Since Monday this week, at least 16 top local government officials, particularly mayors and their deputies from 9 of the 30 districts countrywide have “resigned” or been sacked, and unnamed sources in government told the media that more are expected to follow suit.
Of course, the “resignations” of mayors and other local leaders isn’t new nor is it surprising.
What surprised this time is twofold: first, unlike in the past, departing officials didn’t offer “personal reasons” as the motive for quitting as has been the “culture” in the past. Instead, they claimed to have “failed to meet expectations” or “steer the district forward”, as the Karongi mayor told the media.
This sudden self-blame─up-from ‘resigning for personal reasons’ just a few months back is perplexing. What’s even more surprising is the coincidence of resignation en-masse and suddenly, all officials falling from grace, abandoning “resigning for personal reasons” and taking responsibility for failure.
Interestingly, the reasons given by officials for resigning coincide with the reasons provided by Local Government Minister, Prof Anastase Shyaka to justify these departures.
On Tuesday, September 3, Shyaka told his followers on Twitter: “Some local leaders are being dismissed by Districts’ Councils or (are requesting Councils) to accept their resignation as per the law. Accountability deficits, failure to respond to citizens’ needs and inefficiency in delivery are the underlying causes”.
Contextually however, since the country has 30 districts with at least 90 elected mayors and deputy mayors, three-quarters of these have “resigned” or been sacked. This can’t be a small matter or inconsequential for the country’s democratization experiment and development.
That all these officials can make 100% U-turn and provide ‘failure to deliver’ as the motive for packing their bags, and leaving the summit of power in districts, is suggestive of bigger powers behind the steering wheel.
That many officials can resign their relatively juicy jobs in a country with high unemployment and rising cost of living, tells us that more is at play than the explanations that have been offered thus far.
Remember, this en-masse resignations came about three weeks after President Paul Kagamed issued a statement cancelling the signing of the 2019/2020 Imihigo (performance contracts) event at the national level in which, after the statement, the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Dr. Uzziel Ndagijimana told journalists at a press conference that the postponement was aimed at improving targets and “include indicators related to improving housing and hygiene for citizens”.
In other words, these resignations are directly connected to the larger development policy steered by the President.
In fact, even Prof Shyaka acknowledged as much when he told his Twitter followers following resignations that: “2019 is the last year of delivering on Vision2020 and towards midway to the first phase of National Strategy for Transformation (NST1) delivery in 2024. Every day counts! All districts are eager to have the most effective and conducive leadership to spur rapid local transformation and wellbeing of citizens”.
And as The Chronicles reported on August 6, a report by Never Again that studied how Imihigo (performance contracts) are implemented, discovered that “urgent priorit[ies] change all the time”, and that affects how district officials operate and pursue their goals.
To clarify, a counselor from Kayonza is cited in this report as saying: “… local government receives many urgent orders with requests for immediate implementation from central agencies” and “Everything has become urgent and this is happening in every field”.
In other words, there might be incompetence or corruption here and there, but clearly, there is also enormous pressure on local leaders from multiples sources to deliver on multiple fronts; with a limited budget and, sometimes, on short notice.
That makes the mayoral office countrywide one of the hottest seats that some on social media are calling the resignations as “Tour du Rwanda”!
Now, what most people are asking is whether these “Resignations” and sackings demonstrate that “local democracy” and decentralization is working or ailing.
Legally, these resignations demonstrate that the way democratizing ‘local government’ is designed to work is the way it’s working.
That’s, legally, as Article 2 of the 2003 as amended to date on suffrage and as the 2010 electoral affirms, these resignations are done in accordance with the law.
Article 2, paragraph 3 of the Constitution states that: “Suffrage is direct or indirect and secret, unless this Constitution or any other law provides otherwise” while the 2010 Electoral law under which these mayors and their deputies were elected says they are indirectly elected by an electoral college of district counsellors; who also have the power to remove them through a vote of no confidence.
As Article 126 of the electoral law states: “’In case an elected leader at local levels cannot fulfil his or her duties due to any reason, he or she is replaced through elections organised in a three-month (3) period following suspension of his or her duties. However, if the remaining period to complete the term of office is six (6) months, the elections shall not be conducted. The Minister in charge of local government shall communicate to the National Electoral Commission all positions to be occupied in thirty (30) days from the date the elected leader left office”.
Following these resignations, election of new leaders should follow and, thus far, everything is done according to the law.
And unlike some who think political contestations between the ruling party and “opposition” parties might be behind these resignations or sackings, Article 125 of the electoral law says: “For candidates campaigning for leadership at local level, it is not allowed to campaign on the basis of a political organization”.
In other words, occupants of elective positions at local levels, including mayors, are supposed to be elected on individual “merit” and on the basis of their competencies.
In reality though, there is no doubt that mayors and their deputies in all districts have the blessing of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) which is the only party with offices right from the village (cell) to the national level – also with eyes everywhere to recruit best candidates for this or that position.
Correspondingly then, it would be illusory to think the RPF isn’t behind these resignations or sackings since it’s the engine steering the country’s development.
If that’s true, these resignations tell us less about “democratization from below” and more about how “top-down modernization and local transformation” engineered from above is supposed to work.
Yes, it’s an experiment at “managed” democracy from Kigali, but these resignations tell us more about the post-genocide development spirit that says: “We aren’t a ‘small poor country’ that can’t develop! We have big ideas. We can and shall develop regardless of the obstacles”.
This also tell us that, as I have argued before, top leaders believe in the “civilizing role of government” and human agency to change unwanted local conditions. In that sense, top leaders are the change agents; and local leaders implementers of their vision.
Whether this managed democratization and development from above delivers the middle income and knowledge economy embedded in Vision 2020 and now 2050, time will tell.