This article is inspired by a resent rebuke by President Paul Kagame on the culture of mediocrity (and entitlement) in his talk to close Umwiherero in Gabiro on Thursday.
Most public reaction to this talk was on the protocol that is abused by leaders in their self-aggrandizement. But that was only part of the broader talk on the culture that drives such conduct: a culture that preoccupies itself with the trivial.
Institutions must either embrace a culture of excellence, integrity, professionalism or a culture of mediocrity, dishonesty, and intrigue. The president wishes to promote a culture that rewards the former and penalizes the latter.
How do we change the script? Clearly every culture is driven by incentives that punish unwanted conduct and reward the desired behavior. So what are the incentives that have driven this culture that we wish to replace? Who is going to resist the change and why?
It’s clearly those who have been benefiting from the old culture that will resist the change to a new culture. In other words, a system of enforcement to drive the new culture is essential. But what kind of mechanism?
Subordinates probably see the undesired behavior but fear to report because their superiors may retaliate. They choose to remain silent as accomplices by concealing the wrongdoings in order to enjoy the rewards of silence (positive performance evaluation, promotion, etc.).
In turn it drives ntibinturukeho! When widespread, this outcome is the culture of mediocrity that is underpinned by negative solidarity. And so, the first place is to fight this negative solidarity if the new desired culture is to take root.
We have two kinds of attitudes responsible for the culture we see. Those who will do anything to ensure that the mediocre are not punished and those who seek to practice the culture that the president wishes to see drive public institutions. We know which side most of us are.
How do we, then, promote a culture that rewards excellence, honesty, integrity, and professionalism and holds accountable (punishes) its opposite that rewards mediocrity, intrigue, and mendacity? Excellence & mediocrity both reward and punish. The cultures are in competition.
Given that mediocrity always fights back, how does the system protect a person who reports such unbecoming conduct from being rendered a casualty in the process in order to encourage more people to be part of the solution instead of being active accomplices in the malfeasance.
The President said there are people who want to change things, to do right, persons of integrity. But they find that there are no mechanisms to protect them and called upon the system to protect such people. This is where the rubber meets the road, if the change is to happen.
How to achieve this is the question: how will the system identify such people and protect them? Does protection mean holding whoever is a threat to them accountable? Or, generally, how will the system systematically reward & punish drivers of these competing cultures?
Does the President need to create a team that reports only to him to help drive this new culture, a team is not directly connected to the institution that is being assessed and in possession of the moral courage to report findings exactly the way they are without interference?
A few individuals who report misconduct here and there might not immediately deliver the envisioned change. But protecting them is surely essential in developing the critical mass needed for the new institutional culture that the President seeks to promote to gradually manifest.
Given the sense of urgency we have been encouraged to embrace, do we even have a choice? It’s a risky preposition and there is likely to be resistance. But not more risky and costly than letting things remain as they are. Fight mediocrity. But beware that it’s gonna fight back.
Editor’s note: With Lonzen Rugira’s permission, this article was generated from his thread on twitter. The views expressed in this article are his and do not necessarily represent those of Taarifa.