President Paul Kagame Opens LEADERSHIP RETREAT

I am glad that we have set aside the time for this retreat like to examine our work so that we can develop our country further.  It is a good time to for us to put all our energies together to better ourselves – this should not be taken lightly. Meetings or retreats should not be an end in themselves. We just don’t meet to meet; we meet so that we examine and reexamine ourselves and what we have been doing towards our goals, what we have achieved, what we have not achieved and why. And from that, we make necessary corrective steps.

This past year, we have made a lot of improvements in different areas. We have made good progress but it is also my impression that we could make even more progress, or we could have made more progress.  I keep thinking that we probably do less than we are actually capable of, because we still have some challenges in transitioning from knowing to doing and getting the results. There is a lot of energy and capability in this room, very impressive people, but my impression is we are still falling short in certain areas in getting the required results. I’ll also say that this is not unexpected. It takes time for people to change their ways, to what they are used to. There is always some comfort in wanting to stay where you have been even if it’s not good for you.

What we are struggling with today, which forms the core of our discussion, is improving the lives of our people; getting rid of poverty. By getting rid of poverty, you become more independent, you become more free. You realize more rights that you actually knew in the past.  If you are able to provide for yourself, if you are able to get out of that situation of dependency, you become more fulfilled. And we need that. We need that as fast as we can get it. And I want to say even in a wider context, it’s not just we Rwandans – it is for all of us Africans. It is not right that we Rwandans sit here and expect to always live by other people’s generosity. It is demeaning. Even though I know many are not conscious about it or are even comfortable with it.

It is even more pathetic when it is found within the so-called political and intellectual class. It is common to find leaders detached from those they lead, and that they should be leading out of that situation of dependence. I think there is a lot of selfishness in this. Many in the elite think they have arrived, they feel comfortable as individuals, and forget that they are part of these societies that are lagging behind, societies that are poor and that look to them to make a difference.  I am calling them these leaders but I really mean you.

The first place you find poverty is in the mind, and unfortunately you find it in the minds of leaders. Fighting poverty really means a fight. It’s not about guns, or punching each other. It is a fight of ideas, and how these ideas lead us out of poverty in the practical sense. It is a fight about changing our minds to suit the moment. To suit the future where we are going. It starts with all of us individually but ends with all of us as communities, as societies.

How do we collectively think about our responsibilities in taking ourselves out of poverty and the very actions that we must carry out to be able to achieve this goal?

It cannot be about how many seminars you attend. If it was really an issue of theory or the knowledge we gain from seminars we would be very, very far ahead. But where we are falling short is how we use this knowledge or theory to transform our society. How many seminars do our health workers or officials need to attend in order to fight malnutrition? Don’t these people know what causes malnutrition? Do we need to go to 20 seminars to know how rampant it is in our countries?

Do you have to attend thousands of seminars on the lack of electricity in Rwanda? Do you need to study how bad it is not to have electricity to power our industries, to light our homes and our streets? Parliament, you should be asking these ministers why we don’t have electricity- but you might actually not be aware that we don’t have electricity. What might also be deceiving you is that every minister’s home, including mine, doesn’t lack electricity. But I am not talking about talking about us, I am talking about our citizens. Why don’t our citizens have electricity? We should this question because it has come up several times at past retreats. But I am going to hold myself at fault because think I should have assumed more responsibility. At one point we even discussed that if needed we should cut the budgets of all other sectors and make sure that money to provide us with electricity is found. Are these retreats going to be about the kind of discussion that never materializes into real results?  We need electricity, not stories about electricity. We have had enough of that and I want us to do something about it. We can’t wait any longer.

I am one of those who believe private sector should lead in these investments but unfortunately I have no control over what the private sector does, where they put their money even if it is in their own interested. But I have some degree of control over government money. I’ll do some engineering, like we have done before, use government money in areas where we thought private sector should invest and when it is up and running we sell it back to the private sector. If there is need to do that, we are going to do it. We are going to strike some sort of compromise. I am really not interested in endless debates that do not deliver results that changes peoples’ lives. I am not a journalist, I am not a human rights activist, I combine all those, but above all want something tangible that changes our peoples’ lives.

That is what is important for me, what my life is about, what my struggle is about. Well you can stay here and debate about your misery and stay in your misery. That’s why Africa is where it is. You just imitate those who have developed and are where they want to be, and imitate them so badly that you stay in your poverty as they move ahead. You are made to feel guilty, to demean yourself and you accept it, so actually you get what you deserve. There is no change that is going to take place unless you can stand up to these challenges, unless you are actually confrontational. If the mindset change doesn’t take place fast as it should, you are in real trouble. Change doesn’t come easily; we have to fight for it. The Agaciro I often talk of is about fighting for our integrity and our future. We shouldn’t be living off other taxpayers but pay our own taxes and buying our own food. What lessons do you still have to learn from others that we haven’t learned from our poverty and from losing one million people? Can we commit to freeing ourselves by doing what we are capable of now and building capacity to do tomorrow what we can’t today? Let us move beyond empty catch-phrases and theories and actually do what we have to do to get results.

We are here to exercise our thinking on how we move forward our agenda and our country. We must succeed and we must make good progress. It is not easy but what is easy after all – we should be prepared for things that are not easy.

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