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Kagame’s stance on corruption – Part 1

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Rwandan President Paul Kagame / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

I am very glad to be back in Abuja.

Before I start, I want to congratulate the previous speaker, and I hope you don’t expect as good a performance from me, but I will give you something different.

I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for the kind invitation to join you at this important summit.
And I wish to start by calling to mind the greatness of this nation.

The diversity, creativity, and ambition of Nigerians represent Africa. The achievements of Nigeria’s sons and daughters, here at home and in your global diaspora, make our continent proud.

Nigeria has always shown common cause with Africa’s progress and prosperity, and this does not go unnoticed. This country is truly the engine of Africa’s potential.

This is how we see Nigeria. I hope you know that.

We stand in solidarity with your efforts to build on all the assets with which this country has been blessed, and we are invested in your success.

I am aware that the summit’s theme focuses on curbing electoral spending and I look forward to hearing from the experts on strategies for eliminating this form of corruption.

However, in order to succeed in the ultimate goal, we have to keep the broader context in mind.

That is why I suggest we reframe the fight against corruption in positive terms: As a struggle for transparency, public integrity and accountability.

On this note, there is one of your own who wrote a book titled “The Fight against Corruption is Dangerous”. She gave me the book when we met, somewhere in the United States. And as I was looking at the title, I reminded her: “you know, you need to be writing another book, to state that ‘Not Fighting Corruption is even more Dangerous’.

So, this is a campaign that can be won. Tolerating corruption is a choice, not an inevitability. It is within our power to end it.

That is the most important starting point. Otherwise, it would be a waste of time for us to keep talking about it.

The primary responsibility to act lies with leaders at every level. Where corruption has become the norm, a way of life, it is because leaders have made it that way, made it acceptable.

We tend to focus on the petty corruption of everyday life while turning a blind eye to the more consequential forms, that people only whisper about because the rich and powerful are the main beneficiaries.

Here, let me again tell you another story.

I was travelling and my plane made a stopover in one of the countries in Africa, to refuel. I walked around outside, not far from the plane and there happened to be a policeman, who approached me and pointed to my chest, asking me for something, I didn’t understand what he was saying, he wasn’t speaking English.

I was dressed casually so maybe he hadn’t even recognised who I was. I had not realised that I had a pen in my pocket, so I pulled it out and asked if that was what he wanted and he said yes. Then I told him to wait, I had understood what he wanted, he was a carrying a gun as well…

So I went back to the plane and the pilot gave me a ten dollar bill, which I gave to the policeman, together with the pen he wanted. He was very grateful.

But this left something in my mind, and when I went home, during a cabinet meeting I told them the story. Since we have a mission to carry out against corruption, there are things I saw in this: a policeman on duty begging for little things. I told them maybe that was even happening in our own country. That would mean that maybe we are making too many demands on these policemen, we’re not paying them well, they are literally impoverished and they have to keep going around begging, and maybe, later on, they will use that gun.

I said why don’t we find all possible ways, we don’t have so much, but we can share the little we have, so that even the policeman feels that they are being taken care of and that they are getting little because there is so little across in the country, but not because others are getting a lot. So we have to create some balance.
In a way, it was to inform ourselves of the complexity of the efforts we have to carry out, and the multifaceted problem we have to deal with.

In other words, corruption needs to be tackled from the top down.
This is not only the fairest approach, it is also the most effective because it empowers the public to join the
fight and hold leaders accountable, through elections and other means.

In that way, corruption can definitely be reduced to the minimum possible, and that makes a tremendous difference.

However, it also takes careful organisation and messaging to make this practice widespread.
Overcoming corruption is really about four key principles, in my opinion: Culture, responsibility, accountability, and effectiveness.

We must discard the myth that corruption is endemic to particular cultures. Corruption is a universal weakness, not an African one, and it is not part of our destiny as a continent.
Indeed, research has shown that some of the biggest sources and beneficiaries of corruption are outside Africa, and this has always been the case.

When somebody gives you addictive drugs with one hand and offers the cure with the other, it is not altruism, but a form of control that encourages passivity.

In the absence of a politics that values individual integrity, even well-established institutions are not enough to deter wrongdoing, as has been demonstrated by repeated scandals in advanced economies at the top of international transparency rankings.

That is why it is past time to redefine transparency as a global objective that requires us all to work together with mutual respect.

Corruption does not take decades to eradicate. Huge gains can be made relatively quickly, once we decide to break the habit.

That brings me to responsibility. This principle is inherent to our respective cultures in Africa. We are in charge of our own future.

The purpose of transparency is not to impress others, but rather to make our own societies better because that is what our people expect.

The third and fourth foundation stones are accountability and effectiveness.

Without transparency, it is impossible to earn and keep the trust of the people.

And without trust, we will not be able to effectively use national wealth to make measurable improvements to the well-being of citizens.

President Kagame of Rwanda made these remarks at the National Democracy Day Anti-Corruption Summit in Abuja.


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