Kagame said adieu to the French language in 2009. Fast forward to 2022 – he sang bienvenue to le français. What made the notoriously truth-allergic strongman eat his words?
By David Himbara
General Paul Kagame’s flip-flipping on education proves that he does doesn’t give a damn about human capital and the future of Rwanda’s young people. It is stating the most obvious to say that it is human capital that drives individual self-fulfilment and national socioeconomic development. To repeat, without human capital – meaning education, knowledge, skills, and health – neither can a country’s citizens realize their own potential, nor can informal economies transform into productive and prosperous nation states.
The Rwandan strongman’s legacy is the reverse – destroying the already dismal education, thereby creating a generation of broken youths in their millions. Back in 2009, General Kagame switched the entire education system to English, effectively purging French from the workings of the education system. Only after his reckless purge, did he realize that there were hardly any qualified English teachers in Rwanda. In 2010, he embarked on a scheme to recruit English language teachers from Uganda and Kenya. Soon running out of money and interest, Kagame abandoned the scheme.
By 2022, the General had turned to Southern Africa, deploying Zimbabwean English teachers in basic education, technical and vocational education, polytechnics, and health agencies.
But as the Zimbabwean teachers were arriving in Rwanda in 2022, so were French teachers. General Kagame had made a spectacular U-turn, eating his words on the French language. Armed with cash and expertise from France, he launched the National Plan for the Teaching and Learning of French in Rwanda to teach French at all levels of education, from primary school to university. Some 45 French teachers have already arrived in Rwanda, drawn from Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo, France, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and Togo.
How the French language is to be transplanted rapidly across the entire Rwanda’s education system is best explained by France’s aid agency, the Agence Française de Développement (AFD):
“The 5 Million EUR grant (approximately RWF 5.7 billion) from AFD will finance the coordination and monitoring of the national plan for the teaching and learning of French. It will constitute of a Francophonie roadmap for the educational system, which aims at bettering the teaching and learning of French at school nationwide. AFD Group’s subsidiary Expertise France will carry out and monitor the implementation of the plan, as a technical assistant to the Ministry of Education.”
How does France’s agency, Expertise France, “carry out and monitor the implementation of the plan,” as a technical assistant to the Rwandan Ministry of Education, you ask? Think money – with General Kagame, it all comes to cash. Cash obsession mindset is what led him to turn the Rwanda Defence Force into the Wagner of Africa – the equivalent to Russian mercenaries that fight foreign wars for cash. General Kagame’s ‘Wagner’ is currently defending the French interests in Mozambique, including TotalEnergies’ US$20 billion liquefied natural gas investment that was halted by the Islamic State militia.
As a result, France opened up its aid taps. The French foreign aid to Rwanda increased sharply from zero to nearly US$539 million (€500 million) in the 2019–2023 period. That is the basis for reversing the purge of the French language from Rwanda and embracing it 14 years later. How will this flop flipping affect the education system in Rwanda? Kagame doesn’t give a damn as education once again becomes the collateral damage. If further evidence were needed to show that the Rwandan strongman doesn’t lose sleep over education and the long-term future of the country, this is it. Stay tuned.