What Is The Purpose of Rwanda’s Annual Leadership Retreat – Reflection or Public Humiliation?

By David Himbara

Looking at the images of the 2017 National Leadership Retreat, one might mistake Kagame for an obituary announcer, and leaders listening to him as mourners. It is a gloomy and fearful occasion. It is therefore a legitimate question – what is the purpose of the National Leadership Retreat in Rwanda? This Retreat is unlike similar exercises. Normally, Retreats enable leaders, executives and other stakeholders to improve performance and delivery of services. In particular, leadership retreats provide space to do at least four things:

  1. Engage minds to reflect on past performance and to fine-tune future policy execution.
  2. Recognize unproductive patterns, both within leadership and in workplace interactions in order to adjust for improved performance and delivery.
  3. Initiate change by connecting fully with those in charge of oversight and sector programs.
  4. Respond to opportunities and challenges for better results.

Rwanda’s Leadership Retreat has little in common with such exercises. Kagame uses the Retreat to exert his power and position to make other leaders feel insignificant. Worse – Kagame declares Rwandan leaders useless. The abuse has now become a ritual.


Who does Kagame humiliate? Rwanda’s National Leadership Retreat is attended by government officials including President Paul Kagame, Chief Justice, President of the Senate, Speaker of Parliament, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and other senior officials. The gathering also includes military chiefs, business leaders, and heads of civil society organizations.

In a style of old-school totalitarian headmaster, Kagame reduces the entire Rwandan leadership to inept and even corrupt people. This is precisely how Kagame just described Rwandan leadership at the 2017 Retreat.

Perhaps the 2015 Leadership Retreat was the worst in this regard. Shockingly, the President stated:

“Everybody has become like the other – the killers of yesterday and the liberators of yesterday…full of self-importance and doing nothing for this country that has suffered so much.”

According to Kagame, he is the only one left to save Rwanda as he put it in 2015. Were it possible he would even “take arms and fight” against the current non-performing and corrupt system.

In most bizarre moment of the 2015 Leadership retreat, the Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda who doubles as Kagame advisor, tried to rescue Rwandan leaders from Kagame by listing all the good things that Rwanda has supposedly achieved. Mwenda extraordinarily claimed that Rwanda has a better healthcare system than even the united States of America.

Kagame then turned on Mwenda:

“I really don’t like your comments. You can reserve them for your Independent newspaper. You write them and I will read them there.”

Fast forward to 2017. Kagame has once repeated the ritual, terming the Rwandan leaders zombies who come to the retreat only to leave and repeat same motions – incompetence and no delivery.

Kagame seems to forget four factors:

  1. He is the builder of the current system since 1994.
  2. He is the appointing authority of all the officials he is now cursing.
  3. He is their chief executive officer; chief operational officer, and chief financial officer.
  4. He has used the same people he is abusing to grab power – he is set to rule until 2034 and possibly beyond.

By characterizing the Rwandan system as incompetent and corrupt, Kagame is conceding that he is a total failure. He is, after all, the architect of the system.