By Andrew M. Mwenda
Kayumba Nyamwasa’s response to President Paul Kagame’s interview in Sunday Monitor filled my inbox. Friends and fans wrote asking me to comment. So, let me reluctantly give my $1 worth of comment. His letter was sober and calm; and coming from an insider, it was interesting journalistically. But it was disappointing politically as Kayumba was unable to transcend his personal misfortune and articulate an alternative vision for Rwanda.
Kayumba raised a number of legitimate issues like the perpetual flight of political dissenters from Rwanda. But he trivialized many others like Kagame’s stance on corruption. I felt sympathy for his claim that Kagame demeaned him and Patrick Karegyeya by calling them useless. I think Kagame made these comments out of anger rather than because he meant them. These officers served Rwanda under him for many years. If they were useless, it would mean Kagame has poor judgment of individual competence.
I know Kagame to be a results-oriented leader who does not brook incompetence and/or corruption. Therefore they must have been competent and honest public servants who contributed significantly to the liberation and reconstruction of Rwanda. They may have made mistakes later, but that does not take away their initial contribution. It is a common human weakness that when someone falls out of favor, people want to erase their contribution. I hope Kagame will avoid this temptation.
Many people were excited by the allegations Kayumba made against Kagame personally. But they were largely false, like the insinuation that Kagame owns executive jets in South Africa. The RPF holding company, Tri Star through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) owns shares in the South African Company that runs an executive jets renting service. The SPV also owns two executive jets and leases them to the same company.
The RPF government has never bought an executive jet for the nation’s president. So whenever Kagame is travelling, the government rents a plane for him. Because of the RPF investment in the South African Company, the Rwanda government gets a 50% discount on the price. Although there may be a conflict of interest here, RPF actually subsidizes the government on Kagame’s travel costs.
Indeed, it is on the issue of corruption and Kagame’s personal integrity that I felt Kayumba missed an opportunity to project national leadership in the sphere of thought. There is no doubt that Kagame has one million personal weaknesses. But both friends and foes would agree that he has demonstration an extraordinary determination in fighting corruption unseen in Africa since Nigeria’s Gen. Murtala Mohammed attempted it in 1975. Sadly, Mohammed was killed on the 176th day of his presidency.
Kayumba has always been presented to me by his admirers as an accomplished officer, an intellectual and an alternative to Kagame. I therefore approached his letter with anticipation as a testimony of a national leader, not an insignificant lieutenant. I may have placed my expectations too high, which would make this assessment of him is unfair.
Kayumba comes across in his letter as a self-indulgent person concerned with himself rather than his country. For example, he began by saying: ‘When I left Rwanda, my intention was to reunite my family, start a new life. Forget politics, the military and diplomacy’ I thought I would go into academics, consultancy or something different and actually take a lasting holiday from President Kagame… Unfortunately, this was not to be. My name is always in the media for all wrong reasons.’
He then proceeds to argue that Kagame has personalized the state in Rwanda; that the objectives of the RPF revolution he fought for have been betrayed and that the country is now in peril. Yet his response to this national crisis is to not a vision of how to make Rwanda better. He just wants to ‘forget politics’, go into personal things like consultancy and academia and ‘take a lasting holiday from Kagame.’ He was responding, not because of the suffering of millions of his fellow citizens, but because his name (sic) has been ‘in the media for all the wrong reasons’.
This inflated sense of self gets worse when he continuously equates his personal misfortune to Rwanda’s destiny. For instance, he presents his flight to exile as a sign that Rwanda has not changed since the days of Juvenal Habyarimana. Yet the flight of senior politicians and army officers into exile (Seth Sendashonga, Faustine Twagiramungu, Emmanuel Habyarimana, Alphonse Furuma, Pierre Rwigyema, Alex Rezinde etc.) has been a worrying feature of Rwanda’s political life under the RPF even when Kayumba was Chief of Staff and later in charge of the National Security Services.
If this phenomenon shows that RPF is despotic, why didn’t Kayumba resign in protest in the 1990s? Does it become so when he is personally affected by it? Possibly this practice has more complex origins. I was pleased with Kagame’s answer when he expressed puzzlement about its prevalence. I like leaders who express doubt and I fear those who think they know everything about social phenomena. In expressing doubt, Kagame showed his openness to alternative views. Yet Kayumba mocks this accusing him of being out of touch with Rwanda’s history.
This is partly because Kayumba equates the Tutsi exodus of the late 1950s and early 1960s to his own flight. He had a political quarrel with his peers most likely as a result of an internal power struggle; that is why he ran away. To equate this to the flight of Kagame’s parents is absurd. What had poor Tutsi peasants who had never even thought of politics done to be sent to exile indefinitely? Surely, there must be a difference between a government that forces a few individuals to exile due to political differences (even though I think is a bad thing) and one that exiles an entire ethnic group and refuses them the right to citizenship for 30 years.
Although Kayumba accuses Kagame of demeaning his colleagues, he proceeds to do exactly the same thing ‘ this time on a larger scale. He refers to senior RPF leaders and RDF officers who called him to discuss his personal conduct as ‘opportunists’ and ‘sycophants’ whom he ‘despises’ and ‘holds in contempt’ and the meeting with them as ‘despicable.’ It seems to me that when people are angry they express themselves rather strongly. If Kayumba could not hide his anger in a written response (where he had time to reflect), how about Kagame who was making extempore remarks at a press conference?
Among those who talked to Kayumba is Tito Rutaremara (Rwanda’s ombudsman and a highly regarded elder), Gen. James Kabarebe (minister of Defense), Maj. Gen. Frank Mugambagye (High Commissioner to Uganda), Francois Ngarambe (RPF Secretary General) and James Musoni (minister of local government), Emmanuel Gasana (Commissioner General of Police) and Brig. Jack Nziiza (permanent Secretary Ministry of Defence). That he does not see value in the opinions of these senior colleagues, however strongly he disagrees with them, speaks volumes.
More critically, by looking at the destiny of Rwanda only through his personal experience, Kayumba ignores the fundamental reforms that have taken place in his country over the last 16 years many of which he contributed to. Any political scientist would predict high levels of corruption and arbitrariness in Rwanda. This is because the institutional and societal checks against how Kagame personally exercises power are grossly underdeveloped. This reality has little to do with what Kagame has done. It has almost everything to do with the structure of Rwandan society ‘ a large peasant population, a small private sector, weak state institutions, a small educated middleclass and a genocide that destroyed other centers of power.
Yet Kagame’s Rwanda puzzles many; there is strict accountability of institutions and individuals. Even those who hate him would be impressed at how much Kagame has instilled a sense of accountability in the social consciousness of Rwanda’s public servants. And accountability in Rwanda is not simply about not stealing public funds; it involves performance by public servants against clearly laid out objectives.
For example, a teacher in a public school or a nurse or doctor in a public hospital has to report on duty on time, is required to serve the citizen diligently and with respect: So the rights of patients are pinned on every wall in the corridors and wards of every public hospital in Rwanda; absenteeism, foot-dragging and false compliance that characterize most bureaucratic practice across sub Sahara Africa have been significantly curtailed.