A total of 300 government officials boarded air conditioned buses (some owned by the RDF) from assembly point in Kigali city and were driven in a tightly guarded convoy that snaked all the way to Rwanda Defence Force Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, Gatsibo district.
Since February 26th the team has been brainstorming on matters of national interest and President Paul Kagame is chairing this meeting known as National Leadership Retreat that will conclude on March 1st.
On the first day, President Kagame engaged the officials in a lengthy session. He is not happy with manner in which his team is working. For the past 15 years, the president demanded answers as to why the issues of stunting in children under five years and poor hygiene still return to this annual meeting.
President Kagame’s speech which was exclusively in Kinyarwanda was punctuated with interactions, asking questions and receiving responses from officials at the gathering.
Below is a transcribed excerpt
I welcome you to the retreat, and thank you for your participation. I am looking forward to good conversations that we are going to have. We have many reasons that we will start with for the retreat and I hope they are constructive ones as usual.
In this 15th retreat, you understand that it is something we have been doing for fifteen years has now become a tradition. It is for us to evaluate ourselves and what we do to see if it goes completely with what we want to achieve and if they lead us to what we want to achieve, as a country.
What we wish for Rwandans and what they expect from us. But it is a tradition that changes what must be changed, not a tradition to continue what should be changed.
When something has to change, and if you check and find out that there is a problem, and the cause of the problem is ordinary you change it. It is not a tradition to just come here at Gabiro for the retreat, talk and at the end go back.
But that tradition is for us to change what must be changed, what must be done to change things, what was going wrong and strive to do better what is going well. When we realise that they are possible, we just change the pace at which we were working; it is keeping on developing.
But even if we have not yet dug deeper, we will see them as we talk day after day. We will not meet to let what we do not do rightly become a tradition. If that is the case, there is a problem somewhere and this is the problem people should focus on.
The purpose of this retreat is to evaluate ourselves, what makes us leaders and what citizens expect from us. This is why it is called ‘leaders retreat’. Leaders provide leadership, it is clear. Leaders working with whoever and set the vision.
This retreat helps us every time, whether to understand if the vision set is clear to all of us and to everyone, and how we are travelling that journey to realise that vision, where we come from and go. What follows is management of action and resources. How do all these connect together to deliver that vision.
Leaders, lead and become part of the management to make sure that we are constantly making sure we are delivering on the vision. Often, when we are in the retreat talking, obviously many people seem to understand that vision.
Even when it comes to leadership and management they also understand it well. But when it comes to action, it becomes another thing.
When it comes to management and action, detail and coordination, where people work together to continue that vision, a problem arises.
The vision is clear and we all share it. Even leadership, they understand it and want to be leaders, but when it comes to commitment,…..
But let us go to action. I do not know whether you see the same as I do, when it comes to implementation, so that people who are in charge of certain activities, even in the same room. I am repeating them because it is not the first time.
We have been saying those things for 15 years [15 retreats], but every year we repeat the same things every year, even in the middle of the year it is often repeated often.
I want us to assess what the problem is. I always ask myself what the problem is. Even before coming here I ask myself what is the problem. But I suppose that you understand it that is why I ask you so.
Not working together while you are in charge of working together. If someone puts it in other words and take for example, people at the same battle, the same army.
How can they fight the battle if they are not together in what they do? When everyone does whatever she or he wants, without understanding that everyone has a role to play so as to fight the battle.
We have army here, 100 people, and a company here. If 100 people do not complement each other, how can they win that fight?
But everyone is lagging behind, everyone is doing whatever he or she pleases to. But the enemy, the problem they are fighting is in front of them.
How can they win that fight? How do you understand the vision we set, we agree on, work for, how can we achieve it if we do not work together in the same fight? How can it be possible?
Two ministers, one in charge of infrastructure, agriculture, in the same building, they have people that they lead and work with them to achieve their responsibilities in that department.
If they do not work together, talk and complement each other, when no one asks anything, or disagrees with one another to achieve what they have to do.
I am asking just basic things. But what does not doing it mean? Not talking, discussing, complementing each other, what does it produce, what comes out of it?
It is not the first time when Im telling you whether it is possible that someone chooses who they want to work with. If you do not work with someone because he or she threatens you, is it better if someone tells you to work with the person you want to work with?
