So here we are getting ready to witness one of the most fearful events of the year in Rwanda. That is the National Leadership Retreat, scheduled for March 12–14, 2016.
Ordinarily, every effective and accountable organisation — public or private — asks itself these important questions every year: “Should we hold a strategic retreat?” and “Why hold a leadership retreat?”
Then the leader of the organisation reflects on performance and capabilities of his team — and using evidence, figures what needs to be re-engineered, consolidated, or change direction. The leader’s purpose is re-invigorate and to inspire broader commitment required to fulfill the organization’s full potential. In other words, this is the time to reconnect with core competences, goals, and values. The purpose of holding retreats therefore is to motivate and re-energize — not forgetting helping individual team members to re-center their own personal motivation and effectiveness.
This is not the case in Rwanda — the National Leadership Retreat is a fearful meeting where no one knows what might happen. Attendees of the retreat are right now agonizing what might happen to them. The “lucky” public servant will be sick or overseas unable to attend. Here some of you reading this piece might say to me — “come on Himbara, you are exaggerating because the agenda is always issued ahead of each National Leadership Retreat.” That is true. An agenda is always presented. In fact, each year, three things are known in advance: 1) the theme of the retreat; 2) review of the implementation of the previous year’s retreat resolutions; and 3) issues to form the way forward.
The theme for the 2016 is “Reaffirming Brand Rwanda.” The review of the implementation of the 2015 retreat resolutions has already been presented. In a typical Rwanda style, almost all 2015 retreat resolutions were implemented, except one. And that is the re-equipping, re-staffing, and installing electricity in Shyira Hospital in Musanze District. That would mean an extraordinary success rate of 99% in implementing 2015 retreat resolutions. We should name Rwanda the “ the land of 90%.” Whether elections, referendum, parliamentary votes, it is either over 90% or just forget it.
But you know what? The issuing of the theme, review, and agenda ahead of each National Leadership Retreat is mere show. Each National Leadership Retreat remains a dangerous affair. Why do I say these things?
Recall the 2015 National Leadership Retreat. President Kagame quite literally told everyone at the retreat that they were useless and unfit to hold office. Chief justice, speaker of the house, prime minister, cabinet ministers, and senior public servants — all sat there like little school boys and girls being scolded by a headmaster for failing an exam. Then Kagame dropped a bombshell by contradicting himself. He told the gathering that Rwanda as developmental success story is a big lie. Kagame’s usual song is that he has built “the Singapore of Africa.” Not only on this occasion. He said that the only reason Rwanda appears to be a good performer is because people compare it to failed states in the neighborhood.
Only one man at the gathering dared to challenge Kagame. And that was the Ugandan journalist who doubles as Kagame’s strategist, Andrew Mwenda. The journalist protested at what he termed Kagame’s “savaging” his entire government. Mwenda reminded Kagame that Rwanda was a great success — even better than the United States in terms of healthcare that covers the entire Rwandan population. Kagame would have none of it. He told Mwenda to publish “such lies” in his The Independent newspaper, but not to recycle nonsense at the National Leadership Retreat.
So what lies in store for the more than 200 leaders attending the 2016 National Leadership Retreat? No one knows for sure. Only one man know — Paul Kagame.
In conclusion, let us pray for those poor souls who from tomorrow will be attending the National Leadership Retreat. They are now preparing to go through hell. Once there, Kagame won’t let them leave until he feels he has sufficiently tortured them. But with the Rwandan boss, you do not know what might happen — perhaps he will this time use the retreat for what such exercises aim to achieve in normal circumstances.
And so we pray that we are going to witness a good national brainstorming session for nurturing shared and productive values for greater good for Rwanda— as opposed to watching a performance of a boss from hell.
About The Author:
David Himbara is an educator, political economist, and author based in Toronto, Canada. He teaches and works in the field of development and competitiveness.