Pierre Nkurunziza: the man of ironies could learn something from Yoweri Museveni

Nkurunziza from Afrik.com

BURUNDI’S Pierre Nkurunziza is a man of ironies.
His political party is called the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, but he is right now caught in the headlights of accusations that his election to a third term of office is most undemocratic – even though Burundi’s Constitutional Court ruled that he was within his legal rights to stand for another term.
Before being appointed President he was even Minister for Good Governance in the transitional government there, but today his adherence to governance principles is being held questionable.
For a sports enthusiast who normally shows up on public kitted out in colourful track suits and who’s a common figure on public soccer pitches playing footie, it was weird last year to hear that Nkurunziza had banned jogging because of security risks associated to the exercise.
Indeed, after the announcement, opposition members from the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) were jailed for jogging, as their run had reportedly turned into a political demonstration.
And the chatter in Kampala when it was announced that the mediation over Nkurunziza’s third term deadlock would be run by Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, was that it most most ironic because of the number of terms Museveni himself has served as President.
For Museveni, though, Burundi presents more nostalgia than irony, and as he arrived in Bujumbura for the talks, he might have either felt a small twinge of it or triggered some in Burundians.
The nostalgia of the Barundi must lie in the number of Presidents they’ve received at Bujumbura airport since the mid-90s to mediate in political conflict there. Counting from the top, they’ve hosted Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (all more than once).
Museveni’s own nostalgia, on the other hand, is not over the political battle he faced when he stood for the Presidency in 2006 and in 2011, as all indications are that he will be on the ballot paper again in Uganda come 2016.
Instead, it must be linked to the number of times he has been at the helm of mediations for peace in Burundi – which goes back about twenty years when, at the behest of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Museveni got Burundi’s Sylvestre Ntibantunganya to reach a settlement with his opposition that settled tensions for a few weeks before it fell apart again.
In the years following that, Museveni featured starkly in the negotiations, pushing a hard line that eventually swept away the more radical players accused of genodical tendencies, and those labelled coup plotters.
Back then the Tanzanians took lead in managing the peace process mostly because they found themselves hosting heavy flows of refugees that had crossed the border, as well as funding a large deployment of Tanzanian military personnel to secure said borders so the violence didn’t follow the refugees.
Museveni, though, always at Nyerere’s side in the mediation continuously spoke of the need for Burundi to be settled in order for regional cooperation to become a reality, since Rwanda had been sorted out – cutting his teeth further as a regional leader.
The opportunity was the first in which African leaders took full charge of resolving a conflict on the continent, which also gave Museveni a further boost to his anti-imperial ideologies.
Since then, he has been central in conflict resolution in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Somalia and now, again, in Burundi.
This time round, though, the concerns Museveni faces are much greater in number and scope.
To start with, the reasons for the conflict in Burundi are too close to home – just months to national elections in Uganda, political upheaval over a tussle for the presidency is the last thing Museveni and many other Ugandans  would want to see, after all these years of relative calm.
The closest to civil upheaval Uganda has seen in the capital city came in 2011 after the national elections, when opposition politicians launched a volley of demonstrations veiled as attempts to “walk to work” because, they argued, economic conditions were so bad they couldn’t afford fuel. Ironically, like Nkurunziza, the protests threatened to make the economy worse by paralysing business in the city centre.
The government clamped down hard on the “walks”, deploying squads of anti-riot police with water cannons and tear gas canisters, while frequently jailing demonstration leaders. The message was clear – the sight of demonstrators on the streets was unwelcome, especially so soon after North Africa had hosted so many to the detriment of the countries themselves.
When Nkurunziza left Burundi in May for crisis talks in Tanzania demonstrations broke out on Bujumbura’s streets leading to the attempted coup or coup announcement.
The glee with which the opposition in Uganda received the news of his toppling was worrying enough for any sitting President to be concerned.
Allowing any opposition leaders or groups of youths to casually exhibit a sustained defiance to leadership would be highly problematic for Uganda, where the population of the youth is a sometimes scary 70%.
If Nkurunziza needed to be removed, it had to be through peaceful, regularised means otherwise there was a chance that the ghosts of the Arab Spring would return to wreak havoc.
Luckily, Nkurunziza returned and restored himself into the seat but shortly thereafter noises were made about Rwanda possibly being involved in the attempt to remove him.
Museveni was keen to put a stop to those noises as a priority, otherwise East African Cooperation would suffer.
Besides the political worries, Museveni is also keenly aware of the dominoes of instability caused by the combination of conflict and refugees from Burundi through Rwanda and Tanzania into Uganda, which even now probably hosts the largest number of refugees in East and Central Africa – close to 500,000 of them from every other country.
And, most importantly, Burundi is a good opportunity for Museveni to emphasize the importance of his philosophy that African countries must first settle security issues before tackling democracy and their economies – quite distinct from some views that democracy should always come first.
As he quipped about Somalia a few weeks ago: “If you say defence is not connected to agriculture, then I invite you to start a coffee farm in Somalia.”
Whereas Museveni’s mediation in Burundi was focussed on a political solution, the defence and security angle was so central that when he left Bujumbura his assigned placeholder was Uganda’s Defence Minister, Crispus Kiyonga.
Nkurunziza did not need a veiled message from Uganda about what would happen if war broke out afresh today. He knows first hand how adept Uganda is at deploying troops and holding ground more than two borders away from their own, as Burundi has run peacekeeping operations side by side with Uganda under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
The disputed election has taken place and the expected result has been achieved.
But what Nkurunziza now needs to learn from Museveni is how to hold his Presidential seat and his country together two terms away from the peace accord that first brought him into power, as the old man has managed quite comfortably these many years hence.
– a version of this article ran in the Sunday Independent of South Africa on July 26.