You may say that you work with people you do not wish to work with? I do not know where they come from. But I am saying if someone gave you the choice to appoint the ones you want to work with, will you work better with them than the ones who were appointed to work with you.
There is a problem, but more often there is a contradiction because all of the things I am saying, it is not because nothing was achieved, you know if nothing was done Rwanda would not be spoken of as it is, in the region, Africa and the world.
I was reading yesterday, and I found that Rwanda is among 190 countries that are secure in the world.
They also say that Rwanda is 3rd in Africa among the countries that have fought against corruption in Africa, doing business, investment and so on… you are the first.
When I read these things I say to myself that the world does not exist. Because if these people do not see the things I see, there might be a problem.
But I say if we can occupy these positions, if it was possible for us to be 9th among the world’s secure countries, can’t we do much better? That is what it means.
But I say to myself, what I said we see what we do not achieve, makes us the 9th not the fifth in the most secure countries, but that is how it happens in whatever we do. Which means that we do not reach the results that are in our capacity.
What we could reach we reject them because of other things that we put before but they are useless and harmful to our country. Yes, we may be happy with those positions, what we have achieved, but we can be happy if we have done much better.
Especially where it is possible, second, if we see that there are things that we fall short of fulfilling that we should fulfill in our capacity. Where you follow up with things and ask why certain things have not been done in a given way, and someone says oh, I forgot.
Forgetting becomes a disease and a tradition that prevents you from getting the results you should get. But here, when you work with someone who is also in charge of doing the same things, can’t we make another step and get more results?
And it is possible, just talking to each other and complement each other, looking for a solution for a present challenge, do not think that your thought is a solution that all the people will follow, instead let them have a say as well. Complement each another and that will lead to the development of people.
Suppose if you get out of the office and drive to meet with citizens to see how things are going, roads, fields, people’s activities.
You will find out that there is a problem, and say look people are farming in the wrong way, cultivating in the wrong way and destroying infrastructure but last time we spoke together but now they are acting differently, because you have gone there.
But I think there is another problem, there are those who go there but leave their eyes in the office. They do not see what should be seen and correct it.
Going there is not just physical presence. You must also be consciously there. You must be there for a certain purpose. You must be there and be able to see and understand.
You must be able to distinguish between something bad and something good and know that the bad things must be corrected and the good must be developed.
It is not just going. There are many things we see every day. You know the problems we face like malnutrition, bad education of our children.
When they spend their first years without proper feeding, even from the time the kid is still in the womb and after birth. The next years, one two or three.
When you do not do what you should do for the health of this child, there are things that do not come back. Whatever you may do it cannot come back if you lost them at that time.
We have been saying these things for many times. We have said many things such as security and so on. But why is it that we take the last positions in malnutrition? How can our children suffer from malnutrition and even the grownups? What has been missing.
I want leaders sitting here to tell me what has been missing. Will you say that there is no money, food or awareness? What is missing? Is it lack of discussion, but they are mentioned every day.
Dirty Children on the street. How often have we been saying this? District mayors here, where are you sitting? Do you see what I am talking about or you do not?
Or you also go there but cannot see. I am asking you, do you see things or you do not see them? Do you know, understand, see or it is a waste of time?
Let me come to you if that is what you want.
Do you know about them, see them or do not see them?
Mayors: We know about them.
President Kagame: You will bear with me, I am tired of speeches, I want us to talk. So, tell me, what is the problem? Or you do not hear? Can you see me? Can you hear me? Where are mayors?
What is the problem that someone keeps repeating? Children going to streets and do not go to school, while we have established a way for every child to go to school, what is the problem?
Is it because you work with those that you do not want to, the ones you have not appointed? Let someone answer me, or else you will not leave here until you respond.
Tell me. Or else while others will leave you will stay here. You will not go anywhere until you answer my question.
What is the problem? You do not go out to your citizens and do not know about how they live? But of course, this is where the problem starts.
If a leader cannot say anything when they are asked a question, then that is where the first problem is. But as I said you will not leave this place until you have answered my question.
Mayor raises hand: Thank you your excellency, we see those problems and you have told us many times about them, but we have not been going to meet residents.
