Five illusions a naïve visitor to Rwanda falls for

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ILLUSION 1: Rwanda is an environmental haven

By David Himbara

Hey, I admit it. I am some kind of addict. But not to drugs or ganja or booze as my Rwandan biographers would have it. I am addicted to writing about development and to my family. So here I am writing away for a few minutes in the middle of my sunny holiday.

Upon arrival at Kigali International Airport, and the short drive from there to downtown Kigali, a naïve visitor will have gulped down five illusions. But first, what is an illusion? An illusion refers to perception of something that does not correspond to what exists in the real world. Illusions fool people, including you and me! Magicians use illusions. That is why they are also known as illusionists. Magicians do not perform miracles —they just appear to do so via clever tricks. So what the illusions does the naïve visitor to Rwanda fall for — the things that appear real but are actually fake?

At the airport, plastic bags are taken away from everyone. The justification for this is that Rwanda is an environmental haven and example of best practices to the rest of world on saving mother earth. Even the Doubting Thomas among the visitors gets impressed by the time he/she has reached the Serena Hotel, not least the palm tree-covered highway, and the neat and orderly passers-by and the incredibly clean-looking environment of city of Kigali.

THE REALITY:

The Rwandan Capital City of Kigali is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen. A city of about one million people, the size of Detroit in United States or Birmingham in the United Kingdom, Kigali does not have a central sewage or a single treatment plant. Every private, commercial and industrial building still uses latrine either in its primitive form of a hole in the earth, or in its modern form – the septic tank, itself often shoddily-constructed. In either case, the human refuge ends into the soil, and subsequently dumped into River Nyabugogo/River Akagera system and off to Uganda, Sudan and Egypt. The Rwandan countryside repeats the pattern sending tons of human refuse into national, regional and international water systems.

WHAT TO DO?

President Paul Kagame, please find US$50million to acquire a treatment plant and a centralized sewage system for Kigali City. As you are well aware, various studies have made convincing options to get the job done. Meanwhile, as you know Your Excellency, the open sewers in parts of Kigali City often send unfortunate old and young Rwandans to their death during the rainy seasons as they become raging rivers. Stop being an illusionist Sir – make this thing a reality. Why don’t you use part of the US$400 million bond to fix this disaster? The Kigali Convention Centre can wait a bit longer and come later into a genuinely clean city after this thing has been fixed. Otherwise right now Kigali is in reality the most environmentally-degraded and dirtiest habit even by regional standards. Right next door in Burundi, Bujumbura has a centralized sewage system – Kigali is a latrine city by contrast. Of course, Sir, the Sewage thing may not be clamorous and show-and-tell kind of thing, but it is essential. Don’t you agree?

 

ILLUSION 2: Rwandans are now reconciled

On arrival, our gullible guest to Rwanda has been received by highly courteous immigration officials. And after collecting her luggage downstairs, her plastic bags have been taken away to protect mother earth. And once outside, her taxi drives away towards Serena Hotel on a palm-tree lined boulevard without a single pothole. Who indeed would not be impressed by these things?

The visitor then poses to her taxi driver the one question she has been dying to ask since she set foot on the Rwandan soil. “So tell me, are you a Hutu or Tutsi?” The reply stuns her. “Look Madam, this is a new Republic of Rwanda. We are only Rwandans here. You can in fact go to jail for asking that. We do not tolerate divisionism and such mindsets that breed genocide ideology.” The naïve lady visitor happily settles in the back seat of her taxi, satisfied that a miracle has happened in a country that almost self-destructed via ethnic hatred and genocide back in 1994.

ILLUSION 2:

Rwandans are now reconciled, freed from divisive ethnic labels by a progressive government that is successfully building a united and prosperous future for all Rwandans. Ethnic divisions in Rwanda are no more.

REALITY:

Beyond the generic rhetoric of today’s Rwandan leadership, no one really knows the extent of reconciliation. How can anyone assess and know such a thing in an atmosphere in which almost all issues are deemed taboo to talk about?

