human trafficking, street children, domestic violence, corruption, unnecessary spending and government losses made in different areas, such as litigation cases (Rwf2.3 billion loss in 2013), unbilled water (Rwf10.5 billion in 2013) and more unclaimed billions of francs abroad.
When probed about the billions of francs, Finance Minister, Claver Gatete, said that, “That’s true….we are following it up.”
Kagame’s response? “A lot [of money] and for a long time. I think people want it to be forgotten so that they can take it.”
Meanwhile, as President Kagame listed the things that he is not happy about, he dropped one unfamiliar case; foreign trips costing the taxpayers heftily.
“I always see requests, and never see justification. I ask them, try in a simple way to explain…then other times they say…it’s not government paying. Oh, I say, OK, go work for them…I am always fighting…I yell and fight…but I have become vulnerable.”
He said sometimes he is missing five ministers in a cabinet meeting. Apparently many of them travel to attend meetings especially those in the East African Community.
“This community is becoming too expensive. Every week we have not less than three …and they exchange each other…I sit in cabinet and I ask, where is minister so and so?.
“Minister Businge has now an office in Arusha. I am not dramatising this…this is how it is…I can’t afford it. I can’t accept it.”
Kagame decided there be no more ministers traveling for these meetings, instead, the minister for EAC, set up an office in Arusha, with some supporting staff to handle all matters concerning Rwanda’s part in the EAC.
“I cannot cope with this anymore…some ministers have become consultants for other countries…they have less time for us.”
Kagame has decided to tighten up and introduce austerity. “The patience is running out and it seems to be picking up speed. It’s going to be serious business,” he said.
He praised his Tanzania’s counterpart John Magufuli for a similar stance. He said Magufuli’s decision to cut off foreign trips and saving cash for domestic spending is a wise move.
Meant to curb government excesses and save Tanzanian taxpayers’ money, President Magufuli cancelled Independence Day celebrations, cut down foreign travel to only what is most essential, with those travelling needing to get special permission, cancelled all workshops and seminars held in expensive hotels, with ministries having to use their own boardrooms, removed sitting allowances for government employees and so on.
For Kagame, this move is priceless. “I am learning from him. I am now counting my losses…and I have to tighten up…Alhamdulillah,” he said, attracting laughter.
While closing the Retreat today, Kagame said, “Let’s bring together the best of what we have within us. If we give it our all, we will achieve our goals.”