By David Himbara
Talk about rulers’ lifestyles being far removed from those of the ruled. Major-General Paul Kagame sets the world record — he lives a billionaire lifestyle. He flies a US$65 Million Gulfstream jet. He drives a fleet of four Range Rover Sentinel at US$500,000 a piece. Kagame lives on 43 hectares Ntebe farm in a country with a population density of 507 per square kilometer. Kagame is known to stay in hotels that cost US$20,000 a day. Meanwhile, half of the Rwandan population lives in extreme poverty on less than US$1.90 a day; 81% eke a living of less than US$3.20 a day: and 91% sustain themselves on less than US$5.50 a day.
The lifestyle discrepancy between Kagame and Rwandans is especially demonstrated by the working conditions.
Rwandan workers experience the worst of Kagame rule— they endure not only a 45-hour working week but also a minimum wage of RWF100 or US$0.11. This dual cruelty is Kagame’s gift to the working people of Rwanda. To understand the context, begin with the first labor law enacted under his presidency in 2001 in which the working week was 40 hours. As stated in Article 55 of Law no 51/2001 establishing the labour code, “in all companies, the legal employment’s duration cannot exceed 40 hours a week.”
Kagame made history in 2009 when he shamelessly increased the working week to 45 hours. Law no 13/2009 regulating labour in Rwanda explains this worker exploitation. “In all enterprises, the legal employment’s duration is 45 hours per week…The weekly rest shall not be less that 24 consecutive hours per week. It normally takes place on Sunday.”
The latest amendment to the labor law was instituted in 2018. The 2018 labor law, however, retained the 45-hour week.
The Kagame labor laws of 2001, 2009, and 2018, are silent on the minimum wage — merely pointing out that the minister in charge of labour will establish it. This has yet to happen. The minimum wage of US$0.11 an hour goes as far as the 1974 labor law which even the ruling party newspaper, The New Times, considered ridiculous in 2012:
”In all fairness, the 1974 Labour Law is simply out of touch with the present reality. It is hard to believe that employers have the right to pay a casual laborer as little as Rwf100. According to the unionists, some workers in tea plantations earn a paltry Rwf300 a day, which is equivalent to just Rwf9000 a month.
With the current cost of living, it is extremely difficult for one to survive on Rwf 300 a day. Such an income can hardly enable one afford a day’s meal, let alone taking care of other basic needs such as education for their kids and healthcare. In such situations, the employer does not remit any pension contributions for their employees too. All this creates a cycle of poverty among the rural folks particularly.
It is, therefore, important that the Government, specifically the Ministry of Public Service and Labour, looks into the proposal from the trade union federations, as well as consult other relevant players to urgently come up with an appropriate minimum wage structure.”
In 2018, The New Times once again decried the US$0.11 minimum wage but to deaf ears:
“At Rwf100 per day, the country’s current minimum wage which was set in the 1980s is outdated and out of touch with today’s economic realities…Vulnerable workers are compelled to accept any pay from their employers as the law doesn’t specify what is not acceptable to pay workers except below Rwf100 per day…The revised labor law didn’t change that arrangement.”
Kagame was 17 years when Rwanda’s minimum wage was established.
Kagame portrays himself as the man who transformed Rwanda into a prosperous, modern state. In truth, the former rebel leader is a well-spoken gangster, impoverishing Rwandans while enriching himself. In my book, Kagame Ate Rwanda’s Pension, I demonstrated how he looted the national pension. Here we see how he cruelly extended the working week to 45 hours while freezing the minimum wage to the 1974 level of US$0.11. Somebody remind Kagame that it has been 44 years since the minimum was established. Kagame was only 17 years when his predecessor, General Juvénal Habyarimana, set up the US$0.11 minimum wage.