Nonetheless, we have a sense of what Rwandans may be feeling. A snap review of the past 19 years since President Paul Kagame has been at the helm of Rwandan political economy, illustrates an unattainable political environment for reconciliation:

  • RPF commits itself in 1994 to power-sharing both inside the party and nationally, with the victorious General Paul Kagame making a strategic concession by taking a position specially created for him – Vice Presidency – which he held together with Minister of Defense, making the General the king-maker;
  • Pasteur Bizimungu becomes President of Rwanda;
  • Things soon unravel by 1997-8;
  • RPF chairman Kanyaregwe is unceremoniously dumped;
  • Vice President Kagame takes over as chairman;
  • Pasteur Bizimungu, the head of state, reduced to Kagame’s deputy in the party;
  • To grasp the absurdity of this machination, imagine Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who is the president of Uganda reduced to deputy president of NRM and Edward Ssekandi, who is the vice president of the country, grabbing party presidency;
  • Fast-track to 2000, President Bizimungu is finally removed (and later imprisoned), Paul Kagame becomes head of state and party;
  • Once Paul Kagame is in the presidency, the post of vice president mysteriously vanishes into thin air never to be heard of again;
  • Fast-track to 2013, no significant senior ministerial post, besides the Presidency, remains in the hands of Hutu leaders – including Finance, Defense, Foreign Affairs, Cabinet Affairs, Justice (both the Minister and Chief Justice), Central Bank, Health, Education, and Local Government. Throw in the chief of police and head of prosecuting authority!

It would be a grave mistake to see the current rule simply as a Tutsi regime, however. It is President Paul Kagame’s regime, a one-man thing demanding total allegiance in which a single diverging/independent thought is enough ground to become ruthlessly purged. The recent removal of former Justice Minister Kagarugama is further evidence, if any were still needed. Karugarama’s crime was, apparently, to hold fast to the Rwandan Constitution which does not allow any head of state to hold power longer than two 7 year terms – 14 years in all.

The post-1994 Rwandan history hardly paints a journey to reconciliation and long-term stability.

ILLUSION 3: Rwanda is a role model in empowering women

As our gullible visitor moves steadily from the airport and reaches the Nyarutarama junction, she is shown by the taxi driver a magnificent set of buildings sitting on top of an imposing hill. The taxi man explains to the visitor that what she is now looking at is the parliamentary complex – the sitting of Rwandan parliamentarians and senators. Excitedly, the lady visitor asks the driver: “is it true women are so empowered and even determine the legislative direction of your country?” To which the taxi driver proudly responds: “Madam – I may not know some of these things, but thanks to our visionary leadership, women are not only empowered, they also form the majority of our representatives in parliament. I hear this over and over again on the radio.”

ILLUSION 3:

Because the majority of Rwandan parliamentarians are female – at 56% – an even higher percentage than in Sweden which is globally recognized for its leadership in this cause, Rwanda is a role model in empowering women.

A real parliament normally has at least four functions – (1) representing the constituency, civil society and citizens at large, including the downtrodden; (2) consolidating the national interest via bipartisanship by giving voice to all its members, regardless whether they are drawn from the ruling party or the opposition; (3) improving governance by legislating and drafting laws; and (4) holding the executive branch accountable in management of public affairs including budgetary resources and public assets.

So now, does it follow that because the Rwandan parliament has female majority, it is somehow an inclusive and innovative legislative body that meets these basic responsibilities, including competencies to improve the lives of women? Whoever answers this in affirmative, he/she should seek immediate mental care.

  • Who do Rwandan parliamentarians represent – their own local constituencies, women, civil society, or Rwandan citizens at large?
  • What type of bipartisanship, pluralistic and tolerant culture is the Rwandan parliament building – if any?
  • Which parliamentary committee is genuinely led by the opposition – including those aspects assigned to the opposition in accordance with Commonwealth practices which Rwanda supposedly adheres to due to its membership of this grouping?
  • What progressive laws, comparatively, has Rwandan parliament passed in favor of women – laws that, for example, have far-reaching impact than in neighboring countries whose parliaments have fewer female legislators?
  • Who controls whom in Rwanda – does parliament oversee the operations of the executive branch or is it the reverse?

