Rwanda and Liberia: How Patriotism, Focused Leadership and “Culture of It’s Our Time” Shaping Progress and Retrogression (Part 3)

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By James S. Shilue

In terms of Vision, Rwanda Vision 2020 promotes macroeconomic stability and wealth creation to reduce dependency on aid and develop the private sector. The idea behind this initiative is to expand Rwanda’s domestic resource base and increase its exports and promote diversification in non-traditional exports. There is no way to achieve this aspiration without improving education and health standards to provide an efficient and productive workforce. Recognising the seriousness and commitment of the Rwandan government and people in trying to promote entrepreneurship and making their country become a middle income country, the CEO of  Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, introduced SocialEDU, an initiative financed by his Internet.org foundation, which ‘will provide students in Rwanda with free access to a collaborative online education experience’. Students will receive a free phone from Nokia, free data from Airtel and a free app from Facebook, with the government providing free Wi-Fi ‘in campuses throughout the country’. Which component of the PAPD is attractive to external entrepreneur? What happened to Liberia’s vision 2030? Is our development agenda not attractive that much for external partners? What could be some of the reasons Liberia is drifting far behind while Rwanda continues to attract support and collaboration?

The answers to these questions can be found in the kind of leadership and sincere commitment to building lasting peace. Indeed, building peace depends on the level of concrete efforts being applied to address and resolve the underlying structural causes of widespread poverty, crime and conflict. In our context, corruption is one of the major causes for the various conflicts. Corruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and undemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage. Indeed, the2018 corruption index shows that Rwanda is the 48 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries while Liberia is the 120 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries. President Paul Kagame is noted for placing his comrades in prison, when found guilty of corruption. In Liberia various leaders have publicly declared that they will eliminate corruption but soon start to provide reasons why the menace cannot be eliminated. Kagame who is seen as a visionary, the face of a new, self-confident, economically vibrant African narrative that buries the passivity and victimhood of the past, embarked on an anti-graft crusade against economic and financial crimes. Since the country ended the genocide decades ago, the GDP per head has risen to almost $650, and just under 45% of the population is now below the poverty line, down from 60% in 2000. The economy has achieved average annual growth of 8.2% for the past 10 years.

In fact, in the decade since he was elected, Kagame has transformed Rwanda’s fortunes with such single-minded determination and focus that commentators have dubbed him the ‘CEO of Rwanda’. According to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business index, Rwanda is the 29th easiest place to do business in the world – the only low-income country (LIC) in the top 30. Investors are saying everything in Liberia is about red tip. What can our leaders do to minimise such culture and make the investment climate attractive? I have searched tirelessly to read the number of new businesses that have come to Liberia since 2018 but cannot find any data. For Rwanda, in 2018 the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) RDB registered over US$2 billion-worth of investments.

As Rwanda makes progress in fighting the menace, in Liberia, corruption has taken different characterisation from ‘public enemy number 1’, ‘Big Boy 1’, ‘Big Boy 2’, ‘ Gbagba’, Jaadeh’, ‘what is inside for me’, to ‘vampires’ even socking the blood of those industries that contributed to the relative growth that we have experienced in the nation’s GDP before the Ebola epidemic dismantled the entire economy. One commentator said corruption is at “an industrial level in Liberia’. If corruption was at an industrial level during President Sirleaf administration, we will have to find an appropriate qualifier for the current Pro Poor administration, which has yet to demonstrate real commitment to fighting the menace. President Weah and his officials have been accused of not only dismantling anti-graft institutions but for amassing wealth in unprecedented manner in the history of the country. Sadly, the Pro Poor agenda rather than empowering ‘the people’ by strengthening their capacity to thrive, there are growing disenchantments among ordinary Liberians for the high cost of living and lack of solutions by the president.

Hunted by the ugly legacies of the genocide and determined to not allow his country slip back into war, President Kagame declared that he will not tolerate voices that promote a return to the ethnic divisionism that precipitated the genocide. Today, in post war Rwanda, there is a policy against ethnic divisionism-meaning referring to people based on their ethnicity. No Hutu or Tutsi but just Rwandan. In the Liberian context, after almost two decades of senseless bloody war in which tribal and ethnic background was a key determinant of amnesty or instant death, today when a Liberian applies for a passport at the Foreign Ministry, he or she will have to fill in form and answer questions about his/her tribe and ethnicity. What have Liberians learned from the senseless civil wars? Why it is Rwanda leadership is so sensitive and takes decision based on experiences of the pass but Liberian leadership does not?

Whenever I visit Rwanda I am honestly mesmerized by the level of transformation and orderliness. The capital Kigali is dubbed as the cleanest city in Africa. The country is now called the ICT Hub of Africa because technology is booming. The country made headline as the first country to pilot blood deliveries by drone. In February 2016, Rwanda Government hired a California-based robotics firm to build the drone in a bid to improve accessibility to blood and emergency medical supplies to remote parts of the country. The experiment is saving lives whereas in Liberia our people living in rural Liberia are virtually cut off from the Capital during the raining seasons. People are dying due to the lack of vision and commitment on the part of our leaders to transform the lives of Liberians.

