President Paul Kagame is one of a kind. For the good he has helped Rwanda achieve he is loved, he is revered, he is praised, all pretty much genuinely. That is on one hand. On the other, for the offences he has punished, the sinners he has sternly rebuked and in general the action against wrong he has so consistently taken, President Kagame is dreaded by many a Rwandan. Yet we continue to be blatant at wrongdoing in spite of the apprehension. How come? How can we have terrible fear of an arm that will likely catch us if we steal while at the same time incessantly scooping public resources into personal bags with our own hands? How do we manage to be fearful and bold in one folder?
Let us take the single example of that infamous tale of a multi-million dollar house in Kacyiru opposite Umubano Hotel, next to the British High Commission. At an extraordinary meeting in Rusororo President Kagame told RPF crème de la crème that it was bought at USD 10m by the government, but USD 2.5m of that was not part of the seller’s asking price. That colossal amount had been added as a tip unto the ‘buyer’. Money exchanged hands, even though later it choked, and it is still choking both the ‘buyer’ and the seller.
Those who were in the same arena with the President at Intare that unforgettable 26th day of the sixth month of 2020, talk of how he wrecked vengeance on culprits. Culprits of the above mentioned crime and of other crimes he mentioned. You hear the story and you are like wow! We’ve got to stop stealing lest we are doomed. But do we?
As I kept thinking lately, unusual thoughts came up my mind. I took time wondering why we cannot help stealing and finally realized we have a fundamental problem so difficult to address. It is related to numerous civil liberties we enjoy as provided for by modern politics. They include right to privacy, right to own property and right to bodily integrity. Therein lies the complexity of life and the challenge of good governance.
Life is so kind we even have other exciting rights – to be extravagant and wasteful. And we have the right to be excessive, for example in socializing and accumulation of relationships of all kinds.
Since the matter is so plainly true to my heart, I will delve a little deeper into it at the risk of being judged. Here is what I mean. Rwanda is a low income economy which can only pay so much to public servants in regard to salaries and other benefits. Even though the treasury is regularly seen to be punching above its weight, still what we take home at the end of the day is quite modest. Yet compared with the life styles we live – the houses we build, cars we drive, what we drink and eat, the cell phones we carry, the clothes we wear, the hair and nails that we do, the number of bags and shoes that we own, the servants we employ, and the number of children and friendships we sponsor – the maths is wildly skewed.
For instance it became normal long time ago to live outside our legitimate means and not be seriously questioned by society so long as we maneuver around the legal trappings our own selves set. What did we expect then? A life style this unrealistic, blown out of proportion in view of legal income will often lead to thieving. Strict laws accompanied by prohibitive penalties on their own will take forever to eliminate the crime, particularly of misuse of public resourses. We have become so hell bent to accumulating wealth, friendships, luxury wear, utilities and so on and so forth to the extent that our inner urge to attain material belongings at whatever cost far outmuscles the inherent moral restraint against social vices. I have a feeling this state of affairs disturbs the leadership. I noticed.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic invaded the land to disrupt the established order of things I had been watching with keen interest how Rwanda National Police had upped their game against drink-driving. I could easily tell the force was up to something serious. And I guess they have more good intentions up their sleeve than they are willing to reveal. Seems they are trying to attack one of the hard core social vices – drunkenness – which has the power to impart unholy stubbornness in human beings. Alcohol wastes money, wastes body and wastes soul. It is a total waste frankly speaking. I know this very well through own experience. So compelling it is to have around, even in a country under the authority of a statesman who detests it with passion, it is impossible to outlaw. He even serves it at his parties, because he is a modern politician in a civilized country, not a pastor or a sheikh. That’s the reality.
It is who we are, the reason we are where we are. We have no qualms living Western life styles on Rwandan salaries. Because under the civil rights provisions on property ownership, privacy and bodily integrity we boast of insulation levels as impenetrable as the protective gear born again Christians benefit from under the Blood of Jesus. Rwanda shall only be well when most of us willingly join the moral revolution bandwagon under the stewardship of President Paul Kagame. For now we are still largely being dragged on to it.
About the author:
Division Manager – Communication, Internationalization & Alumni
University of Rwanda
Twitter – @KabagambeI