The answer to each of these questions, for all intents and purposes, confirms the near-total dominance of the executive over other branches of government in Rwanda, especially the subservient Rwandan parliament.

THE REALITY:

Rwandan parliament, its women majority notwithstanding, is a toothless rubber stamp of the one-man iron-fist rule. This is the very same parliament that shockingly gave President Paul Kagame an ovation in 2010 when he violently stated that he would kill a fly with a hammer referring to exiled former Rwandan army chief of staff and former intelligence chief. Where else but in Kagame’s Rwanda would a head of state openly talk of killing people right inside the very assembly that makes laws against such behavior – and instead receive a prolonged applause and enthusiastic response! Among those cheering-on the Rwandan ruler was the 56% female majority and the female speaker of the lower chamber of the Rwandan parliament, Rose Mukantabana, who was little known when she mysteriously acquired the post in 2008, remains undistinguished in 2013.

The current President of the Rwandan Senate, Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, best illustrates the wretchedness of Rwandan politics. This man has held various ministerial portfolios in the Kagame-led government, including higher education, infrastructure, and health before transiting to parliament as one of its vice presidents. Ntawukuriryayo was one of the few politicians allowed to run against the incumbent Paul Kagame on an essentially same political platform in both the presidential elections of 2003 and 2010. This is why Ntawukiriryayo earned the nickname “the stooge.” The incumbent won the elections by a shocking 93% in 2010 while the stooge came second with 5%. Ntawukuriryayo hastened to congratulate Paul Kagame. President Kagame returned the stooge’s favor by nominating him to the Rwandan Senate where he was soon crowned its president. Guess what!? Under the strange Rwandan Constitution, this unelected stooge would be the ruler of Rwanda, were the incumbent to become incapacitated. Hallelujah, Amen! Meanwhile the former President of the Senate, Vincent Biruta, has been recycled back into the Kagame cabinet, as Minister of Education.

For inspiration in female parliamentary leadership, look across the border – the Republic of Uganda – where women form a mere 31% in parliament. Led by Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Ugandan parliament continues to challenge and change the political status quo since Kadaga made history by becoming the first female speaker in May 2011.

 Kadaga’s long public service as a member of parliament, minister, deputy speaker and now speaker gives her considerable exposure and experience at both the national and international spheres. Kadaga’s strength radiates primarily from the very constituency whose lives she is determined to improve – Ugandan women.

Kadaga does not blindly obey the orders of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni – on the contrary she stands up to the Ugandan ruler in defence of parliamentary responsibilities, even though she is a member of the president’s ruling party, the NRM. Speaker Kadaga’s insistency to preserving neutrality in moderating debates between her own party and the opposition is becoming legendary – and a continuous irritation to the ruling elite. And as is widely reported, Kadage has a formidable informal committee of advisers, including sector experts, lawyers, media professionals, MPs, influential religious leaders, and cultural leaders, whom she regularly consults – which provides the Speaker with a knowledge-base that enables her to withstand executive power plays.

No equivalency of a Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga exists in the so-called female-majority Rwandan parliament. What you have in Rwanda instead is yet another PR-inspired fake branding shamelessly masqueraded as “women empowerment.” A Kagada would simply not happen in Rwanda whereby the Constitution makes the head of state quite literally a monarch who determines almost every career and livelihood in public service on the basis of obsequiousness, as laughably illustrated by the case of the President of the Rwandan Senate.

President Paul Kagame personally launched the “the National Information Communication Infrastructure (NICI) Plan” in 2000, which aimed to transform Rwanda into a knowledge based-economy by the year 2020. Phase 1 of NICI (2000-2005) was to create the enabling environment for building a knowledge economy; Phase 2 (2006-2011) was to build the required IT infrastructure and human capital base; in Phase 3 (2012-2016) IT-based services and products would begin to enter the global market place; Phase 4 (2016-2020) would see Rwanda cruising towards becoming a knowledge-based economy with a middle-income status of US$900 GDP per capita – a figure later increased to US$1,200 GDP per capita.

