Nineteen Nigerian governors were recently hosted to a three-day leadership retreat in Kigali, Rwanda on the invitation of Paul Kagame the President of the Republic of Rwanda. This interesting development signals a paradigm shift where Africans are now looking within Africa instead of elsewhere for inspiration and wisdom on how to solve the continent’s problems. Given the recent wave of coups in francophone West African countries, it is indeed time to redefine leadership and governance on the continent. In that process, Rwanda offers some valuable lessons.
For starters, Nigeria and several other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa face a complex web of interconnected development challenges arising from poor leadership and bad governance, under-developed infrastructure, high youth unemployment and multi-dimensional poverty, ethno-religious tensions, armed conflicts and rising insecurity, climate change among others. This has persisted for decades despite the continent’s abundant resources and potential. Tackling these development challenges in order to achieve sustainable development in Nigeria and on the continent requires new strategies, approaches, and, most importantly mindset. This is where Rwanda comes in.
President Kagame once said: “We don’t follow rules, we follow choices. There is no rule book for us.” This is the mindset that encapsulates Rwanda’s fascinating journey since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. I believe that Africans who are accustomed to being at the receiving end of best practice dogmas should adopt the same mindset. The objective is to think critically about challenges that are unique to our respective environments, and then craft solutions that may not necessarily align with Western prescriptions. If this mindset has helped Rwanda achieve remarkable progress in different areas such as security, social cohesion, political stability, infrastructure development, and climate preservation, then African countries facing challenges in these areas ought to draw inspiration from this decolonial approach.
Mr Bamikole Omishore, a personal aid to one of the Nigerian governors who visited Rwanda for the retreat wrote glowingly about their experience in Kigali and how he was impressed by the lush greenery that envelops Kigali and the city’s commitment to environmental sustainability. It was gratifying to read about the governor’s pledge to draw inspiration from Kigali and plant over 100,000 trees to beautify his state and combat climate change. This is commendable as the Nigerian government must increase its ambition and investment aiming to tackle the devastating impact of climate change in the country, as seen in perennial flooding. Rwanda is presently providing strong leadership in this regard in Africa. It has raised more than $247 million for its green fund to respond to climate change challenges such as drought and landslides.
At any rate, if Africans are serious about looking within Africa to find solutions to their problems, then increased cooperation, knowledge exchange, experience sharing, and technology transfer among African countries as is happening between Rwanda and Nigeria, must be encouraged.
Another inspiring takeaway for the Nigerian leaders is not just the infrastructural advancement going on in Rwanda but the level of orderliness and organization displayed by Rwandans, which they witnessed throughout the course of their retreat. These advances reflect a culture of discipline, patriotism, hard work and respect for rule of law among the citizens in the East African country. This ought to be emulated by Nigerians and other Africans.
Very importantly, the Rwandan experience in managing diversity and achieving post-genocide social cohesion provides valuable lessons for Nigeria in managing the rising ethno-religious tensions, separatist agitations and conflicts in the country being fueled by divisive politics and state-sanctioned policies of marginalization.
Nigeria, like many other African countries, requires a radical shift: it needs to promote in words and deeds the indivisibility of citizenship in order to transform into a united country. This is a shift the Nigerian government can make by treating all Nigerians equally and not considering any group of Nigerians as distinct from others just as the Rwandan government did through its promotion of Ndi Umunyarwanda (I am Rwandan), a programme that is meant to affirm the primacy of the national identity over any other subnational identities, be it clan, religious or ethnic.
While it was important to highlight Rwanda’s remarkable progress in the last 30 years to serve as an inspiration for Nigeria and the rest of Africa, it is noteworthy that several other African countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritius, and Cabo Verde have made significant progress in their national development through purposeful leadership. Since all countries have their unique strengths in different areas, there is therefore need for increased mutual cooperation among African countries in their different areas of strength as a new strategy for tackling the continent’s development challenges.
In Sum, to achieve a peaceful, stable and prosperous Africa by 2063 according to the African Union Agenda requires the reimagining of the continent’s leadership style by making it adaptive and transformative just as Rwanda is doing. What Nigeria and Rwanda have exemplified by the recent leadership retreat must be encouraged, sustained and scaled across the continent as we anticipate the birth and rise of a new and prosperous Africa.