paul kagame’s tirade – it is addressed to YOU and ME, not just the Rwanda

Paul Kagame: Photo from greatlakesvoice.com
Paul Kagame: Photo from greatlakesvoice.com

Everything you are doing right now is a waste of time if you don’t listen to Paul Kagame’s Opening Remarks at the 12th National Leadership Retreat at the Rwanda Defence Forces Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, Rwanda on March 1, or share it around.

I’m going to number the lessons so it’s easier for you to follow, which is not to say that you might be dense or slow, but, for instance:

1. The first short bit is in Kinyarwanda, so if you’re back here with the complaint that you don’t understand Kinyarwanda then please practice a little patience and go on for a few more minutes till you begin to understand the language he is speaking. Besides that, there is a sublime message about lessons being in existence all around us, even in strange languages…

Again on patience; it’s just over one hour forty four minutes but is such a valuable listen that it is TOTALLY worth the time spent – more than once!

We’ve heard it said over the years that Kagame leads Rwanda like a business-type Chief Executive Officer, and this speech underscores that once again, so kudos to the man.

Listening to the speech one morning after I had gone into near apoplexy during discussions with a wide range of fellows ranging from a wretched gardener to a highly paid senior manager in an otherwise respectable company here in Kampala, I started forwarding the link to all and sundry – starting with the gardener (who has What’sApp!)

But I realise, of course, that the lessons I infer may not be the same ones that others will, so I must share my interpretation and favourite quotes here for anybody else to use.

2. “…this time around we are here for serious business; for change that must take place. That’s what brought us here…and that we are not just in a hurry to leave this place and go back to business as usual.” The man demanded that the collection of senior government officials at the retreat should come up with “something different” for our people (read clients or customers or citizens or colleagues, depending on what you do).

3. “Instead of people coming here hurrying to go back; they are going back in their minds before they have even arrived here!” <— you know how many times we do this, don’t you? Go for a meeting but all through you’re thinking about the evening or weekend ahead…

4. In a tongue-in-cheek comment on workshops, even though this one was obviously useful, he went: “I think we need to extend this period and sit here and reflect…meditation. To have time to meditate and really think; because I don’t think you have time to think seriously. You just need to be kept in one place doing nothing maybe and to feel how good it is to do nothing, and reflect over that, and then maybe when you go back you will do something…” Kagame’s wit is cold, but note that there is a difference between ‘thinking’ and ‘thinking seriously’.

