Understanding Rwanda’s unique form of accountability
I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear – Rosa Parks
Most Africans must have read about Rwanda (in one form or the other) and via different and multiple information outlets. For a particular set of Africans, the snippets of news they get to read are via the social media platforms. What you’re reading is not gleaned from some sensational social media platforms or a journalist from somewhere with only a tourist eye and fixed mindset on what he or she would write about. This piece is deeper. This is about some observations which re-echo the community-like mindset in Rwanda. It is a different form of accountability.
In Kinyarwanda (the Rwandan language); collective accountability is called Inshingano zuzuye. As a keen observer, I have noticed examples of this unique form of accountability. It is common to see police officers discussing with passers-by, and most times from the body languages of both individuals, you are certain it is not a criminal case or about a criminal case, but basically asking or discussing about the welfare of the citizen.
Another salient observation which revealed to me how this collective accountability is so deep-rooted was when I visited a government parastatal and I noticed how responsibility trickled down to the final individual. This was a new experience for me; in that, superiors were not within the immediate environment but the efficiency of work done marvelled me. Some examples would be highlighted in this article.
I visited a government establishment and even though I was quite early, the official had not arrived but I was informed about a number on the door (which I dialled), the individual who picked, came out and after my enquiry, I asked ‘if you’re not the person whose name is on the notice on the door; how come you are with the phone’? That was when I learnt about the ’official phone number on the door’ policy. This allows one to call the number and someone would pick. Actually, some days later, I was informed it is for customer service (you can actually call and commend, critique or complain). You find this at all government parastatals.
On that same day, my initial observation was further illuminated when I visited another parastatal and noticed the name and a number on the door. I walked into the office and made my enquires; I couldn’t but ask the individuals in this particular office to explain how the name and number sign worked. To paraphrase the person who spoke; ‘in a nutshell, the head of unit/department has his/her name and official (not personal) number pinned on the door. It is necessary so that if anyone needs to get in touch; it would be possible.
What if you are not in the office? I asked. I was informed that it is either he/she picks the call or the official phone would be with the second in rank, who would hold forth till the leader is back in the office. And I asked, if you are promoted or transferred, would you go with the phone and number? No; I would leave it for the incoming official who would replace me. I found that quite a revelation considering where I am from.
As I write this piece, I asked a Rwandan; a simple question (whose answer in the Nigerian context, I am very aware of). The question went thus; In Rwanda, do ministers leave the office with their official cars? The Rwandan responded thus; Government gives ministers official cars which they pay instalmentally till they have completed payments even if they are no longer in office.
One of the reasons why systems work in Rwanda seem to be because of accountability and systems that actually work. Another example would have to be an electricity supply. For several years, (if not decades); when there is heavy downpour (the drainage system in Kigali is one, African governments who have flooding challenges should look into); it is normal for the power/electricity to be disrupted where I came from (or at best, this was the norm and still the norm.)
So, pardon me when I realised the rains were heavy for some days including on Saturday, 26th of October, 2019 but the power never blinked, the power was not erratic and was not disrupted. It was not the norm (coming from my neck of the woods) and this was not the first time I had experienced such. It has become a regular occurrence. And this observation prompted me to quip to a Rwandan that ‘It rains and the power isn’t disrupted? It rains and the electricity isn’t erratic?’
Now, because the individual had lived in Lagos, Nigeria for a while some years ago, the Rwandan said, ‘we sorted out our power long time ago.’ I had to ask another Rwandan friend; why is there electricity when it rains? So, if the power goes out, someone would get a query? Yes, she revealed; because someone is accountable for ensuring that there must be electricity. And years ago, the Government removed the electricity cables from the ground and placed it up.
After years of coming to Rwanda and always wondering why the landscape is forever evolving; I finally discovered why. Accountability. The same street or building you saw some weeks ago which was under construction, would have morphed into something you didn’t imagine in such a short time (meaning construction workers probably work 24 hours in shifts).
Accountability can also be found in the initiative called Gutera igiti (tree planting). And there is Agaciro Fund (which means dignity) which Rwandans home and abroad; make contributions to.
Succintly put, a different form of accountability that every African country can learn from is being and has been cultivated in Rwanda. You probably would not understand this form of nationalistic accountability until you experience (not pass through) and live it.
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