For two years, government soldiers were not paid. The vice president at the time, Gen Paul Kagame “borrowed a suit” to attend a function. The budget of the country was Rwf 56billion ($67m in current exchange rate).
Welcome to the post genocide era just after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
The then government of national unity took over in July 1994. For the country to get to its feet, members of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) had to contribute money from own pockets to fund state affairs.
This and other shocking details were narrated today by President Kagame in an appearance on the state broadcaster-RBA. Below is a transcription of the answer Kagame gave when asked about the difficulties he and Rwanda as a country faced.
Question: Let’s a little bit come on Rwanda’s success story. What was your approach in let’s say facing what may seem like insurmountable odds with particularly no means like 1994 or even in 2012. Could you give us like three key features of a visionary leader in such times that every leader should be keeping in their own basket?
President Kagame: Well, I don’t know much about visionary leaders (laughter) but I know we have many in the room and many outside there are leaders in their own right and who…again, if we come together and if there is a leader who can at any level organize people and think together and find ways they can do things that will be of benefit, it normally works.
It will really work. But the heart of your question, let me give you a quick example; it is just something I thought about. Look at 1994 after the genocide here; we started almost from nothing. It was a terrible situation. Not only lost people but lost everything else. I remember may be some of you here know, there was a film shot by some people I don’t remember the names which they later on changed the title of.
There was something called ‘shooting dogs’. Did anyone watch a film called shooting dogs? Later on they have changed the title since then. Shooting dogs what it was, it was depicting a bad situation here in Rwanda where there were dogs dragging people on the streets and those who were supposed to be shooting dogs and maybe did to some extent are actually the ones who were supposed to have used these guns to protect the people during genocide.
You can understand who I am talking about. So using even their power, they changed the title because it was giving them a bad name. It is like you had guns in the country and you are supposed to protect people…the UN and so on…the only thing you use these guns for was to shoot the dogs that were dragging people on the streets. So that is a situation, right?
I remember the first cabinet we had to plan and put things together in July 94. I am trying to remember correctly but I think going for some assignment I might have borrowed a suit or a coat…but anyway, what we did when the war that was fought at that time, you know we used to collect contributions from Rwandans to be able to run the war on top of other things we got from people who supported us.
So when the war was almost coming to an end, we still had these funds belonging to RPF. In fact when you have heard stories about RPF doing business and you think…some people think there is anything wrong being done, actually the origin of the money that RPF companies have been investing originates from that time, right?
But what I wanted to talk about is not that. It is…when we took over, there was just dogs dragging people on the streets and nothing else and no shops. Even ordinary shops selling soap or everything was either looted or taken, treasury, the coffers…nothing. Everything was taken.
So we actually asked some Rwandans who knew this region very well, we gave them part of that money, and told them you know what, you go to Burundi, you go to Uganda others went to Tanzania, others to Kenya and said buy these things; salt, soap, paraffin…what other essential things? Things like that.
Not fancy things. Just things we consume every day. They were nowhere, so that we start a life (laughter…) so somebody can find a paraffin to light a candle (Agatadoba)…yes and then soap. And these people brought in trailers and put. This is money from contributions of the RPF supporters.
Then another part is what we invested in other areas. Let me also tell you that in 1998, it was 4 years after that…in fact this MTN – one of these telecoms was brought by the RPF and again part of that money was used to pay for the shares or stake in MTN which initially was hesitant to come to Rwanda. It was like how do we invest money in this country that is barely standing and we said you know, we want to take the risk with you.
So we actually bought 51% of the stake and they had 49% and we gave them the management. Of course people will tell you how does…you know political party do business how does government…that is whole rubbish. Don’t listen to that (laughter…) because how is that…that is how and it is not the how in terms of saying technically how do you do it. No. It is the how of the necessity.
And then some of these people you see abusing us, the first government…the first Prime Minister…this man who lives in Belgium (Faustin Twagiramungu) who has no kind words for us, even the first suit he put on was bought by that money. And even this man who…the first person to run from here…somebody called Jean Marie Vianney…Ndagijimana. The one who used to be foreign Minister.
Not only did he benefit from that money, he actually stole it. The first day he was going, I think he ran away with $200,000 that he had been given to go and start opening embassies. The man went and stayed with the money. I don’t know how far it has taken him but I don’t see much he has.
So I am just trying to give you these nutty gritty things to show you there is no one way of building something as long as it is not breaking the law or the norms of society or anything…but you can see people saying how does RPF do business…so you can see this is how we started building from nothing…oh the other thing is, the members of RDF now who used to be RPA, they did not get their first salary until 1996, two years after because there was no money in the first place.
Second, I remember, of course we had problem with these people we were integrating because for them they couldn’t understand it. But for the RPA fighters who were in the bush, we sat among ourselves and said you guys have been fighting for four years did you get any salary? So we said let’s assume we are not yet in government (laughter…) we are still in the bush and let’s keep fighting and…you know people used to line up and get posho…I don’t know if there are people here who know the story very well. People used to line up and would be given 2kgs of dry maize then ibishyimbo (beans) bakagenda bakabivanga (and then they would mix them) you go for a month.
So, there were lots of sacrifices but on top of that there was this thinking beyond the ordinary because if you want to start paying soldiers, do you have the money? If you have the money then you need to pay them but there was no money so we used to tell the soldiers therefore they can still find a way of continuing the same struggle without pretending to be in government because we were in no government.
Then we started bringing semblance and the basics being in place and economy beginning and traders beginning to sell this and buy this then that is how we put in place tax system as of old to start collecting little money here and there…I think our first budget if I remember was let’s say 1995; was Rwf56 billion.
Compared it to now, over Rwf2 trillion. That gives you between that time and now, there has been no plugging things like making sure that things take on. Therefore that requires the vision you are talking about. They are always preoccupied think about how about tomorrow, how am I going to get there…about five years ahead, where are we heading ?And sometimes really you have nothing and to the main challenge of leadership of our country, everybody has been to create value and grow it from nothing. The story is much longer than that so I was just giving you a piece of it.