Rwanda:“Enhanced Covid19 Prevention Measures” is to impress donors

General Paul Kagame, your decree on “Enhanced Covid19 Prevention Measures” is to impress donors and not a well-thought out strategy for fighting the Coronavirus in Rwanda.

Open Letter to Rwandan Head of State.

This letter regards the “Enhanced Covid19 Prevention Measures” decree which went into effect on Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 23:59. This one-page decree is troubling, not least the manner in which it was communicated to the people of Rwanda. Despite the fact that the decree has a profound implications for every working person in Rwanda, the decree went into effect on the very day it was imposed. In normal countries, citizens are accorded time to prepare for lockdown measures – for example to stock food and other necessities. Be that as it may, I address in this letter one issue of the decree, namely, the ordering of public and private sector employees in Rwanda to work from home.

General Kagame, part of your decree declares that “all employees (public and private) should work from home, except for those providing essential services.” The notion of working from home in Rwanda is far-fetched and irrational. Working from home might be practical in cosmopolitan global centres of New York City or London, or in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley but not in Rwanda or even in the capital city of Kigali.

Recall that the National Labour Force Survey of November 2019 established that of the 3.4 million Rwandan actively employed, 37.3 percent were engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing. Industry and services (including wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles) employed 17.2 percent and 45.5 percent, respectively. There lies the problem.

General Kagame, just how will these 3.4 million Rwandan workers employed in agriculture, industry and services work from home? Who exactly will pay the salaries of the private sector employees if they don’t report to work? And how will Rwanda’s economy operate if the private sector is shut down?

General Kagame, it appears you naively cut and pasted directives from high income countries whose governments dramatically stepped up their response to the coronavirus outbreak. But in rich countries, their directives were accompanied by massive financial packages amounting to billions of dollars to support businesses as well as citizens. Citizens were for example given extra months to pay taxes; even plans to counter any lost incomes by directly giving cheques to citizens were considered. None of these support mechanisms can apply to Rwanda, one of the poorest countries in the world with an annual output of US$10 billion; an annual government budget of US$3 billion; high dependence on an annual foreign aid of US$1.1 billion; and a debt of US$5 billion or 55 percent of GDP. With such limited resources, Rwanda can barely sustain public services’ employees, let alone sustaining private sector employers and 3.4 million workers.

General Kagame, I put it to you that your “Enhanced Covid19 Prevention Measures” decree was designed to impress outsiders, as opposed to a well-thought out Rwandan strategy for fighting the coronavirus. You sought to show the World Health Organization and donor financiers that your government is taking a tough stance to save Rwandan lives. You no doubt have an eye on the World Bank Group’s US$14 billion Covid19 aid package. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also announced that it “could quickly disburse $50 billion through its emergency financing facilities to low income and emerging market countries dealing with COVID-19.”

General Kagame, you are therefore still on the drawing board in as far as devising Rwanda-specific strategies for fighting the coronavirus. Your one-page decree is superficial and unworthy of its title, “Enhanced Covid19 Prevention Measures”. And should you use your police and military to keep Rwandans locked up inside their homes, you will starve them in the name of saving them from the Coronavirus. With a per capita income of US$772 and 55.5 percent of Rwandans living on less than the international poverty line of US$1.90, few Rwandans can survive hunger if “Enhanced Covid19 Prevention Measures” decree is enforced.


David Himbara