Rwanda:Where “Legal Corruption” Became The ‘Norm’

(The type of aircraft owned by Crystal Aviation that Rwandan taxpayers charter for Kagame)

By Dr David Himbara

In his speech to a gathering of Rwandans in Boston on February 27, 2016 Rwanda President Paul Kagame mocked those who criticize him for being an absentee head of state. He dismissed those of us who regularly report on this matter as folks who have nothing to do but waste time on useless endeavors. He says he travels “to look for food” for Rwandans. Perhaps he may indeed be looking for food for Rwandans. But among the major beneficiaries of Kagame’s food from abroad is Kagame himself. Kagame the President travels overseas in an executive jet chartered from Crystal Aviation that is owned by Kagame’s RPF — which in reality means Kagame himself. In other words, Kagame the President charters a luxurious plane from Kagame the businessman. The travels Kagame has made since January 2016 — Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Davos, Addis Ababa, Toronto, Houston, and Boston — means that Crystal Aviation has amassed enormous wealth in two months.

According to companies that charter Kagame type of aircraft, namely,Gulfstream, an average cost per flying hour is £6,672, which is equivalent to $9,241, or €8,474. This gives us a sense of how much money the Rwandan government is transferring into Crystal Aviation accounts. This does not include money that sustains Kagame in presidential suites that cost up to $20,000 a night. Kagame is known for living in hotels that even United States President or British Prime Minister cannot dare stay because they operate in accountable systems subject to citizen scrutiny.

What Kagame is practicing is what has been termed “legal corruption.” Legal corruption is not the usual bureaucratic/public sector malpractices, manifested by such practices as bribery or stealing public assets. Rather, it is a type of corruption that is less obvious involving collusion between public and private sectors. As Daniel Kaufmann and Pedro C. Vicente who have studied this phenomenon explain, legal corruption is “allocation of procurement contracts” whereby “publicly invested power” adopts a policy favoring private gain “at the expense of broader public welfare.” Legal corruption protects the head of state because he or she can claim that it is collective policy-making that led to governmental actions.

In the Rwandan case, Kagame and his cabinet made a decision to spend public money on chartering Kagame jets — this was not bribing or outright stealing but a governmental decision favoring a private interest. Hence the term “legal corruption.”

Kagame can make speeches and denounce people who point out legal corruption all he wants. But he cannot intimidate and silence those of us who live outside his open prison that Rwanda has become. In Kagame’s Rwanda, even mild investigative writings land journalists and scholars into jails, exile, or even worse. Thankfully, we are not subject to this utter madness.

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.