For bureaucrats who have been in government for years and always determined to frustrate newcomers into submission or departure, their time could be coming to an end. Today, the new breed of technocrats got public backing from President Paul Kagame.
With more young people taking up senior roles in government, privately, they speak of powerful forces made up of long-serving counterparts who block them.
The situation is compounded by the fact that Rwanda’s population is more than 70% under 30 years.
Over the years, following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, hundreds have been sent abroad on government, family-paid or variously sourced scholarships to get the best education. Hundreds more born there have returned equipped with some of the most sought after skills on the global job market.
Some have left high-paying jobs just to return home. For example many professionals returned under the TOKTEN scheme – a ‘reverse brain drain’ program introduced in the early 2000. Thousands others have completed studied at local colleges and joined the workforce.
And when they reached here, they quickly got senior positions in government – managing huge government departments and private companies. But in no time, they find themselves embroiled in bitter internal wrangles over management and resources.
In many cases, ideas advanced by the young technocrats are simply ignored. For some places, the conservative forces gang up against the new entrants – often voting out their ideas.
In the end, the new technocrats are despised, and eventually leave in disgrace or are fired for not delivering.
Today, the efforts of the new breed got public backing from the highest office in the land – President Paul Kagame.
In a strongly worded unscripted speech closing the four-day government retreat, Kagame singled out the case of new Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente to illustrate his point.
“The prime minister may not reveal to me the frustration he is experiencing, but I know what happens,” said Kagame. “Some people will do everything to keep you down. They will undermine everything you propose…they will be like ‘he is coming with World Bank principles that are not feasible here’….”
The Prime Minister was appointed in August last year, brought in from the World Bank.
Kagame told the dead-silent audience that the young officials should “refuse” to be bullied by their colleagues, and that they have to come out publicly against any such efforts.
“There should be consequences” for people out to block the country’s development simply because the person appointed is not one of their own,” said Kagame.
“Do not accept to be lectured that ‘this is how things have to be done’. You should not allow the bad ways you find here to influence you to abandon the skills you acquired. You need to stand by your principles.”
Earlier in the long address, Kagame warned that there will be no room for inefficiency after the officials return to their departments after the retreat, known locally as “Umwiherero”.
Kagame said he was concerned about the disorganization and no coordination in government departments, but that that did not mean they have to start having endless meetings.
“You should not leave here to torment the local population with daily meetings just because we all agreed here that you have been spending more time in offices instead of being on ground with the people you lead,” said Kagame.
He said the culture of work and sacrifice in Asia and Scandinavian region is what has developed these regions. Kagame said resources are available but are left redundant by officials who hurriedly rush to implement projects when he is about to visit a particular region.
“It is due to lack of these values that people tend to cover up the reality on the ground, and only implement projects when the President is coming to visit,” said Kagame.
“A road will be built in one week yet the resources have been available for ten years…now tell me; since we are always complaining of lack of resources, will they have emerged from the president’s office?” added Kagame.
The head of state said in the eastern province, locals have repeatedly asked him to announce visits well aware he will not come because that alone will force officials to implement stagnant projects for fear of being tasked to explain without answers.
“This is clear indication that officials cannot work without constant supervision, instead they spend time engaged in personal businesses,” said Kagame. “The resources are fully available but a culture of chaos is what reigns.”
In a similar tone on Monday during the launch of the retreat, Kagame spoke of the paralysis in the government. In some ministries, two ministers work in the same building and manage the same staff but never communicate.