Laundry Day – RPF efforts to create a virtuous society

On Friday 26 June 2020, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) held its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in which some non-members were invited, and it is from those (non-members) that those of us who were not invited got to know about the roasting of some senior officials for their alleged misuse of public funds and other wrongdoings. The news broke out immediately after the meeting, through different journalistic posts and blogs, stressing that the RPF is now more than ever determined to hold its senior leaders to account, and authors have theorized different reasons behind that determination.  In It’s swim or sink – RPF’s obsession with Accountability, Lonzen Rugira showed that Gatete and Rwagatare’s economic arguments were not sufficient, and  went on to submit that accountability for RPF is essenital for its survival, without which it would be faced with two existential threats (internal discords and legitimacy deficits).  This piece is not intending to discredit either those economic facts raised or the existential threat arguments, because the consequences of corruption, misallocation of public funds, abuse of power resulting from an unaccountable leadership can sometimes be humongous.

The purpose of this article is to bring forward this conversation to another level of understanding beyond the above extrinsic arguments. Maybe it is because of the meticulousness in which it was said, but it would be rare to listen to Paul Kagame’s (RPF Chairman’s) speech without hearing accountability as central to his message. The legitimate question, therefore, is: why is it that the RPF and Kagame in particular have always been concerned with creating an accountable society? I would like to argue that the reasons might be much deeper than the aims and objectives of accountability. The wounds of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, as well as the bad leadership that Rwanda experienced in the pre-genocide era, can all be healed if Rwanda of today is a much more equal, compassionate, fair and inclusive society, accountability can be seen as either a mechanism or a virtue. It is through promoting accountability as both a mechanism and a virtue that one can create a virtuous society – a society with ‘civic integrity’. Others scholars, like Perrucci, have noted, ‘to establish a good society, it is necessary for individuals to be responsible for living their lives in ways that are both individually and socially responsible.’ That society ought to have ‘core values’ and those core values should become  guidance to all members of that society.

When one looks at some home-grown initiatives such as Girinka, Ubudehe, Inkiko-Gacaca, Ingando and later Itorero, Mutuelle de santé, Agaciro, and most recently, measures adopted to deal with COVID-19, it becomes clear that the RPF is trying to create a virtuous society. Almost two decades ago in 1999 a scholar by the name of  Allmark wrote that ‘A virtue is a quality possessed by something which helps it fulfil its function well (…) A virtuous person is one who cares about the right things in the right way.’ In that reasoning, creating a virtuous society and leadership in particular is ensuring that that society and leadership succeed in their duties.  In the case of the RPF as the engine of the post-genocide government, its duties as articulated in the 3 canonical choices Rwanda made after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi are, in the words of President Kagame: ‘One, to stay together. Two, to be accountable to ourselves. Three, to think big.’

Those are the choices we have agreed to reflect our society, a society that is fair, equal, inclusive and well-governed. Shortly after in 2002 another scholar named Etzioni wrote that ‘a good society relies heavily on such moral dialogues to determine the values that will constitute the shared cultures of its communities; it does not merely base its values on tradition.’ And most recently in 2014 Walker, also an academic, wrote that ‘[i]n holding each other accountable, we invoke, and so assert and reinforce norms that we assume are relevant and recognized between us.’ Virtue as a noun is defined as ‘a behaviour showing high moral standards’, and behaviour is defined as ‘a way one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others.’ Therefore, the act of holding someone accountable is to examine his or her behaviour.

This is not to say that in a virtuous society member will ignore individual interests, not at all; because as Etzioni has reminded us ‘a good society is (…) one that balances two values, social order and autonomy, rather than maximizing one.’ There is nothing wrong with one’s strong desire to accumulate wealth, become a good lawyer or the best athlete; the problem is to achieve all that in disregard of the common good – at the expense of public funds.  The protection of society’s core values requires us to treat all citizens with equal dignity. Equality and inclusiveness envisioned in a virtuous society should not make one to assume that people are equal in material wealth, not at all; because we have different means, skills and capacities.  We should rather aim for equality in opportunities, and where necessary taking care of those who are weak in our communities.  In addition, demands of ‘justice’ and ‘goodness’ will always oblige us to detest those misusing our common resources for their individual benefits.

A virtuous society relies more on a moral voice than legal rules, and it can be argued that the discussions on accountability, as reported to have been prioritised in the RPF Executive Committee meeting, can be seen as part of our daily societal dialogues that need to happen until we achieve that level of rule by moral voice. Because the discussion has had an impact beyond those who were called forward to explain themselves. For those who were equally accusable but were not called forward to explain themselves, we can say to them that you were lucky, and we hope that you are now reflecting on this luck and how it cannot be depended upon in the future. For those who feel that there is nothing to be accused of, we hope that they appreciate a character trait that protects them and ensures that that they never have reason to be called forward. They have nothing to fear from an exercise whose aim is to continue improving ourselves in the interest of the public good – it’s like laundry day.

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