11 September 2017

Rwanda's Young Cabinet of Technocrats


A few weeks ago this town was pregnant with expectations. Just like any experiences of being expectant, Kigali was jittery. Speculations were about in the media and in WhatsApp groups about what was an impending cabinet list: who was in and who was out; there was certainty that young people would be selected and what that would signal about the coming years and the future of the country.

Soon after, these expectations were delivered upon and some proved true. For one thing, many new faces were brought on board. For another, the cabinet got much younger with the average age said to have shifted from the 50s to the 40s. Moreover, at 44, the Prime Minister, Mr. Edouard Ngirente must be among the youngest at his position in the history of the republic. For sure we know that he is more than 10 years younger than his predecessor, Mr. Anastase Murekezi. Similarly, Mr. Jado Uwihanganye, at 30 years young, must be among the youngest ministers in the history of the republic.

On the surface, therefore, there was a strong signal that a transition is before our eyes, the old guards are giving way to their more youthful compatriots. A closer glance, however, shows some other stronger consideration was at play.

It is not enough to be young. Youth is not a qualification. And as trendy as it may be, especially around Africa, its romanticisation cannot be a sufficient basis for one to be assigned serious responsibility let alone to become Cabinet Minister. Not in Rwanda; Rwanda means business. It is not about to disregard the adage that youth is wasted on the young. Moreover, the president is not known to do things simply because they are fashionable. So, what else was considered?

It is this: science. Since 2000 Rwanda has been building a scientific state. By this I mean a methodical approach to statecraft: Whether it is the national vision or other strategies; or how institutions are organised is within set parameters and are designed to operate methodically.

Science means predictability. Predictability explains why Rwanda has excelled in public service delivery, especially when compared with countries in similar socioeconomic circumstances. Science brings efficiency. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Rwanda is among the most efficiently managed states in the world - the most efficient in Africa - in the same class with countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia with average per capita income that is more than 50 times that of Rwanda.

When one considers the factors responsible for the success of these countries the aim for building a scientific state becomes obvious. They were able to master a methodical approach to state management around which a resilient economy that delivered their people from poverty in record time was erected.

But for Rwanda, something essential was always missing: scientists. I mean scientists in the sense that they possess, or lack, the skills necessary in order to operate in the scientific state; it is what we have over the years termed the problem of capacity.

Under normal circumstances, the university is the factory that feeds the capacity needs of a nation. Moreover, the relationship between the scientific state and the university is as symbiotic as that found in factories where production is adversely affected and the assembly-line shutdown in the event that, for instance, a conveyor-belt malfunctions.

Unlike those countries, Rwanda built a scientific state without scientists. But this did not stop those who crafted the state to pursue the vision; it was some audacity to build a scientific state knowing that there were no scientists to operate it. Possibly relying on yet another adage: Build it, they will come.

But at every single moment there were just enough scientists to do the necessary work of laying the foundation for such a state. However, the thinking must have been that at some point scientists would emerge to beef up the skeleton that was being crafted all along.

Moreover, as they worked to fix the natural conveyor-belt that is education, they would also train some people in the basic methods of science: capacity building. They created an institution for this purpose and named it the National Capacity Building Secretariat and later renamed it the Capacity Development and Employment Services Board to train people in different sectors within the scientific state.

Substance of youthfulness

Another adage to do with the youth is that they [the youth] 'are who we have been waiting for.' In Rwanda's context, the substance of youthfulness is such that they are called upon to be scientists in the scientific state that they are being bequeathed.

A generation placed faith in, and prepared for, those that would come after it. It is now calling upon the youth to express its youthfulness in innovation and in adding different dimensions of service delivery and efficient state management; youthfulness also means to shed-off the conservatism that gradually creeps into the scientific state. And if the generation that crafted the scientific state could deliver as much as it has, imagine how much more can be delivered now that the scientific state has scientists?

When one says it is a young cabinet of technocrats, this scientific shift is what they mean. It is who the country has been waiting for in order to make the leap that it has shown signs of being capable of making. It explains the choice of this PM. Most importantly, it means that accelerated development is expected of them and that they must operate with the requisite sense of urgency.

It's a youthful cabinet. But not in the romantic sense.


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