ILLUSION 4:

Our naïve guest nearing her hotel in downtown Kigali had learnt with great admiration of President Kagame’s tireless efforts in transforming Rwanda into a knowledge-based economy. She has over the years followed with great interest the extensive coverage the Rwandan president receives in global media, not least about the many deserving awards he regularly wins for his remarkable efforts. Now to be in Kigali, in the land of a great African IT head of state was so exciting.

She remembered especially how a leading American journal, Fortune, described the Rwandan President when back in 2007 he had lunch with senior Google executives including CEO Eric Schmidt at the company’s campus in Mountain View in California. That is when the Internet giant announced its plans to make available to Rwanda free of charge its Google Apps-web-based applications – something that would change the face of Rwanda in such critical areas as training staff server-maintenance, in buying PC-based software and in developing and maintaining e-mail systems. Who indeed would not be impressed that a country generally known for violence had already by 2007 achieved such an amazing feat – not only computers but also broadband connections previously unheard of in this part of the world.

REALITY:

Unknown to the gullible visitor, most of this was propaganda hot air. In fact Google never set foot in Rwanda – it went to neighboring Kenya instead. For one thing, a Google server/station would probably need some 50 megawatts of electricity which would have plunged Rwanda into darkness as that was the equivalent to total installed power in the country at the time. Worse still, there were hardly any broadband connections in 2007 – In fact, while President Kagame was having a photo opportunity with Google executives, behind the scenes he was busy sacking Terracom, which was supposedly building “the fastest communications backbone in Africa.”

Here is the Rwandan IT reality and the key stages/outcomes in the implementation of President Kagame’s infamous NICI since he launched it 13 years ago.

  • 2000 – NICI Plan launched; Rwanda Information Technology Authority (RITA) later becomes the implementing agency, located directly in President Kagame’s office;
  • 2003 – New NICI Plan driver installed; this is Sam Nkusi, minister of communications supported by Sem Ochuodho as head of RITA – Nkusi is sacked in 2004;
  • 2004 – Preparations for building IT infrastructure begin; Greg Wyler buys Rwandatel with the goal of using it as a backbone to create Africa’s fastest broadband connections, including the infrastructure on the top of Mt Kalisimbi – Greg Wyler is sacked in 2007 when he tries to team up with ‘the father of telecommunications in Africa’ Miko Rwayitare;
  • 2004 – New NICI Plan driver installed; this is Albert Butare, the new minister in charge of communications – RITA’s Ochuodho sacked in 2006;
  • 2006 – Rwanda’s IT Park for creating IT entrepreneurs, start-ups, IT-bases services and products is established at Telecom House supervised by RITA and Minister in-charge of communications;
  • 2006 – President Paul Kagame begins his global campaign to drum support for his transformation agenda towards knowledge-based economy – wins first award for best head of state in Africa in support of ICT – again in 2007 and after; many awards follow;
  • 2007 – New NICI Plan driver installed as Minister Butare is purged of the communications portfolio for ‘poor performance’ – Romain Murenzi becomes the Minister of IT in Office of the President and David Kanamugire as his Permanent Secretary; Nkubito Bakuramutsa becomes head of RITA;
  • 2007 – Rwandatel, after being re-nationalized after the Greg Wyler disaster, is now sold to the Libyans. The determining fact is not IT but to make more cash for building IT infrastructure;
  • 2007 – Korea Telcom begins to build a 2,300 kilometer fiber-optic cable and Kigali Wireless Broadband;
  • 2009 – New NICI Plan driver installed; Romain Murenzi crashes out and resigns – Ignace Gatare becomes the Minister of IT in Office of the President, with David Kanamugire his PS;
  • 2009 – RITA scrapped as a free standing agency; it is incorporated into the Rwanda Development Board – Nkubito Bakuramutsa sacked and replaced by Patrick Nyirishema;
  • 2011 – The Kagame government announces that it is looking for a private operator to manage the completed IT infrastructure worthy over US$100million;
  • 2011 – Rwandatel collapses and is liquidated to pay back debts worth US$89 million;
  • 2012 – Rwandatel’s masks are purchased by Airtel;
  • 2012 – The post of Minister in the Office of the President in-charge of IT is scrapped – Ignace Gatare reduced from minister to Director General of Science and Technology Commission; strangely, IT is at the same time transferred to Ministry of Youth, and Information, Communication and Technology headed by Minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana;
  • 2013 – Remains of Rwandatel , namely its copper wire and fibre as well as customer base are purchased by Liquid Telcom, whose representative in Rwanda is no other than Sam Nkusi;
  • 2013 – RDB announces that the ICT Park at Telecom House “was really a small level pilot” and that the real ICT city will soon be built at the Kigali Special Economic Zone.