As you said, we thought that holding meetings was enough but now, we will visit them in their homes, even if we are late, we believe that it can change. That’s how I see it and that is the decision we made.
President Kagame: But talk about issues that are everywhere. You know about people who live with pets, those who suffer from jiggers. Imagine suffering from jiggers in Rwanda where the world says a lot of good things.
Do you want them to say of you about jiggers? Is that what you want? What is the problem? Has he spoken on your behalf or you just want to suffer from jiggers?
Another mayor speaks: Thank you your excellency, as my colleague has said, it is true that we know about the problem and we see it.
You have also told us about it many times, but your excellency, we took measures and set the time. Even other senior officials who are present here know it. We had discussions….
The president interrupts: Forget about discussions, go in actions…
The same mayor: There are even actions….
President Kagame interrupts: You set time after that time… what I say has been here for many years. There is no more time for discussion. What else are you discussing, why don’t you move to actions? We need actions, not discussions.
A female mayor: Thank you Mr President, as you said what must be done is that we get out of offices, because in local governance …
President Kagame interrupts: What do you do in offices that prevents you from going outside? Are you counting money, that has become too much for you, or what?
The female mayor: We must approach citizens because….
President Kagame interrupts: You have to approach citizens. Why did they elect you? You want to leap over them like the electricity cables above them saying they do not benefit from them?
I am reminding you that we are going to have a fight these days, get prepared for that. But before that I will first have a fight with ministers. They are not stronger than me. I will fight with them as well.
Another mayor: Thank you your excellency the president of the republic. The problem that is there, we know about it and we have known about it, we apologise for visible mistakes….
President Kagame: But how long have you known about it? Now, yesterday, or before yesterday? It has been here for 10 ,15 years and we have been talking about it.
Mayor: We are going to make more effort, your excellency.
Another mayor: Thank you your excellency, as you said it is a big problem that we are ready to fight. Last month, we held a retreat with different officials and we took measures that in May this year, we should not live with poor hygiene among citizens. Now, we are ready and hope that this problem is going to end because it has become unbearable.
President Kagame: Do you like that uncleanliness and want to live with it? Do you think living with poor hygiene is harmless?
The mayor: It must end, your excellency.
President Kagame: You also live with our citizens who suffer from avoidable diseases? It must end. Minister Kaboneka (Francis Kaboneka) minister of Local Governance. You also know how many times I talk to you about it. You try to go there and meet with them. But what is the problem? I want to hear the problem that is there.
Minister Francis Kaboneka: Thank you your excellency, as you said you have told us about it many times, we went there to talk with these institutions and he citizens themselves, but the big problem that is still there is about mindset…
President Kagame: Mindset for citizens or leaders? I think you are not good as well.
Kaboneka goes on: It is a problem that we leaders share with citizens. But I think that if we, as leaders change and admit that it is a problem, we can help citizens to leave that. But as they said your excellency the president.
President Kagame interrupts: What are we going to do about mindset. It is not only mindset, but also sight. What kind of mindset and education does that require to understand that people should not live in poor hyigene?
Francis Kaboneka: Your excellency, in some cases someone people realise that they not clean when you show them but they tell you that they did not realise it, we really see that around the country, your excellency.
President Kagame: Poor hygiene in homes, malnutrition, there are even those who die every day as result of malnutrition. How can they tell you that they do not see them?
Francis Kaboneka: Your excellency, there are those that suffer from malnutrition while they have all the necessary requirements…….
President Kagame: What is not clear? Minister of Agriculture, have we run out food? There is not enough food and that is another problem. I will also fight with you, and you know it.
The whole department spends time in fighting among yourselves and do not give us what we should get. We are then going to start a fight with you that it how it is going to be in the end. But what is the problem?
Minister of agriculture Geraldine Mukeshimana: Thank you your excellency, I think the problem is about ownership. How people should get what can be obtained and more. People should have the ownership to see and the courage to solve them.
President Kagame: So, what are we going to do about it? The government of Rwanda is all here in this room. If we have a problem, how about those who expect a lot from us? What will they get from it?
Minister of agriculture: Your excellency, I think if everyone owns up the problem, it will be solved.
President Kagame: How are we going to go about it?
Minister of agriculture: Let us all leave here with everyone aware that it is a problem.