5. A meeting or workshop “can’t be an end in itself. It must be a process to lead us to something more concrete. That’s what I want to hear and that’s what I want to see.” The man is intelligent; too many people hold meetings for the purpose of holding meetings – a subject I am weighing in on during coming weeks.

6. Kagame tells his people, as we should ours, that he is “not capable of changing anybody here to be different or to think differently, but I am capable of keeping challenging you!” THAT is the role of a leader, and when your leader challenges you, take the challenge rather than complain or gripe or do the usual things people do.

7. “People here everyday repeating themselves, being defensive, talking too much, everybody has explanation…everybody is right… it is the other one who is wrong, it is not him, it is not her…and we keep at that for all these years. Nobody takes responsibility, nobody owns up…” THAT is the quagmire many business environments (obvious in governments!) get into, and as he says, nothing gets done!

8. “You ask what happened and somebody dries up…even the simplest thing to say ‘there was this problem; this is why we did not do it’ or ‘we discovered we needed to do something different and differently’…nothing!” Eh! Even Kagame has this problem?! I find it a little uplifting, but on the other hand…

9. “And it is ALL OF US. We see it, we know it, we let it pass! We know what goes wrong every single day; but we expect that somebody else is going to do it; and somebody else is YOU. There is no other person going to do it!” Collective responsibility; and he keeps coming back to this.  “This Rwanda of ours, who is going to do it for us? There is nobody interested in your business, in your country. If YOU are not interested, you are dead.” <—substitute Rwanda with your company, family name, anything, and you will get it. That idea that “They” are supposed to do this and “They have not done that…” and the thought that some donors or business angels will solve a problem? Drop it. It’s YOU! YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.

10. “How do you switch off and nobody can find you to deliver things we have the possibility for? I am not asking you to deliver impossible things! How can we fail to deliver on what we have means for?” Good question. And one we must ask everyone whether in business or politics or service delivery.

11. “You are just lost in yourselves…several individuals operating all over the place, it’s not we as a system. You are having a problem realising a system to Teamworkwork as a system. It is just scattered individuals minding their individual business and not the business of this country.” <—teamwork & collective responsibility again.

12. Meanwhile, throughout the tirade, a few people interject with explanations and suggestions but Kagame doesn’t accept any of them – not just out of anger, but because he wants work done, NOT explanations of why work cannot get done. <—again, do you recognise this? And he doesn’t let anyone wriggle out of the blame-sights; not that blaming is a good thing, but on the receiving end taking responsibility so a fault can be fixed IS useful.

13. At one point, the man insists that one government official should tell people how much time has been lost. This is another factor that many employees don’t fully understand – time lost can never be regained and is invaluable, regardless of the opportunity ahead. Always make use of the opportunity you have NOW!

14.”I am putting this question to you not because you were there as individuals, but because as institutions you lead, you were there. What do you think goes wrong and why does it continue getting wrong?” <—and THAT was the crux of the matter, THAT’S what the retreat was supposed to address, summarised into one simple question.

15. “We can’t keep repeating ourselves and doing nothing about it.” <—again and again, do YOU recognise this at YOUR place of work? If so, share this link.

16. “It’s the young people, it’s the old…there are many categories. It’s those who think they know everything, it’s those who are struggling…but you find they all behave the same way! We have the young people who are always making everyone aware that they are young people. Yes, I don’t mind, I am grateful, but what are you delivering? Young is good but it’s even better when you are using that young age to deliver something, because you are quicker, you think faster, you think better, you are educated…Well-educated, fine! But what is your being well-educated delivering to these people…? If you are not doing what is expected of you, it doesn’t matter how much educated you are; you probably wasted that money that took you to school!” <—we’ve talked about this here, haven’t we?

