President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared every first Friday of each month as a “national clean-up day”. To demonstrate his commitment, he made a surprise appearance at Fife Avenue Shopping Centre in the capital, Harare, where he cleaned up shops and areas around the complex.
His lieutenant, Constantino Chiwenga, the Vice President, also took part in the newly adopted clean-up service in Eastlea, Harare, where he told participants that cleanliness should be “a new culture.”
This concept has worked wonders in Rwanda which is seen as the cleanest country in Africa or perhaps in the whole world.
What is clear like day is that President Mnangagwa wants to replicate Rwanda’s Umuganda programme, as the clean-up exercise is known in that country.
Umuganda is not a volunteer project in Rwanda. The police monitor the streets and can stop Rwandans who are not participating and make them clean up on the spot.
“Rwandans who don’t participate in the cleanup can be fined 5 000 francs (nearly US$6), not a small sum when average income is about US$150 a month,” says Amy Yee, a former Financial Times journalist.
In Zimbabwe the new clean-up exercise is a volunteer project in which some senior officials participate with the sole desire of attracting the attention of the President.
Apart from his veneration of Rwanda’s Umuganda programme, President Mnangagwa appears awestruck by the socio economic progress in Rwanda and evidence abound he is eager to copy and paste the best practices from Kigali.
No doubt Rwanda has achieved phenomenal economic growth and political stability since the end of the 1994 genocide which was aimed at decimating the minority Tutsi ethnic group. An estimated one million people died in 100 days of bloodletting.
The rise of Rwanda has been attributed to a strong leadership by President Paul Kagame despite accusations by critics that he is running a brutal dictatorship.
But supporters say Kagame is a disciplinarian whose strong-arm tactics have helped Rwanda to focus on economic development and to achieve political stability.
There are suggestions in some quarters in Harare that Zimbabwe needs to adopt the strongman politics in Rwanda as a way of helping extricate the country from its economic quagmire.
“The question that lingers is: How can Zimbabwe identify and select the ideal firm-hand, benevolent, and autocratic leader that will heal, reform and transform the nation, and lay the foundation for democracy?”, a columnist Makaita Mutasa wrote in the Daily News.
Mutasa points to Kagame as an example of the strong leader who extricated Rwanda from an abyss and transformed it into a model country now being touted as the “Singapore” of Africa.
“Rwanda emerged as a collapsed state from a tragic genocidal war in 1994 and negotiated political stability through a truth and reconciliation process, and has achieved phenomenal economic revival and accelerated development under Paul Kagame,” Mutasa wrote, adding, “Kagame fits the mettle of a benevolent firm-hand autocratic leader with situational, alchemist and transformational qualities.
“He is also repressive and stubborn, and displays an acerbic aversion to fair political play and democracy, more as a way of protecting the country’s hard-won political and social stability. “He is developing strong governance institutions based on accountability, participation and peer review, which can anchor democratisation.”
The question is can the Rwandan model be replicated in Zimbabwe? Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham (UK), says Rwanda’s development model cannot work in Zimbabwe or elsewhere in Africa, adding this is a record that many other leaders can only dream of. He says Kagame’s government is an example of “developmental patrimonialism” which sacrifices democracy for the sake of development.
Cheeseman argues that with a few exceptions such as Chad and Angola, any ruling party cannot aspire to the level of dominance witnessed in Rwanda because the opposition is too strong in countries such as Zimbabwe for this degree of political control to be sustained because it is often rejected by the opposition.
“In Kenya and Zimbabwe, for example, the opposition has consistently won a large share of the legislative and presidential vote,” Cheeseman says.
Harare-based social commentator, Takura Zhangazha is doubtful if the Rwandan model can be successfully applied in Zimbabwe.
Zhangazha told the Business Times that “the Rwandan model with its limitations of human rights and democratic practice would not apply to Zimbabwe’s political and economic context. Not least because the history of the two countries are very dissimilar but more significantly because such models of strongman politics are not progressive, let alone sustainable. In the event that a strongman is removed from office or passes away, the end result is chaos. Ditto Libya.”