President Kagame: Is there a vaccine or injection that we can use? Minister of Infrastructure, we have problems about infrastructure every day. We talk about it with you, but it fails even what we are capable of doing. Where is the problem?
Minister of infrastructure: Thank you your excellency, as you said it is time for actions and leave words….
President Kagame: But how many years will it take us to leave words? Will we keep on repeating it for fifteen times or years and we still do not understand it? What kind of cowards should we be? And that cowardice has consequences.
We are talking about people, those who die, get stunted. We are talking about Rwanda the country we are uplifting from a pit, where we want people to become themselves again. What kind of time do we need that should take all those years? How does that problem make sense?
Minister of infrastructure: Your excellency, what is clear is that as you have explained it enough, we have all the fundamentals. Even in the past, we used to have the problem of means but nowadays the means are so modest that if people have good working manner we can solve these problems.
President Kagame: Senior officials from the parliament like me, what is your role in asking these other leaders why they do not they do what they must do? What is missing?
Bernard Makuza (Senate President): Thank you your excellency, the problem is really there. What we do in the assembly is that we call ministers to ask them but at the same time exchange ideas on what can be done.
But your excellency, as you have said, for example on this problem of malnutrition or Poor Hygiene, we saw it when we went in the rural areas. And in the previous national retreat we talked about it. We exchanged views with ministers in different ways.
There were also class programs where people with jiggers were treated, fed milk to children but then people seemed to have stopped it, that sustainability.
Another thing your excellency, as we discuss issues openly here, there is lack of telling the truth in local governance institutions because they are aware of those problems but in giving reports, you find out that figures were twisted.
There are tangible achievements as you have said. But the remaining others let us say ‘nyakatsi’ grass thatched houses, we all know that ‘nyakatsi’ were eradicated at a high level, but there are people who were hidden, and are still in ‘nyakatsi’ in different forms.
This is because they were given shelter elsewhere in families and because that program came with a certain way in which all people and institutions follow up in a given time, at the end people went to deal with other issues.
Then those people remained in ‘nyakatsi’. The jiggers were extracted, at sectors, village levels but because of the mindset of the people, they returned to poor hygiene because there is nobody keeping a watchful eye on them.
President Kagame: Why do these issues keep surfacing? Where are we? If those issues come back after one year or more, it is no more the problem of those people only, it is about us all.
Bernard Makuza: That is true your excellency, as you have said we should move the seat from office to citizens in different ways.
President Kagame: But there is another thing which is why I asked leaders from senate and the deputies. There is another thing we skip that has links to the problems we have; accountability.
We are afraid of people, we are afraid of asking them, and we do not want to put people in their places when they do not meet the requirements.
Someone will move his seat from office but when they arrive at the place, they will be the same as those that he or she met there. That is the problem. There is no follow up, no questioning, no accountability for one’s duties.
Yes, you see it, tell them every time, but make another step, that is what I think. That thing of accountability that has to be increased at least. And I said it because you are the ones who are supposed to be helping us, especially for these high institutions.
Bernard Makuza: You are right your excellency. You even gave us that remark in the previous retreat, but when you look at the last six months behind, it is the problem we have taken seriously in the parliament. We are asking ministers, …
President Kagame: But we have not seen any casualties yet…I am still waiting because the consequence is not just talking, there should also be some consequences that we can talk about where you can tell me can’t you see what happened to so and so?
Bernard Makuza: We chose to start from that phase but….
President: I am still waiting…
Donatille Mukabalisa (Speaker of Parliament): Thank you your excellency, what you are saying is true. We call those in charge and ask them. Not only them because when members of the parliament go to the field, they talk with local governance institutions and show them the present problems. People should look at how they can be more organised than they are now.
But we ask ministers and they recognise that there are problems. They mention that there are strategies and willingness to deal with them. We tell them what should be done and that they should show us what has been done, but that problem is still there.
President Kagame: Yes, but you are organised. Because all the things you do, are organised. No one is left behind, as I have understood.
But my problem is still the same. If you ask those ministers, and they answer, but it does not change for five years. And you do not think about using something stronger than you have used in those five years
Donatille Mukabalisa: We are going to change the manner of doing things so that what we do is more productive than now.
President Kagame: You are being late. Because you call them, they respond, so you are organised. That should be giving us the solution by the way. But while they do not give us the solution, people should be thinking about something else that can be done.
