“I will also fight with you”: President Kagame, Rwanda’s Berater-in-Chief
The transcript of a recent government summit shows how President Kagame openly reprimands senior officials, who take it lying down.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda may divide opinion, but both his friends and foes agree on certain things – that he is tough, wants things done his way, and hates being contradicted. In power for almost 24 years and counting, he is often described as the “CEO of Rwanda Inc”.
President Kagame’s single-mindedness is reflected in Rwandan society more broadly. There is no real political opposition to hold the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) accountable. Freedoms of expression, assembly and association are restricted. And the media and civil society are submissive to the state.
His strong will is also apparent in how he talks to and about his perceived opponents. In 2014, for example, Kagame famously warned that dissidents “will pay the price wherever they are”. Meanwhile, at his swearing-in ceremony last year, following elections in which he officially won almost 99% of the vote, he hit back at international critics, commenting that “attacks on our character only make us stronger”.
Kagame’s uncompromising approach, however, is not only reserved for adversaries. Until recently, the evidence was mostly anecdotal, but it is now clear that the president takes a similar tone in how he treats his own officials, lecturing and even humiliating them openly. From 26 February to 1 March, the government held its annual National Leadership Retreat. The transcription of Kagame’s opening speech, translated from Kinyarwanda and published by the pro-RPF website Taarifa, offers illuminating reading.
At the meeting of 300 government officials, Kagame welcomes the room before listing various problems such as children’s poor nutrition and health. He then asks the district mayors: “Do you see what I’m talking about or do you not?…Let someone answer me, or else you will not leave here until you respond”.
When they try to answer, Kagame interrupts them, warning: “We are going to have a fight these days, get prepared for that. But before that, I will first have a fight with ministers. They are no stronger than me. I will fight them as well”.
And fighting he does, tackling one minister after another. He confronts Francis Kaboneka, Minister of Local Government, on avoidable diseases, asking “You also know how many times I talk to you about it?” When Kaboneka brings up about problems of citizens’ mindsets, Kagame interjects. “Mindset for citizens or leaders? I think you are not good as well”.
He then turns to Agriculture Minister Gerardine Mukeshimana. “Have we run out of food?” he asks, adding “I will also fight with you, and you know it”. Next up is Infrastructure Minister James Musoni. He barely says ten words before the president cuts him off. “What kind of cowards should we be?” he asks. “That cowardice has consequences.”
Kagame continues on this track as he publicly questions and reprimands official after official. He complains that “There is no follow up, no questioning, no accountability for one’s duties”. He responds to ministers’ promises to change with “you are late!”. And he abruptly interrupts his colleagues over a dozen more times in the course of the excerpt.
In this opening address at the leadership retreat, President Kagame successfully identifies some inefficient and impractical approaches taken by senior officials. He is also mostly preoccupied with key issues that affect the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. He pushes his ministers on the education of poor children, on hygiene, malnutrition and the doctoring of data. On housing, he presciently warns that: “if those issues come back after one year or more, it is no more the problem of those people only, it is about us all”.
All of this is to his credit. But it is impossible not to be alarmed at how Kagame interacts with high-ranking government representatives. It confirms the notion that even in the highest circles of power in Rwanda, the president – and the president alone – knows best.
At the start of his address, Kagame says that “the purpose of this retreat is to evaluate ourselves”. This clearly applies to everyone else in the room – those who are fallible – but not himself. Kagame does not congratulate a single office-holder on any measure, but instead tells them all that they have failed in their duties.
It is not just Kagame’s behaviour, however, that is remarkable. As they are berated and endlessly interrupted, no official – many of them experienced, skilled, and eternally loyal individuals – dares to defend themself, stand up to the president, or walk out. It is hard to say to what extent this is due to a loss of self-worth or mere fear.
The revealing transcript of the summit shows how Kagame reigns supreme over the Rwandan state. One only wonders whether he will take a similar approach to chairing and trying to reform the African Union, a forum in which his interlocutors will be fellow heads-of-state, including some similarly assertive dictators.
i’m sure they talk about these issues often even before this meeting. so they know they have been making empty promises and its time for accountability.
You are not in government office to be begged to perform. Kids are malnourished because some well-fed official is not up to his/her task to ensure they are fed.
I wouldn’t mind if that’s what it takes to get things done.
WE LOVE KAGAME loook at what he has been able to achieve in Rwanda.. we do not have a problem with him,
Mr Collin, bonnes remarques….Vous avez raison d’autant plus que le Président Kagame adresse souvent ses critiques les plus sévères aux fonctionnaires qui répètent parfois les mêmes défaillances, les mêmes manquements et devoirs sur plusieurs années et qui avaient souvent déjà reçus les mêmes avertissements.
Quant à mr Filip Reyntjens, lui, on le connaît…
I agree with you Collin.
Im just from visiting my country in Africa, and I must say im always disappointed at how lazy we can be.
We make promises that we have no intentions of keeping.
Could you please give the link to the above mentioned translated transcript.
This is ridiculous. What’s wrong for a political official to be help accountable. Is this the kind of politics you teach your students Professor? This is nonses.
Hey guys I am a black man color from Hispaniola Island My Father from Dominican Republic My Mother from Haiti side.I love the African Continent specially two Countries Rwanda and Tanzania.
I would like to see every leaders in the continent followed the example of these two Great leader Paul Kagame and John Pompe Magufuli for what they are doing for their Country I love Magufuli and Kagame for their vision for the African Continent.
We can’t find every one agree with them but they are doing a good job.
Long life Kagame and Magufuli.
All the best.
This is an interesting article about H.E Paul kagame. I really like it because describes deeply his dictatorial leadership. Everything must be done in his way. Nobody should complain, however he/she has to comply with his order.
