By Ogochukwu Paul
In March 2000, when Paul Kagame became president after the resignation of Pasteur Bizimunga and subsequently contested and won election in August 2003, the feeling around was cynicism. There were more predictions of his failure than success but with his third term victory as president in this year’s August election, Rwanda under his leadership is regarded as a model for economic growth with him as the unreserved frontier of African leadership.
According to The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the economy has grown at 8 percent over the last five years. An achievement attributed to Kagame’s sterling competence driven by hope and vision for country. Many economists have termed the economic growth model of Rwanda as the “Rwanda Miracle.”
Kagame as president is working to build Rwanda as an economic prosperous and first class developed country. That is his vision. Rwanda is a small East African country with a population of about 12 million people of Hutus and Tutsis as major ethnic tribes with a small number of Twa tribe.
Rwanda after it gained independence from Belgium in 1962 has an unfortunate history of a 1994 genocide war that saw an estimated 800,000 Rwandans massacred but Kagame strictly aware that the genocide escalated poverty and hardship and instigated decay in infrastructure is intentionally liberating Rwanda from third world underdevelopment and poverty to 21st century development and prosperity. A leader with a big vision.
But some political analyst and the international media have strong opinions against Kagame’s style of leadership. For international media watch dog, Reporters without Borders, Kagame is a “Predator” who cages press freedom. Due to his autocratic rule against the press, most Rwandan journalists live in fear. They say reports show that for the last two decades, eight journalists have been killed, or have gone missing, 11 have been given long term jail for reports that paints kagame’s leadership in bad light and 33 have been forced to flee Rwanda. The local media journalists are gagged from reporting news and events that seeks to disgrace Kagame’s presidency.
Paul Collier, an Oxford University Professor of Economics in a documentary video by The Economist regarding Kagame and his style of leadership said this, “One thing we have learnt for sure is that democracy is not a universal fix.” I am certainly for free press and free speech as this is not an opinion in support of press repression but Kagame has done well to grow the economy, drastically reducing mass poverty in the country despite the attack on free press. His government’s investment in infrastructure has progressed significantly. In agriculture, export earnings have increased hugely due to intensified coffee and tea production.
In women empowerment – an assured support is given to women by a 30 percent quota in the constitution for more women participation in government. Rwanda has the highest women parliamentarians in Africa and the highest percentage of women appointed in government in the world. Rwandan women continue to play strategic roles in government and are creating magic in the economy, agriculture, business, public sectors, etcetera. I like to believe that economically empowered Rwandans would be better placed to challenge an autocratic political leadership.
In Nigeria, we are not without our own press repression reports. We have seen past cases of government clampdown on journalists and media houses. Even in recent times (2014) under former President Goodluck Jonathan, the military attacked newspapers houses, the police arrested 4 journalists over the story on Obasanjo’s letter to Jonathan. Also, in a story broke by Premium Times, Jonathan had awarded a $40m contract to Israeli company to monitor computer, internet and communication by Nigerians. But generally, we can boast of more free speech and press freedom than its repression. Journalists and every social conscious person in this country through conventional media and new media challenge bad leadership yet nothing has changed.
Corruption is still thriving. Insecurity is escalating. Food prices have gone high. Universities are on strike for the umpteenth time. We are still hugely poor and grossly undeveloped and worst is that the APC led government does not have a vision board. Well they do – like their manifesto to place ban on all government officials from medical care abroad, an employment scheme that employs 740,000 graduates across the 36 states, revival of Ajaokuta steel company, and the rest. Now check this: President Muhammadu Buhari just returned from 103 days’ medical leave. There are still high levels of graduate unemployment. Nobody in this present government has visited Ajaokuta steel. Do you think the vision seems to flourish only in theory?
Rwandans under Kagame can boast of a president who puts action to his vision. He is empowering his people with quality education, electricity, technology, well-constructed roads with good drainages, quality healthcare and the enabling environment and right policy for small and medium scale enterprises to expand and create jobs. Private schools in Rwanda are running out of business because public schools have greatly improved, offering standard quality education. In Nigeria, the story changes – while public schools are further on decay because of mismanagement caused by greed and corruption in the education sector, private schools are thriving.
As Nigerians, what is our boast? A president who didn’t tell us a name to his ailment but proceeded to use tax payers’ money through 103 days of medical vacation in London whereas in his own country, public hospitals are death traps for ordinary Nigerians, and even upon his return has told us about the tale of rats chasing him from discharging official duties at his Aso Rock office (Just when you think you have heard the worst PR bamboozle)? Or a system which suffocates us with inconsistent policies disempowering us from living to our highest potential?
For me, there is nothing to boast about this country especially that I have Rwanda under Kagame as a closer example (Africa) of the changes that focused and competent leadership can deliver. Nigeria is a country shamelessly cruel to her children and teenagers.
Pray tell, how do you rationalize the story carried by Nigerian Tribune Newspapers on August 6 of children and teenage prisoners at Badagry prison whose offences range from street hawking, petty theft and wandering? The story reports that children die like flies every day. I cried reading that story. It rattled me deeply and gave me night mares for days.
Over time, Kagame has wooed big investors to his country. From Facebook Mark Zukerberg to Jim Sinegal of Costo to Howard Schultz of Starbucks. This is a clear example of real talk plus real action plus real result. These investors can sniff seriousness from Kagame but not from Nigerian presidents who say white yet do black or governors who enjoy public transports run on good roads in the US and UK, relishing from the sweetness of civilized living but cannot replicate same amenity in their own states.
Few roads constructed by their government on a high inflated budget became pot holed just after six months. Nigerians die constantly from bad roads. Why would big investors agree to be smooth-talked to a country that its leaders lack integrity?
By temperament, I am optimistic but it daily takes all the courage in the world to look at the ills in Nigeria and not be unbelieving. The knowledge that public officials perpetually steal public funds in this country is depressing. Nigerian leaders lack character. They are without conscience and patriotism. Their approach to country and development is sated in nauseating lies and deceit.
I appeal to Nigerian leaders to humbly go and take a crash course in leadership, vision and development from Paul Kagame. He will teach them that the gains of selfless leadership appropriated in good purpose and yielding quality outputs is also beneficial to them and further extends to generations that would include their own great grandchildren. A great legacy.
Ogochukwu Paul is an Abuja based writer and can be reached through @Ogochukwupaull