Because you cannot do the same things and think that you will get more than what you usually get? You call them for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd 4th and 5th year still the same thing. So there is another problem that must be examined and solved by other ways.
Donatille Mukabalisa: We are going to do it, your excellency.
President Kagame: You are late! By the way, I said there is a lot to be proud of. But what I say is keep and sustain what we have lest we lose them and get destroyed. But the effort must be first applied to what we do not fulfil.
We should be correcting what we do not do well. We already know that it harms us, those diseases and other infections resulting from what I have been saying.
If our children cannot have a good diet, education and they get destructed at birth or at three, there should be a solution. And we have it. Minister of state for health tell us, what is the problem and how can we help you?
Patrick Ndimubanzi (Minister of state in the Ministry of Health in charge of public and primary health): Thank you your excellency, as you said we all have to deal with these issues as a whole. Because a problem cannot be solved by only one sector, we need to complement each other in all things.
Malnutrition goes with poor hygiene and lack of knowledge. We must do all of those things at the same time and as a whole for that change to happen.
Another thing is to sustain them as you have said, because doing one thing is not enough for citizens to get used to them, and become a good tradition.
President Kagame: But years have come and gone. We have no more time.
Esperance Nyirasafari (Minister of Gender and Family promotion): Thank you your excellency, the problem is there, we must change the manner of working as well as the mindset so that we can help people and families to fight against poor hygiene and stunting. So as leaders, we must change to show a good example to the people.
President Kagame: But it has been 15 years now. What more should we do has been impossible in the last 15 years? What remedy should we take?
Esperance Nyirasafari: the remedy is ourselves present here in this room. If we make the problem ours, I believe that….
President Kagame: But it is yours. How can we tie the problems around you? If it takes 15 years or people to understand that the problems are ours, what can we do?
Esperance Nyirasafari: We are late but we have to adjust and leave from the bad working manner we have been using towards working much better.
President Kagame: It is a pity that I am asking you these questions while I say that there is a lot to be proud of. It is a mixture of things. We are making a good step here, but slowing down here. What can we do? Can’t we find remedy among leaders sitting in front of us here?
Minister of State in the Ministry of Local Government in Charge of Social Affairs (Alvera Mukabaramba): For the problem of malnutrition, as you have said, a child should be protected from malnutrition before they are two years old, but there are programs that have been launched to protect a child even when it is born.
There are foods that we give to pregnant women, in the first ubudehe class, and the children from 6 months to 2 years old. The government of Rwanda gives a lot of money because those foods take us Rwf6 billion every year. There is also milk, …
President Kagame: Where do those foods go? The problem is that you may find out that they are eaten by those who already have a lot to eat.
Alvera Mukabaramba: Your excellency, this is where we must put an effort so that those foods reach those that they are destined for.
We also give milk to children and it costs us a lot of money about Rwf3billion every year. Those children that MINISANTE shows as malnourished shown by a red or yellow colour on a graph.
But what I wanted us to put more effort in these Early Childhood Development Centers (ECDs) ‘amarerero’ that we want to set up in every cell, even at every village if that is possible, because if a child goes to that ‘amarerero’ it will solve us many problems.
It will help us solve the problem of poor hygiene. And that milk that we used to get from health centres, children will find them at those ‘amarerero’. It will then help us to know whether everyone got those foods.
President Kagame: It is one of those things then. Because there are many different ways. But that is why I started from mayors. If these things are not put into structures we already have,
Alvera Mukabaramba: That is where we are going to put more effort, your excellency and concerned ministries ‘social clusters’.
President Kagame: Let that effort be made, but there should also be an effort to expose those who do not fulfill their duties. There must be a consequence because it has become too much. Deputy Nkusi what do you think?
Nkusi Juvenal: Thank you your excellency; the problem has been really here for long. It is not new. Every year we make a commitment, but it does not change. It must be a big problem because there is willingness but achievement takes long. I think we should make sure that production alone is sufficient.
Another point is that food has to be cooked. But do citizens have fire wood, water, in order to be able to cook that food? Yes of course ECDs will be there, but in the evening the child will pass the night at home. I think it is a matter of reviewing and relating what we do with those problems so as to get to that solution.