According to NICI plan, Rwanda should right now be exporting IT-based services and products. The then RITA’s head, Sem Ochuodho had claimed in 2006 that “By the time the NICI program concludes, we hope to be able to export software and systems worth $50-100 million every year.”

What sort of export software, systems, or outsourced work then is presently being performed in Rwanda after 13 years of implementing President Kagame’s NICI Plan? How many IT entrepreneurs or start-ups have emerged and distinguished themselves in the domestic or foreign markets? Zero! Zilch! Nothing beyond your routine sim-card selling and internet-surfing services led by RPF’s own MTN Rwanda which continues to thrive, while Rwandatel was sold, re-owned and sold again to provide funds for implementing the juvenile NICI Plan.

Now folks, if you wish to cry for your country, read what the current Rwandan officials in charge of IT are telling you with regards to where the 13 years of NICI Plan have taken Rwanda.

What you read on the RDB website confirms one’s worst fears of who is running Rwanda.

Here are the highlights of what they are saying:

  • “Information and Communication Technology is a central engine to driving Rwanda’s transformation to a knowledge based economy”;
  • Rwanda is “acknowledged by allocating a budget to ICT – as a percentage of its GDP – that is at par with OECD countries.”
  • “Rwanda continues to be one of the fastest growing African countries in ICT;”
  • Rwanda’s ICT Competitive advantage includes “cheap labor compared to other countries in the Region”, “low levels of corruption – Zero tolerance” and “strong & visionary leadership;”
  • Total IT infrastructure investment so far is “US$ 150million.”

Surely assure me that these are not April Fools’ Day sick jokes. How can IT possibly be “the central engine” in the current IT shambles in Rwanda? How can “cheap labour” be a competitive advantage in IT? What has “strong” leadership or “zero tolerance for corruption” have to do with IT? And with a mere US$150million IT infrastructure assets, how can Rwanda possibly belong to the same league as OECD countries – do the people running RDB even understand the term ‘OECD’? I doubt President Kagame’s planners – whom he changes like underwear – have even visited their own East African neighborhood, let alone OECD countries. Let them visit Kenya which is currently building ‘Silicon Savannah’ as a regional hub for the next generation of digital industry leaders.

Nairobi is already a hub in its own right – hosting the biggest brands in the world of technology, including Google, Intel, and Microsoft and doing thriving business in millions of dollars. These global players join local actors, not least Safaricom and its innovative invention of M-Pesa to take advantage of the existing hi-tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists ready to become part of Konza Technology City, soon to be the home of Silicon Savannah some 60 outside Nairobi. And while Kagame’s Rwanda talks of US$150million IT development, Konza will swallow no less than US$14.5 billion-worth of infrastructure.

Perhaps the biggest insult to Rwandans by Kagame officials is the lie that the IT Park at Telecom House implemented since 2006 “was really a small level pilot” and that the real thing is about to happen in the Kigali Special Economic Zone.”

Where in the world did you ever hear of a seven-year IT pilot project “which would give us an idea of how an ICT city would be”? The arrogant infant abusing our intelligence by feeding us such trash is not aware that great IT companies started in garages, including Amazon, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard. Somebody tell this would-be public servant that it is the brainpower and innovation, stupid – not space!

