In some countries, so it emerged yesterday, that nobody is immune from being a victim of corruption even if you are president─as Rwanda’s Head of State found out at an African Airport.
Speaking at a major forum in Nigeria yesterday, President Paul Kagame told an audience, including his host President Muhammadu Buhari of his personal encounter with corruption.
Kagame was invited as guest speaker at Nigeria’s National Democracy Day and Anti-Corruption Summit, June 11 in Abuja.
Though Kagame did not categorically say so, that airport experience may have influenced a decision to double the salaries of Rwanda’s cops in January 2016.
Kagame narrated his story like this: “One time, I was travelling and made a stop at one African airport. While refueling I walked around to stretch and there happened to be policemen and one approached me asking for something”
“He kept pointing to my chest and I didn’t realise I had a pen in my pocket. When I showed it to him he confirmed that is what he wanted. I understood what he wanted. I went back in to ask if anyone had money and gave the policeman money plus the pen.”
“I told my cabinet members the story and reminded them that the policeman’s story meant that maybe we are making too many demands on this policeman.”
“We are not paying the policemen well and they have to keep going around begging and later on if you don’t give him the money he may use his gun to hurt you.”
“Even though as a country we don’t have much, we can share the little resources we have equitably so that even the policeman feels like they are being taken care of.”
“This was to inform ourselves of the complexities we have to carry out and the multifaceted issues we have to deal with.”
President Kagame summed his narration saying: “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”.
It remains unclear at this point if the sudden increase of salaries of the National Police more than three years ago was informed by Kagame’s direct encounter with corruption through an airport police officer.
On January 18, 2016, a gazette notice was issued following a Presidential directive to review the salaries of all police officers from the lowest cop to the Inspector General of Police (IGP).
The development more than doubled the salaries of every officer regardless of rank, which had been set years back.
For example, a Police Constable’s gross pay rose from Rwf 36,450 ($40 in today rates) to Rwf 70,799.
With the previous salary, the police were actually paid less than primary school teachers – who are the least paid.
The top police officer’s salary jumped from Rwf 1.59m up to nearly Rwf 2.4m.
Before this salary increase, the IGP was getting peanuts compared to officials of the same calibre in other offices.
At the Nigeria forum, Kagame also made rare public attack on the policies of former President Pasteur Bizimungu, which he has not done in years.
Bizimungu was nominated as president of the transitional government following the defeat of the genocidal regime in 1994. At the time, Kagame became vice president and defence minister. Both were from the same party, RPF.
In early 2000, Bizimungu was forced to resign and Kagame was elected by Parliament to replace him.
A series of events led to Bizimungu’s arrest and conviction in 2004 for more than 15 years for divisionism, inciting violence and embezzlement.
He was eventually pardoned by Kagame in 2007. Since then, Kagame has avoided spoking about him; until now.
In his Nigeria speech, Kagame cited a major disagreement he had with “the then President” in 1998 where Bizimungu apparently decided to buy Mercedes Benz vehicles for ministers even when some didn’t have even offices.
“I told the President this was wrong. We cannot afford to prioritize this type of thing. First of all, our first priority shouldn’t be buying Mercedes for our ministers. This is 1998, four years after Genocide,” said Kagame to his audience.
“We are trying to build institutions and the first thing that came to mind is to buy Mercedes for Ministers who have no offices or furniture.”
Kagame added: “I told the then President that we cannot afford to prioritize this type of thing and we cannot give money to someone else. We can’t keep doing that unless we are to be doomed to never leave the transition.”
Citing the case of former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, Kagame said his fight against corruption has turned him into being called “authoritarian”.
Twagiramungu, according to Kagame, “connived” with foreign Minister Jean Marie Vianney Ndagijimana to steal $200,000 which was meant to open a new embassy in New York. Once he had left with the cash, the Minister disappeared.
This case has been widely reported over the years, and Ndagijimana refuses to speak about it. However, the involvement of Twagiramungu is only becoming known now.
Kagame also spoke about the cost of his fight against corruption at home. He stated: “We quickly found out that fighting corruption has a huge political cost. Officials who did not live up to the agreed standards were dismissed or brought to justice. Others fled into exile and pretended to be so-called “opposition” or ‘pro-democracy’ groups.”
“Today [Ndagijimana] is one of the opposition leaders living in France and people accept [that] he is fighting for democracy. A couple of years later, the same PM (Twagiramungu) agreed with the then President to go and buy vehicles; Mercedes Benz, for cabinet ministers. He had to carry cash.”
Today, Ndagijimana lives in France and Twagiramungu is based in Belgium. Both are vocal Kagame critics.