The writter is biased ! Explain your point clearly! Whatever his Excellence Kagame does is for the goodness of Rwandans. Don’t be so negative! His deeds can tell who he is. Vive Kagame.
Kagame is a hero. He knows very well, if he sit back and watch nothing will be done.
Bravo to this courageous son of Africa.
Critics will never-End especially when it come to the African leaders.
KAGAME will alwsys be the BEST-LEADER and the BEST-TEACHER EVER!
The retreat was a good time for you to express face to face to your team members what is not going well so that they put more effort to correct what is going wrong.Exactly,this is what you did,you expressed what was in the bottom of your heart and I am sure your message was received very well not only by retreat participants but by many Rwandan who were following the retreat closely. The retreat actions are great and the implementation of these will definitely correct what you pointed out as not going well.
Long live to our president Paul Kagame.
Someone somewhere needs to hold his team accountable. So far the results are telling us a lot – very positive and promising. For your information this is one of the reasons the general public presents him the popular vote! He is their advocate, he is there for them. I also have a couple of issues with the text you’ve presented here – he spoke in ‘Kinyarwanda’ the local language and i have seen a lot of distortion of the messages. Not sure by the author or by the translator! Don’t take everything this guy has written word for word. I think there is an attitude here behind the text – i.e. not objective. Also we have a conclusion which is completely out of rhyme here – author say that “It confirms the notion that even in the highest circles of power in Rwanda, the president – and the president alone – knows best”. I think it clearly confirms that he’s ready to give up the warm relationships he would otherwise enjoy with his team of leaders to address very pertinent issues facing the public and it is his duty to hold his team accountable. Otherwise the automatic result would be things falling apart and i bet you’d be the first to celebrate the failure. Trouble is you never come up with any constructive material! I wish you could. Thanks Collin for the great comment!
President Kagame should be lauded for working hard to ensure that all Rwandese, from young children to adults get good health, adequate food, education, sound infrastructure including housing, very good security in addition to many other pluses that the Rwandese nation continuous to benefit from under his leadership. Let us appreciate the good that he is doing for Rwanda. The way he addresses his Ministers and other leaders in Rwanda should not be taken as a major issue as long as the Ministers and officials deliver results as expected from them.
The people who praise Kagame are as small minded as he is or they just don’t love Rwanda it’s undemocratic to rule more than 20 years besides the development every one praises is superficial not everyone gets free health, there thousands of hutus who have been left out on development with excuses like they don’t have this or that Kagame brought Segration in the Rwandan society. That is why he is unpopular people are controlled to the extent that they would not dare vote for anyone else for fear of reprisal and it happens alot
more colonial Lecturing from Globalist educated elite. The US elected Trump yet they’ll lecture you on prudence. An African country that takes care of it’s people is somehow bad because they don’t have the “THE APPROVED” leader the west wants. That’s what it boils down to. Neocolonialism
Kagame is much better than Trump. See how Rex was humiliated globally. Firing Tillerson through Social media platform. Africa should change we in Tz for example do not prefer slave words like Sir , Sir , In Tz we need some kind of accountability and management style to put infrastructure in the right place, roads , railways , bridges, communication systems etc to leap forward and not the stupid words about democracy.
Any one against the development agenda is engaged . We are tired of political sluts
GREAT ARTICLE! I live in Rwanda. The climate is ‘extreme repression, no freedom and fearing for your life’. This has become the norm. Truth needs to be told.
Kagame is to be admired for his concern for the everyday problems of the poor. He is also right when he says that these failures will become “everyone’s problem” if the government doesn’t get the desired results within a year. The trouble with this leadership approach is that it discourages collaboration (because no one wants to risk being the ‘fall guy’) and open discussion about what is not working. Rwanda faces a myriad of challenges (not simply ‘mindsets’). It cannot afford to have leaders who are unable to communicate openly and learn from mistakes.
One can easly tell that most people commenting on this article are not Rwandans or have simply chosen to close their eyes and ears to the reality of what is happening in Rwanda or are simply Kagame’s cyber puppets. I am a Rwandan who lives in Rwanda and who has witnessed many of the atrocities taking places in the country. Hutu and Tutsi are all victims of Kagame dictatorial regime. We should all ask ourselves: Which kind of president gets 99% of votes?! Which kind of president talks about killing people in a public speech? Which kind of president jails every person who tries to run for presidential office? The list is long. Rwandans are suffering in silence. They are living in fear and oppression. Open your eyes people. Everything that glitters isn’t gold.
The West is coming for Kagame and this article is proof. Strong African independence and leadership is a threat to western domination of Africa and its resources. Kagame needs to watch his back, I’m sure that between the United State and France, someone is working on a coup in Rwanda. African leaders need to wean themselves off of the West and its racist leaders and look inward for support at the AU.
Strong leadership that is effective in achieving effective governance, the accountability of public servants based on results and not rhetoric and lifting the marginalised out of poverty irrespective of their ethnicity is to be applauded; please look at some of Rwanda,s neighbours. If Kagame espouses and implements successfully this philosophy; then more power to him
For most African countries the institutions are very weak and for things to be done well the leader has to be strong and this for many people is labeled dictatorial. In the West the institutions are strong and act dictatorial and we loose sight of this. Its just a matter of shifting the power. My country is getting dirtier by the day and to deal with it you need a strong political will, which of course, the government fears to be be accused of being undemocratic. You cannot eat your cake and have it.
I can’t understand how this article is written. why too much criticism and not focus on the actual problem that Kagame was raising?
If that’s Kagame style of leadership, then I love it for shaping emerging countries. Compare his style to Kabila of Congo and you decide who works for the people.