Rwanda: the Least or the Most Corrupt?

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Yesterday (4 Dec 2013) the New Times newspaper was celebrating the claim that Rwanda is the least corrupt in the region. The newspaper’s assertion is based Transparency International’s Index.

Let us first of all get one thing clear. Transparency International Index DOES NOT MEASURE corruption. It merely analyses people’s PERCEPTIONS of corruption. I repeat, the index does not presume to measure the actual corruption but the perception of corruption. That is why the index is called “Corruption Perception Index” because it is based on aggregating and averaging people’s perceptions of corruption.

The question then is this: why do Rwandans perceive corruption in their country to be low?
There several possible answers:

* Corruption in Rwanda is low;
* Corruption in Rwanda is high but people are afraid to express their views in an authoritarian regime;
* Corruption in Rwanda is high but is ingrained in higher leadership levels as opposed to the general bureaucracy.

My view is the last – corruption in Rwanda is high but deeply ingrained at leadership than in the conventional public services. And in this sense Rwanda is uniquely and extremely corrupt.

What is my evidence?

The ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and it’s Chairman who is also the President of the Republic are embedded in a severe conflict of interest that would be shocking in any other country on planet earth. President Paul Kagame actually plays three roles in Rwanda. 1) President of Rwanda; 2) Chairman of RPF; 3) Head of largest investment group in Rwanda, Crystal Ventures that controls most of economic sectors in the country. Here is how Crystal Ventures describes itself:

“The company’s portfolio is fairly diversified…The sectors currently invested in include civil works and concrete products, construction and real estate development, telecommunications, agricultural value addition, aviation charter services, security services, printing and publishing, furniture trading and manufacturing, building materials, media systems, property management and engineering services and diversified investment groups. Through its portfolio companies, CVL employs over 7,000 people of whom over 4,800 are permanent employees.’

Here is the problem for Rwanda.

* When the government of Rwanda charters an aircraft from Crystal Ventures’ aviation to transport the Head of the State, it is Kagame the president that is hiring the aircraft from Kagame the businessman.

* When the government of Rwanda gives a contact to a Crystal Venture construction company to build a government facility, it is Kagame the president doing business with Kagame the businessman.

* When Crystal Ventures uses Rwandan people money from Rwanda Social Security Fund to establish a new company, as in the case of the East African Granite Industries, it is Kagame the president using citizens’ savings to expand his business empire.

This sort of capitalism that has emerged in Rwanda is what is often termed “crony capitalism.” This is defined as a system “based on the close relationships between businessmen and the state. Instead of success being determined by a free market and the rule of law, the success of a business is dependent on the favouritism that is shown to it by the ruling government.”

As the saying goes, things are seldom what they appear to be. Indeed the contrast between perception and reality, can shock! For example a cloud appears to consist of some white, fleecy substance. In reality, however, a cloud is a concentration of drops of water.
Perceptions can therefore be deceptive and may not make any sense when taken on face value. To put it differently, some things may not be satisfactorily explained if one remains within the world of surface appearances.

In a country that is ruled with an iron fist like Rwanda, chances of confusing surface appearance with essence are high. It turns out that a country perceived to be the least corrupt is the most corrupt!

David Himbala

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