On one of my visits to Rwanda, I saw military men and women cleaning the streets. I thought it was only done once in a while but my Rwandan colleague told me that their President said he will not be appropriating monthly salaries for solders to sit in barracks without doing anything. So, the soldiers form part of forces to clean the cities and ensure that the country remains healthy. Kigali is now considered one of the cleanest cities in Africa, if not the cleanest. Drive by Duala in Monrovia and see avalanche of dirt just within the market where foods s are bought for eating.

There is an embarrassing story that I heard about a Liberian official who visited Kigali for climate change conference. According to the story, the government functionary while in transit at Nairobi’s Airport bought some items at the airport duty free shops. His goods were packed in the usual ‘Duty free’ plastic bag. Upon arrival at Kigali airport, the immigration officer asked him to hand over his bag and the Liberian official who was in Kigali for an environmental conference never read about Rwanda, hence found it strange that the Rwandan officer requested his bags. Thinking it was one of the usual act of corruption, he reluctantly handed over his bags to the officer. Within a twinkle of eye, his goods were unpacked and placed in a paper bag and returned to him with a smiling statement from the officer ‘sir we do not allow plastic here’. How possible was it that somebody of such status would visit another country without reading about his host country? What does this say about Liberia? Do Liberian government officials only participate in conferences for the allowances? How are conference participants selected in the different ministries and state institutions? Again, it is about leadership, value system and patriotism, which unfortunately have not been well inculcated in Liberia.

There is now a growing call globally for women’s representation in decision making processes, especially in parliament. Women’s participation in decision-making is highly beneficial and has a positive impact on people’s lives. Essentially, this is not about men against women, but there is evidence that when you have more women in public decision-making, you get policies that benefit women, children and families in general. The Rwandan government is one of very few in the world where female members of parliament outnumber men. It has introduced a health programme, where for $2 a year everyone is insured. It has ploughed millions of dollars into school and university places, pushing literacy from 48% in 1995 to just over 71%. In 2005, Liberia had its first post war election of 30 senators, only five were women, constituting 16.7 percent. In the lower house, eight women out of a total of 64 representatives were elected, making up 12.5 percent. Altogether, a total of 13 women were in the Liberian National Legislature of 94 legislators, this is only 13.8 percent – which is 16.5 percentage points short of the United Nations target for women parliamentary seats – and 5.6 points lower than the 2010 global average of women parliamentarians. Today, the number has even reduced drastically. At the end of both the presidential and legislative elections, only nine women were elected to fill the 73 seats in the Lower House of the Legislature. The most Liberia can boost of today is the election of Jewel Howard Taylor as vice president, having previously served for 12 years as a senator.

I am aware that Rwanda has its own challenges and President Kagame is not an angel, in fact some refer to him as an ‘autocrat’, ‘dictator’ or ‘strong leader’ who undermines press freedom and free speech and recently there are efforts to pass a law to prosecute anybody who insults the president. Rwanda is not the best democracy in the world and this article in no way subscribes to such notion. In Liberia, we enjoy free speech and President Weah is said to be the most insulted president. There is no journalist in prison. However, Rwanda is succeeding in its overall developmental agenda, despite these anti-democratic vices under the so called ‘dictator’. Weighing these drawbacks against the achievements, I feel the country is doing far better than Africa’s oldest republic. President Kagame stopped the genocide in his country and has since undertaken concrete efforts to unite his people. Rwanda is not just creating a business-friendly environment but also diversifying the economy from being almost entirely dependent on agriculture to developing services and a growing manufacturing sector. 

Following more than 18 years after the Liberian war, we are still waiting for hand-out and most recently our leadership received the worst humiliation from external donors asking our government to immediately refund money taken from their accounts. How have we reached this low? What is Rwanda doing better than us? Indeed, a confluence of factors at a critical juncture and we can see some of the missing links in the lack of people centred leadership, lack of patriotism, the mind-set and the culture of “it is our time and among my mother children, I love myself the best”. Liberia is bleeding and slipping into ‘conflict trip’ and President Weah needs to listen to the voices of reasoning- one of which is coming from a stalwart of his party admitting that “government does not possess all of the required expertise…and Liberia being our common denominator, it is advisable that the president invites people irrespective of their political views to add up to what we have”, said Dr. Lester Tenny. Liberia is at a crossroad and one political party does not has the solution and nobody will solve our problems but only ourselves. We need to immediately go beyond partisan and start with a ‘participatory diagnosis’, which is the first way of identifying and understanding the problem. Mr President, please reach out and change the approach to save our country.

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