Kagame’s recruitment of foreign nationals to lead key national institutions is relentless: is this due to lack of capable homegrown leaders or because Kagame mistrusts Rwandans?

By David Himbara

General Paul Kagame’s installation of foreign nationals into important national institutions needs reflection. Is this because Rwanda does not have capable people to lead vital national institutions? Or, is this because Kagame does not trust Rwandans to appoint them leaders of strategic national institutions? If there are no capable leaders in Rwanda, Kagame who has ruled Rwanda for nearly 30 years, is a failed leader. If he installs foreign nationals because he mistrusts fellow Rwandans, that is even worse. Either way, this is evidence of the toxic environment in which total power embedded in a strongman kills off any opportunity for the rise of broad-based national leadership.

Clockwise from top left: Chairman of Rwanda Social Security Board, Christopher John Wales; Deputy Director-General in charge of funds, Rwanda Social Security Board, Philippe Watrin; Chief Executive Officer of the Rwandan Energy Group, Ron Weiss; Chairman of the Bank of Kigali, Marc Holtzman; Chairman of Rwanda Finance Ltd, Tidjane Thiam; Chairman of the Development Bank of Rwanda, Bobby Pittman; Chancellor of the University of Rwanda, Patricia Campbell; Chairman of the Rwandan Development Board, Itzhak Fisher.

The number of foreign nationals General Paul Kagame has installed in the leadership positions of important Rwandan institutions continues to rise. Here is the situation. The Chairman of the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) is Christopher John Wales from the United Kingdom. Joining Wales in RSSB is Philippe Watrin as the Deputy Director-General in charge of managing the funds. The Chairman of the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) is Itzhak Fisher from Israel, which is where the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwandan Energy Group, Ron Weiss, is also from. Marc Holtzman, an American, is the Chairman of the Bank of Kigali. The Chancellor of the University of Rwanda is Patricia Campbell from the US. The Chairman of the Development Bank of Rwanda is Bobby Pittman Jr. from the US. The Chairman of Rwanda Finance Ltd is the Franco-Ivorian, Tidjane Thiam.

Kagame has run Rwanda for nearly 30 years initially as the powerful defence minister and vice president since 1994, and as the head of state since 2000. How is it that he has not developed the leadership capacity of the people of Rwanda to lead national institutions for nearly three decades? Or, is this anomaly because Kagame does not trust Rwandans to lead vital Rwandan institutions? Either way, Kagame exemplifies absolutism whereby an autocratic leader seeks to rule with total power. Such a style does not offer any opportunity for other leaders to emerge let alone to flourish. Rather than empower Rwandans, Kagame installs foreign nationals in strategic institutions as a means of total control since these individuals are only accountable to him.

Remember also that Kagame’s foreign nationals do not reside in Rwanda. They jet into Rwanda every once to chair board meetings, thereby raising a fundamental question: does Kagame understand the importance of a chairperson of the board? The chairperson’s main duties do not only include chairing meetings of the board of directors but more importantly, providing leadership to the board members and inspiring and mentoring the chief executive officer and management. Most critically, what defines an effective chairperson is the ability to manage relationships with shareholders and stakeholders. How can Kagame’s foreign nationals engage Rwandan shareholders and stakeholders from overseas?

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