One day President Paul Kagame was travelling and after several hours in-flight, his plane made a temporal stop-over in an African country he didn’t mention.
As the plane refueled, Kagame walked outside to stretch up and he noticed there was a policeman patrolling around the airport ground.
“This policeman walked towards me pointing at my chest and was seemingly asking me for something. I asked him what he wanted – he didn’t understand English but he kept pointing at my chest,” Kagame remembered.
Kagame said he hadn’t noticed that he was carrying a pen in his shirt pocket. He pulled it out and asked the Policeman whether it is what he wanted and the policeman nodded in affirmative.
The Policeman was carrying a gun; Kagame went back to the plane and asked his pilot whether anyone on-board had some cash on them. “The Pilot gave me a $10 bill then walked back to the tarmac and gave the policeman both the $10 and the pen.”
“This Policeman was so grateful but am glad he didn’t know who I was because I was in my jeans, normal shirt and stretching around my plane,” Kagame said.
President Kagame was on Tuesday speaking at the Anti-Corruption Summit in Abuja, Nigeria- He shared his personal experience and encounter with the multifaceted problem of corruption.
The theme of the summit was ‘Curbing Electoral Spending: A panacea to Public Corruption’. This summit was organized by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
According to Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by Transparency International, Nigeria ranks among the most corrupt countries- it is the 144 least corrupt nations out of 175 countries while Rwanda is ranked the 48th.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to fight against all forms of corruption in his country. Thus the invitation of President Kagame who has insisted on zero tolerance to corruption in Rwanda would amplify Buhari’s efforts against graft.
Experts at the summit deliberated on strategies that would help Nigeria eliminate electoral corruption (Vote-Buying) which is viewed as the worst form of corruption as it undermines the will of the people and invests power in illegitimate hands.
“I suggest we reframe the fight against corruption in positive terms as a struggle for transparency, public integrity and accountability,” Kagame said, adding that not fighting corruption is even more dangerous.
According to Kagame the campaign against corruption can be won; “Tolerating corruption is a choice not inevitability. It is within our power to end it.”
He said the responsibility of fighting corruption lies within leaders at every level; “We tend to focus on petty corruption while turning a blind eye to the more consequential forms that only people whisper about because the rich and powerful are the main beneficiaries.”
Corruption needs to be tackled from the top –down. This is the most effective method because it empowers the public to join the fight and hold leaders accountable through elections and other means. In this way corruption can be significantly reduced.
It requires careful organization and messaging to make this practice widespread.
In Kagame’s perspective, overcoming corruption is about four key principles; culture, responsibility, accountability and effectiveness- we must discard the myth that corruption is endemic to particular cultures. It is a universal weakness and not an African one.
When President Kagame returned from his trip, he shared the pen story to his cabinet and said, “Since we have a mission to carry out against corruption. There are things I see in a policeman on duty and then begging for every little thing. Maybe it is also happening in Rwanda.”
This Policeman scenario triggered Kagame to think that maybe his government was making too many demands on police.
“We could be not paying them well and they could use the gun to get what they want. Why don’t we find possible ways to share equitably the little we have so that even the Policeman feels they are taken care of,” Kagame explained.
Kagame’s team has since realized that fighting corruption has a huge political cost; “Officials who did not live up to the agreed standards were dismissed or brought to justice. Others fled to exile and pretended to be so called opposition or Pro-democracy groups.”
Sharing his complex encounter with corruption in the first government after the 1994 genocide, Kagame says the first Foreign Affairs Minister connived with prime minister and was given cash hundreds of dollars to go abroad and re-open embassies or open new embassies- this guy never came back yet he had been in office for a few months.
“Today this man is one of the main opposition leaders living in France and he is claiming to fight for democracy. Where he is hosted they believe him and is not the only one.”
A couple of years later the Prime Minister that connived with this fugitive Foreign Affairs minister also agreed then with president of the transition government and was given another bunch of money to go and buy Mercedes Benz cars for cabinet Ministers.
“When I learnt about this, I went to my president and told him that we are making a mistake. We shouldn’t be buying Mercedes Benz cars for ministers. We need to build institutions first. I told the President this is wrong.”