Moving on swiftly:

15. “You better listen more to the one who criticises you because it challenges you to think. Critically. And see what you need to change and improve yourself. Don’t listen too much to those who praise you.” <— surround yourself with critics rather than friends and praise-singers. When people complain about something, don’t go on the defensive, but instead WORK ON IT.

16. “The challenges we have as a country, Rwanda (replace with YOUR country or company or family) and the context in which we operate are completely different from what you see elsewhere. We are not spoilt for anything; we have to struggle every single day to get what we want to get. Nobody is going to deliver it to us.” <— true of everyone! No pain, no gain. You’ve got to work to get anything

17. “Therefore you can’t even do things on the basis that you are better than so-and-so. We have many people to compare ourselves with to deceive ourselves that we are actually very good. How can anyone be there complaining when we are actually better than a whole list of entities you can name?” <—NEVER compare yourself to people or organisations or companies that you feel are inferior to yourself. “For me, it is what are we getting from it that transforms the lives of our people? Period!” <—focus on the objective. And he went on: “If you want to make comparison, compare yourself with those who have achieved what we are struggling to achieve! How can you compare yourself with people sitting and swallowed in a mess?” <—You would think that this is obvious but… 

18. Underscoring that point: “You should be more daring. We shouldn’t be comparing ourselves with the worst. You should be more daring than that. You should be comparing yourself with the best and saying how much more do I need to do to be there?” Aim high with focus and seriousness, chaps, in whatever you do.

19. “A system is just the aggregate of different parts. If the different parts are sick you transmit that into the system. You delay a decision or you make a wrong decision, it transmits into the system. And we are failing as individuals to take stock of our own weaknesses and problems that we transmit into the system. Get rid of these weaknesses and problems as individuals!” <—YOU have an individual role which you must play correctly and well, and if WE all do our bit then the entire system, company, government, country will run well.

20. “You can’t be a mayor or a governor or a minister or a… if you are hurting the people you are leading, you’ve already gone against the very constitution. Justice must apply…”<—this as a reference to corruption in high office, and we just have to pray that it becomes a mantra taken up right across the continent!

21. At this point, Kagame whips out some logic that must make having a big government job in Rwanda a sleepless affair. According to the big man, people who know what is going wrong and yet do nothing about it or don’t raise the red flag are probably doing something wrong themselves or too blind to be in positions of authority themselves. “You are not supposed to be in that place in the first place. If you are not part of it but you don’t see it…there is something wrong with you also. Otherwise, if you are not part of it and you see it, what stops you from taking action or initiating action?” <— it is not easy having a big government job in Rwanda, luckily for the citizens there!

22. (In an exasperated tone): “Your characters; what are they worth? Some individual character….? It’s like, ‘You have to accommodate me the way I am whether you want it or not’. I don’t want it; period! Why should we be hostage of your terrible characters? Why should Rwandans (replace with YOUR country, YOUR family, YOUR customers and clients)  become hostage of your bad character, or your individual profit and selfishness…?” <— see, he refuses to accept the justification ‘people are like that’; the way YOU should refuse to justify or accept silliness in anyone as a character trait.

23. “Everybody is full of self-importance and doing nothing for this country…for this country that has suffered the way it has! Our people. I’m not talking about YOU so much; I’m talking about the more than 11 million Rwandans who are there who even know we are here thinking about them, planning to do things for them and they are there thinking about individuals here who are just lost in themselves and doing petty petty things.” <— gwe, this is talking RAW. But if you believe you are important, Kagame reminds you that you are NOT as important as the people you should serve, who look up to you for that service.

24. “Something negative will always happen. We should all look for reasons why something should NOT be done or should NOT happen, instead of finding reasons for why something (wrong) should happen. (We) should drive in the direction where we say ‘something should be done to remedy this’.” <—if we collectively pull in one direction, if enough of us push for the correct action, we should be capable of making a marked difference. The challenge now is to get as many of us as possible gunning for ‘the right thing’ and ‘the general good’.