Rather, Zhangazha says, President Mnangagwa should continue working towards entrenching democratic values in Zimbabwe.
“Furthermore, Zimbabwe’s limited but now work-in-progress attempts at entrenching democratic values and principles should be pursued with a focus on improvement as opposed to retrogression. Zimbabwe therefore must aim to better its democracy as opposed to compromising it ala carte the Rwandese model,” Zhangazha said, adding:
“Where we attempt to justify political repression in favour of economic development, we would have forgotten Nkrumah’s important dictum, ‘seek ye first the political kingdom and everything else will follow.’ In our contemporary context, the political kingdom would be one that embraces democratic, people-centred and human rights best practices.”
South African based social commentator, Vimbai Gomo, weighs in: “I don’t think the approach will work in Zimbabwe as well as it did in Rwanda. The reason why it works in Rwanda is because the citizens have a common purpose or background and also the fact that the leader came into power to relieve the masses from the bad experiences they faced.”
Cheeseman agrees, pointing out that one advantage that the ruling party in Rwanda has is that it wields economic muscle through its thriving enterprises that dominate economic activity in that country. He says under this system, Kagame and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front’s economic and political dominance has not undermined development because the funds generated through party-owned enterprises have often been reinvested in the economy.
“Less obviously, the use of party-owned enterprises to kickstart business activity places the ruling party at the heart of the economy,” Cheeseman continues. “It also means that when the economy does well, the already dominant Rwandan Patriotic Front is strengthened.”
This has failed in Zimbabwe. The ruling Zanu PF party depends on donations from wellwishers and the state funds it receives through the Political Parties Finance Act.
In Rwanda, the ruling RPF’s campaigns are financed through distributed profits and dividends from its own enterprises and individual-member contributions. This removes the pressure from the RPF to raise political funds by illegitimate means.
The other significant difference between Rwanda and other African countries is discipline. A journalist writing from Kigali says Kagame has been drilling these fundamentals into the heads of the leadership and the general citizenry for close to 20 years now.
“To change the mentality, it did require the president himself to pick up plastic bags along the streets and making those incidences public. In Rwandan DNA, the leader is the boss and he only should instruct,” writes the journalist.
“When we saw the ‘man himself’ getting his hands dirty, we knew the streets had to be cleaned. Make no mistake, this is not a photo opportunity, like many African leaders would do. President Kagame does this on a regular basis. He has done this thousands of times by now.” In Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa has also called for “servant leadership” and has shown his desire to lead from the front. To demonstrate that he means business, he cut short his leave to partake in the clean-up exercise.
“I am a servant President. You the people are the power behind authority. All the people here on the top table draw their power from you,” declared Mnangagwa.
“We are developing a culture of respect, a culture where the leadership should become subservient to the people. Anyone who diverts from that culture, we dismiss them,” he thundered.
Writing from Kigali, Didier Champion says in Rwanda, the old school mentality used to be of “big boss” leadership. “Politicians were considered like the bosses. They would only give commands and they would sit down. When Paul Kagame was elected president in 2003, he started to change that mentality a little bit,” Champion says.
Dayo Ntwari, a Rwandan-Nigerian screenwriter, says Africa should embrace the Rwandan model. “The Rwandan Model is helming the African Union. All the hatred and lies thrown at Kagame and Rwanda have apparently not distracted or dissuaded our African brethren from believing in us,” Ntwari says, adding:
“It has not deterred them from wanting a piece of the Rwandan Model for themselves. And what is this Rwandan Model anyway? In a nutshell, self-determination. A farewell to dependency on Western donor aid by embarking on a national journey to self-determination. We don’t need any Cheeseman or any other ‘Professor of Democracy’ to lecture us on what ‘democracy according to the West’ is and how it will surely lead to our salvation.”