For almost everything that does not go well in Rwanda – be it low production, poor service delivery, dependency or even poor reading culture – the excuse, and blame, has been one: a lament about mindset.
And the remedy has also been one: change of mindset.
We need not lament any more. The change in mindset is beginning to happen – at least that is the evidence one gets from President Paul Kagame’s visits upcountry and meetings with citizens.
Anyone who has been at any of these events knows they have a sort of carnival atmosphere. For the most part, they are characterised by song and dance, in what is called “morale” before the president arrives.
Now, there are several reasons for this “morale”. One is to keep the people who gather at these events very early occupied and entertained, put them in the mood of the event, so to speak, and keep away boredom and the pangs of hunger.
The other, and more significant one, is to instil in the people the national ethos of hard work, individual and collective dignity, progress, defending the national interest and many more. It is to facilitate and even celebrate that change of mindset.
This second reason for morale-boosting songs at public events is beginning to bear fruit. The songs project an image of Rwandans as actors in the change taking place in the country. In the past they would have been shown as helpless, passive victims of circumstances. The songs are a call to action for change.
And not surprisingly, the motif that runs through all of them is one of Rwandans acting upon their environment to change it for the better. The most famous song is a statement of ambitious intent. It speaks of the sons and daughters of Rwanda building the country and, through their own efforts, turning it into paradise. Some are about winning every form of contest. They are a collective vow to conquer every adversity, overcome all challenges and create a new reality. Yet others are a categorical rejection of dependency and instead talk about building self-reliance.
Overall, the impact of “morale” at public events is to boost the sense of dignity and confidence Rwandans increasingly feel as the principal actors in the story of their country.
The can-do attitude expressed in the songs has now extended to local government officials at the president’s upcountry visits. Everyone who stands up to speak lists impressive achievements and tells of ambitious plans for the future. Even when challenges are mentioned, it is only to highlight the solutions that have been identified. Gone is the litany of woes and pleas for help that used to characterise such speeches.
You might say that this is to be expected, that the officials want to portray themselves as being on top of things in order to catch the eye of the chief executive and perhaps earn a promotion. Or, at the very least, keep their jobs for much longer. That may happen elsewhere, not in Rwanda.
No quarter is given to anyone who fiddles with truth. The risk of being exposed by citizens or through periodic audits and evaluation and the attendant costs are too high for any official to think of embellishing the reality. In any case such attempts are unthinkable in a country where appraisal of performance is based on evidence.
The now customary question and answer sessions between citizens and their president have also changed. There are more testimonies of people who, by dint of hard work, have become reasonably prosperous than appeals for help to get out of poverty. Equally, there are fewer questions about injustice and high handedness of local officials.
Again you may say that these sessions are stage-managed and that only those stories that back the officials’ claim to efficiency are permitted and critical ones silenced. That may be so. But it would not invalidate the existence of stories which illustrate the impact of Rwandans-driven change.
This change in mindset is an example of what is quickly emerging as a national ethic – the search for solutions to whatever the challenge and the seizure of every available opportunity for self and collective advancement. Indeed President Kagame has on many occasions urged Rwandans to put questions behind and bring solutions to the fore.
His message has always been about work and actions that bring about change in the lives of the citizens. It has been about results, benefits and profit from that work, and the dignity that comes from self-sufficiency.
That message has taken hold around the country and the proof is in the change of mindset that is increasingly becoming evident.