25. “I am here to discuss those you call ‘in spite of’; we have achieved this ‘in spite of this’. If you say Rwanda has made progress in spite of this weakness my time should be spent on ‘this weakness’, NOT what we have achieved. what we have achieved we have achieved!” <— DON’T rest on your laurels, as the adage goes. Don’t be satisfied with past achievements and become complacent. Don’t stop aiming high. Don’t be content with a hit here and there.

26. “It’s not just achieving that I am thinking about. It’s two things: 1) How do we sustain what we have achieved? 2) How do we deal with ‘in spite of’ things so that we make more progress?” <— like Kagame, be clear and focussed about your targets/goals/objectives. He refuses to budge from his position over close to two hours in spite of the arguments people, including persuasive ones like Andrew Mwenda, put forward.

27. “If we have delivered things 70% and we have not delivered things 30%…” <— the man is NOT easy to please; and this is commendable. A good leader doesn’t settle easily for apparently good results. 70% good actually means 30% bad – it’s a matter of perspective!

28. “If we have delivered things 70% and we have not delivered things 30%, 70% of my worries are on the 30% we have not delivered and 30% of my worries are on the things that have been delivered. I have more worries about the few things that have NOT been delivered, and less worries about things that have been delivered. The things that have been delivered, my worry is sustainability. But not delivering on the 30% may actually cause the problem of sustainability for the other ones that have not been delivered.” <—again, perspective. He focusses his thinking rightly on what matters to him and why.

29. At one point, Kagame reminds everyone how after a trade mission to the UK, a foreign investor flew into Kigali from the UK, using his own money, to ‘follow up’ on a matter that Rwanda should have had more of an interest in. <— does THIS remind you of anything, in YOUR country or YOUR company? Like a client ‘following up’ on a sales offer your people made to them?

30. “When we went to UK, we did not go as Minister so-and-so individually or President individually…we went as Rwanda as one system!”. <—again, the collective and responsibility. When your employees go out to meet clients do they realise that they do so as THE COMPANY and not just in their individual capacity? When your Sales Executive sends an email do they understand that that email has gone out from YOUR ENTIRE COMPANY and not just humble, little, old so-and-so?

31. “We went there, we came back. But we did not really have a plan of how we are going to attract people as Rwanda, not as ‘when Francis remembers’ or ‘when Kanimba decides to remember’.” <—ALWAYS conduct deliberate planning for official activities, whether country trade promotion or company sales!

32. “This person was even begging us, ‘Can you allow me to follow up for you…?'”

33. “…but this is something being discussed MONTHS after the meeting.” <—do you recognise this as well? An issue being raised in a meeting and not tackled that very day or at least the next, but then being raised again weeks or even months or even YEARS later?

34. “I thought you were exposed to this modern world we live in but when you come home it’s like…to not even be sensitive to this time wasted since October?! Instead of you, these ministers, to have sat when they came back immediately in October and work out something and connect with whoever they need to connect with, they just came and switched off until somebody else from outside came and was literally begging us…on something that is obvious. And even then someone can delay them saying ‘we are still thinking about it or what do do…'” <—tell me you DON’T recognise this in your company, country or even your home!

35. “You fight with an army you have. If you have a sick army, that’s the one you have; that will be reflected in the battle. You cannot have a sick army and fight a war as if you have an army that is quick on their feet. The sickness in the army will be reflected in how you fight the battles. How things can be done and should be done is known, but the gap arises because of how people translate what they know into what they do and should do.” <—this, being part of the famous exchange with Andrew Mwenda, and is self-explanatory.

36. “We have to call a spade a spade…” <—he didn’t just call a spade a spade, he spent almost two hours naming an entire workshop, literally!

As I said, if you don’t stop and listen to this speech to gain motivation; if you don’t share it with all your workmates and employees, and employers and members of parliament and government technocrats on the continent of Africa, you are wasting both time and space just being alive.

Paul Kagame was talking to ALL OF US.