Our gullible visitor has over the years swallowed the idea that Rwanda is zero-tolerant for corruption.

ILLUSION 5:

That is because every year you see screaming around the world such headlines as “Rwanda is the least corrupt state in the East African Community.” Rwanda’s Public Procurement Law is also said to be the most stringent in Africa. Passed in 2007, this law enforces transparency, competition, and fairness in tendering and procurement processes, making conflict of interest nearly impossible in Rwanda.

REALITY:

Paul Kagame plays three dominant roles that render him quite literally the ‘owner’ of Rwanda thereby making the conception of “conflict of interest” a sick joke:

  1. He is President of the Republic of Rwanda.
  2. He is the Chairman of RPF, the ruling party and in this capacity, the boss of RPF’s business empire; in other words,
  3. He is the real Chairman of RPF’s Crystal Ventures Ltd, the conglomerate that dominates almost all aspects of Rwandan economy.

This is how Crystal Ventures limited describes itself:

  • “Crystal Ventures Ltd (CVL) is an investment company established in 2009 and it acquired most of the assets of another local investment company which was founded in 1995.”
  • “The company is wholly owned by Rwandan business people who pooled resources together to meet challenges of economic recovery and take advantage of growth opportunities in a virgin environment.”
  • “Having made a few good investments especially in telecoms, the company earned decent returns that were reinvested to create what is now the biggest investment company in the country.”
  • “In the beginning the company enjoyed monopoly power in some of its businesses but over time this has diminished.”
  • “The sectors currently invested in include civil works and concrete products, construction and real estate development, telecommunications, agricultural value addition, aviation charter services, security services, printing and publishing, furniture trading and manufacturing, building materials, media systems, property management and engineering services and diversified investment groups.”
  • “CVL employs over 7,000 people of whom over 4,800 are permanent employees.”

But here is the bombshell. President Kagame’s three roles have merged to such outrageous extent that conflict of interest in Rwanda has lost any meaning – conflict of interest in now ‘normal.’ It is therefore no surprise that Crystal Ventures’ wealth mainly comes from Rwandan taxpayers’ money entrusted to Paul Kagame as the President of Rwanda. In other words, Paul Kagame, the corporate giant, makes of almost all his money from Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda.

These are a few examples that have made the Rwandan President laugh all the way to the bank:

ILLUSION 5: Rwanda is zero-tolerant for corruption

  • CENTRAL BANK OF RWANDA: Crystal Ventures Ltd is renovating the Central Bank of Rwanda – a government entity;
  • NATIONAL STADIUM IN HUYE DISTRICT: Crystal Ventures Ltd has been sub-contracted to build the National Stadium in Huye, Southern Province;
  • KIGALI CAPITAL CITY STREET LIGHTING: Crystal Ventures Ltd was contracted by the Kigali City Council to install street lights in the Rwandan Capital City;
  • KIGALI-RUBAVU HIGHWAY LIGHTING: Crystal Ventures Ltd is installing Kigali-Rubavu highway lighting under ‘rural electrification’ program;
  • BANK OF KIGALI MUHANGA BUILDING: Crystal Ventures Ltd built a five-storey Bank of Kigali building – Bank of Kigali is government-owned; http://www.realcontractorsltd.com/
  • AVIATION CHARTER SERVICES: Crystal Ventures’ executive jets are chartered by the Rwanda government to shuttle President Kagame around the globe.

A key question to ask is this: How does the Rwandan Treasury approve and get away with such expenditures that shockingly contradict every norm and practice of ending the cancer of conflict of interest?

That is easy to answer!

The famously women-dominated parliament is dead. And the Rwandan treasurer and the accounting officer/Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Ms Kampeta Sayinzoga, is a scandalous conflict of interest herself – she is the wife of President Paul Kagame’s nephew Byusa, who doubles as the President’s business partner. It is all in the family.

Folks, such acts would, anywhere else in the world, make a government fall.

 

 

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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