President Kagame: I think it as a matter of looking carefully. I hope that minister Alvera also understands that. ECDs do not replace families. ECDs are just an addition; they cannot not replace the child’s home or deprive it from its parents. It does not exist.
That is an additional effort to help them, but should go back and teach parents what they should be doing. Then ECDs should help those who are not able to put that in practice, or not there for some children because do not have parents but it is not to replace parents.
Things complement each other, if not, and then nothing comes out of them. It is clear that the problem is big and has to change. I will not ask you for commitment because I can see it in you, no doubt about that. What should I ask from you then? But there is something small that escapes from us.
I have been trying to find out and realised that it is about things that do not have any consequences to those who are in charge of them. Things that take a decade and do not have a consequence for those who are in charge of them there is a problem.
That is what I have been able to find out unless you have something to add on that. Things that have no consequence are always a problem.
On one hand, there are some consequences because children who die or get stunted are an example. But I am talking about the consequences for those who are supposed to deal with them with the resources, but do not do it.
Other consequences affect us. In fact, we are not only losing people today, but we are also losing the future. When children are stunted, we lose them. I am not yet satisfied with your contribution. Coming here for 15 years talking about the same thing and repeating it.
How come we are we doing some good things on one side and lose others on another? That is what I am trying to figure out. Louise what do you see in other nations? Can you bring something that can give a solution?
Louise Mushikiwabo (Foreign Affairs Minister): Thank you your excellency, in other nations where things are done in a good way, there is accountability. In our case, I think we are not harsh; we are tender…
President Kagame: You have too much favouritism. Favouritism kills the same way as kwashiorkor. It can also stunt you when you have become very familiar with it.
Louise Mushikiwabo: Elsewhere, failure to fulfill government obligations results in very many negative consequences.
President Kagame: When family relations, brotherhood or favouritism, friendships penetrate in the fulfillment of tasks, the system becomes stunted, it suffers from kwashiorkor. That is how it really works where you find normal people as we have them.
But the level is so high, what we are saying is so high. Numbers are so high. So, we should make an effort and make it ours.
Unless we reduce the number, I do not understand what we are doing. We have talked about it enough, let us find another way to continue those discussions in the next part.
But fifteen years, people repeating the same things, there must be a problem that has to be resolved by all means. Let me conclude.
As for what our country continues to achieve, such as self- reconstruction, there are so many. There is to strive for the existing security so that Rwandans and those who travel to Rwanda understand that security is something they should take for granted.
Rwandans think that security is their right and life. Living at peace with each other. He remainder, you hear about people who want to disturb the security of our country.
If people spend 10, 20 years. And they have no eyes to see that those who wish Rwanda evil cannot succeed, they have a problem but Rwanda continues developing and it gains more means than before while we achieve a lot with those means.
But there should be no delaying or bragging about those things because when it happens, you move backwards. I think we strive to achieve many possible things. Let us find a solution for what has not been possible.
We have been talking about Rwanda, trying to establish industries to manufacture some things that we can use from here with no need to import them from abroad which is expensive.
And if it is possible to make them here, why can’t we make them and let Rwandans get used to the good things we have able to compete with those from abroad? There are numerous things. I hear about leaders because of the trainings and teachings that you receive in building capacity of Rwandans.
I think there are many things that you mention, but let us not get lost in some terminologies. There is a common saying that I hear from everywhere either those from those who come from schools, ministers from drills, or those who have just completed their MBAs talking about the low hanging fruits. But I also find falling fruits.
Why not pick those fruits which in the end fall and get rotten? Shall we only hear those sweet words? Clare from RDB, I don’t see you picking those hanging fruits. I even see avocados falling on the street.
Gatete, what are the low hanging fruits you are picking? They are there, why don’t you pick them? Will we remain in words only, and 10 or 15 years pass teaching people that they should be picking the low hanging fruits?
Let me conclude by reminding that there are some things that should be changed quickly. Whether it is about changing a culture, deeds or people, they should change.
I would like us to talk and take time on some issues but let me end here. I have taken enough time even if I would like to have more.
We will keep on bringing other things forward along the retreat. I thank you and wish you a good retreat but let there be an outcome for things that we are going to do and change instead of just endlessly keep repeating ourselves.