Across a range of political, scientific and medical, public and cultural issues arising from government operations, some politicians have emerged stars of the political moment. It is a sweat moment craved by political figures and they usually respond ‘appropriately’.
These performances of political rhetoric exemplify observation in various studies that rhetorical style is ‘not an invariable way of using language; it is rather a mixture of different ways of using language, a distinct repertoire.’
For the case of Rwanda though, the emerging trend is senior government officials getting to terms with a different style; one where you are better-off keeping away from the media limelight. You will grab the headlines, but very likely later be the headline yourself.
The cases are many.
Until the September 2018 Parliamentary polls, Juvenal Nkusi was a household name. He had been MP for many years, toping the electoral list of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) for every election cycle. In the House, he headed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a noisy but toothless entity of Parliament.
Government officials including Ministers were terrified to appear before the Nkusi-led PAC. He humiliated them, and the media bombarded these scene to audiences for weeks. Nkusi sent officials out of sessions as they appeared to have unsatisfying answers. The political rumor-mill was rife with speculation that Nkusi would very likely become Speaker in next Parliament, the current House.
Nkusi knew how to play to the gallery. But not slowly, Nkusi’s overbearing demeanor became a nightmare. He was accused of using Parliament to promote himself, with no tangible results.
The session believed to have ended Nkusi’s political force came in October 2017. A team of Education Ministry officials had trouble explaining how taxpayer was paying $42 per square meter of space for warehouse storing student laptops, when the market rate was $25.
In his questioning, Nkusi seemed to suggest that some obscure force had influenced the award of this contract. ‘Whose warehouse is it? Is that person too big to be mentioned here,’ he raged. Nkusi said there were mafias causing the unending loss of taxpayers’ money.
Commentary in the corridors of power was that Nkusi had gone too far.
When the parliamentary polls came, Nkusi didn’t appear on the PSD list, for the first time. As a Senator today, he learnt his lesson.
Ex-Prime Minister and immediate-former Ombudsman Anastase Murekezi was another of the political figures who have yet to understand that media headlines are a bad omen.
At the beginning of his tenure in September 2017, Murekezi in his first media briefing said he would tackle corruption “Big fish”. He was attempting to dispel longstanding criticism of the Office of Ombudsman as ineffective and only targeting low-level officials despite billions gone missing as constantly detailed by Auditor General’s reports.
But then for the months that followed, Murekezi went silent. In Speech after speech, President Paul Kagame expressed public frustration that Parliament, Ombudsman, Prosecutor General and the judiciary were not doing enough to control graft.
Murekezi published a database of people who had been convicted of corruption. He followed the list with what emerged as unusually harsh commentary. Murekezi appeared to be pushing back by pointing out that corruption had other levers.
In parliamentary appearance late October last year, Nkusi went on the attack.
“People taking big bribes are not easy to capture. They have money, are powerful, very sophisticated in how they conduct their activities, and have protection networks,” he told MPs.
Barely a month later, Murekezi was replaced.
The Chronicles has widely documented the case of Dr Ntawukuriryayo Jean Damascene.
Dr Ntawukuriryayo perhaps felt, mistakenly, that he was the politician of the time. We have also reported how he claimed in a previous election campaign that Rwanda’s signature program, universal health insurance, was initiated by his Party PSD. That was political suicide.
Wherever Dr Ntawukuriryayo was present, his presence was felt. The media gave him the headlines. A tough-talker by nature, Ntawukuriryayo’s political cards came crumbling down in a slow and painful manner.
The quiet politics the establishment espouses has yet to be understood by all, it seems.
This past week, another of those headline makers stepped out. For past 11 years, there has been a period every year when Obadia Biraro dominated the news media. It was when, as Auditor General, he released his annual review of how government was spending our taxes.
Biraro’s reports were a very uncomfortable reading for many, and embarrassing to say the least. Year-in-year-out, the script was the same; billions lost, unaccounted for, or hundreds of billions worth of projects laying idle.
Biraro’s two-term mandate had come to end, according to official version, reason why a new Auditor General was appointed.
For years, the media couldn’t get enough of his sound bites. Biraro had amassed the public perception of a man looking out for the taxpayer against a bunch of wolves out to steal. He came to appear as though he was alone against everyone else.
Biraro’s replacement has been holding a largely obscure role as Chief Finance Ministry Auditor. He has yet to give any media interview, a sign that he will be working from behind-the-scenes. It can be assured he knows the playbook.
Make no mistake though, the flamboyant use of political power to their advantage is not a MEN thing.
Until June 2015, ruling RPF party lawmaker Connie Bwiza had the final say in the House. For every session, Bwiza had something to say. Everyone listened, often coupling it with nods to affirm to her that she was right no matter. Lawmakers befriended her, a tactic to be in her good books, with the hope she could put in a good word for you before the powers-that-be.
Without warning, it was announced in Parliament that Bwiza was resigning after 15 years in the House. The political gossip was in overdrive; with some suggestions that she was forced out after she apparently opposed the amendment of the 2003 Constitution to allow for President Kagame’s third term.
A week later after Bwiza’s resigning, the RPF released details of her exit. It was revealed she had written letter in support of her husband to US embassy as he sought asylum. The ruling party said she had blackmailed the Party, First Family and the country. Later, Bwiza made a public apology.
What was clear from Bwiza’s departure is that her colleagues celebrated. Some privately accused her of acting for years with sense of entitlement. Not many liked her around. So when she ended up in trouble, her many detractors breathed a sigh of relief. Bwiza Connie was over!
Within a month in early 2018, a man who had established the reputation as The President’s Man, fell in a humiliating departure celebrated by his multitude of enemies. Musoni James, currently envoy to Zimbabwe, was a Super Minister. He seemed to be the guy deployed in troubled departments to fix them. Headlines about Musoni announcing this or that were never to miss in the only daily, and several of the online platforms.
Stories about Musoni’s arrogance are a common discussion in newsrooms, living rooms and any gatherings till to date.
He was so known in Kigali, that when President Kagame made a speech to the annual closed-door Government Retreat harshly condemning ‘bravado conduct’ (kwiremereza) by officials, the political whispers were that he was referring to Musoni.
Kagame said officials who act without humility were the ones not doing a good job.
Two weeks later, following the speech, a mega sex scandal erupted in local media. Musoni was accused of snatching a senior military officer’s wife. Since that news cycle, Musoni has never recovered.
Speaking this Saturday night at Unity Club 25th anniversary celebration, President Kagame again repeated call for humility among officials.
Kagame told the grouping of current and former top government officials with their spouses which is headed by the First Lady Jeannette Kagame, that leaders needed to have humility and identify with the people they lead as opposed to being swayed by praise.
Kagame cautioned leaders against allowing the praises to get to their heads as it can lead to complacency consequently losing sight of goals and targets.
“A leader is a leader because of the people they lead,” Kagame said.
In our next expose, we will tell the stories of very powerful people you never see in the media, or giving speeches. Yet they wield enormous power around here. They survive longest. They tactfully stay out of the limelight.