By Jason Muhire
On July 24 this year, Ingabire Victoire, a convicted criminal who benefitted from presidential clemency in 2018, released a report in which she submitted her observations on the economic recovery plan of the Rwandan government to revive the country’s economy following the COVID-19 crisis.
While some of her observations deserve scrutiny, it is worth to remind readers that Victoire Ingabire – whose sentence of 15 years for forming armed groups to destabilize the country and minimizing the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was commuted by Presidential prerogative following her application for clemency in June 2018 – has been trying to portray herself as a relevant political figure in Rwanda’s political landscape even as the nature of the clemency she benefited from doesn’t allow her to form a political party or conduct political activities.
In the aforementioned report, Victoire Ingabire argues that the government’s policy measures do not provide any tax benefit to individuals. Yet the suspension of tax audits and the extension of financial statements certification are measures that apply to small and individual businesses. Moreover, she ignores that providing tax relief to businesses allows them to keep running, preventing layoffs or bankruptcy. These measures protect employment for many individual Rwandans.
In another misleading statement, Ingabire suggests that the Rwandan government is not looking for ways to recover funds embezzled by public official which, in her opinion, should serve to fund the recovery plan instead of the government applying for loans. The reality is that public officials suspected of having engaged in embezzlement have been indicted and are being brought before courts. In a country where the rule of law is the norm, such proceedings will take time while the country needs to take urgent actions to protect its economy and bring Rwandans back to work.
Surprisingly, Ingabire also claims that the government initiatives will not create new jobs. Later in the same report, she calls for the suspension of big projects such as the Bugesera airport which have the potential to create thousands of jobs. Such revenue generating activities are better than government handouts as far as the dignity of the people is concerned. Additionally, had she been paying attention, she would have realized that the government has been getting partners on board in such projects to mitigate the toll on public finances.
Ingabire also calls for a review of the agricultural policy in order to ensure food security. She thinks that investing in exports means abandoning food security.
Rwanda’s investment in agriculture is aimed at providing sufficient food to its population while exports bring in the needed revenue for other areas of socioeconomic progress. Accordingly, efforts have been made to ensure famers have the best prices for their products by facilitating their access to external markets. The investment is done through government supported initiatives such as the scaling up of irrigation schemes and the recent authorization to cultivate marshlands so that food production meets the needs of Rwandans.
Not surprisingly, by attempting to portray the government of Rwanda as an authoritarian state where Rwandans have no say in matters concerning their lives, Ingabire questions the usefulness of plans by the Rwandan government to purchase two cold rooms for the storage of meat. Yet the purchase of cold rooms is a demand that was made by Rwandan farmers and those working along the value chain. They wanted a facility that ensures that the meat they sell or buy can survive abrupt changes in demand as it has happened during lockdowns. A government that listens to its people is far from being authoritarian.
Ingabire’s contradictions don’t end there. She notes “A government arrangement to establish new Ubudehe social stratification in 2019 was met by citizen objection on the stature and process of categorization of people under the different Ubudehe categories, as the reliability, transparency and fairness of the entire process was questioned.” However, a government that undertakes a consultative process in which it takes into account the reservations of the people to change direction or make adjustments to a given policy should be a positive thing even for someone who thinks they should oppose for the sake of opposing. In other words, Ingabire needs to make up her mind whether a government that involves people in decision-making is a democracy or a dictatorship. Finally, if the government has been making decisions that factor the needs of the population, then on whose behalf does Ingabire speak?