Imihigo performance contracts: tough but fair

While at university a few years ago I had the opportunity to study a few courses on contract law. We were taught that contracts signed between parties were binding and that, in fact, they were law.

So, I quickly decided that I would forever make sure that anytime I made or signed a contract, I would do so soberly. When I first heard of the ‘Imihigo’ or performance contracts, I honestly thought it was a bad idea.

I felt that the leaders who signed the documents didn’t have any idea of what obligations they were signing up for.

I was thinking, if you’ve pledged to “provide water to each household in the district” and then failed because of whatever problem, you were in trouble. Which leader in his/her right mind would put their signature on such a document?

Didn’t they know that the dark art of justifying ‘broken promises’ was one that every politician had to master? Why would they put themselves in a position where their own signature indicted them and found them guilty of failure?

But the more I thought about this the more I understood. What Rwandans need aren’t politicians but rather, leaders. Leaders set goals, work hard, are honest and diligent. Politicians on the other hand live for one thing and one thing only; power.

It doesn’t matter to them if the country is falling apart and people are living in squalor, as long as they can continue ravenously feeding on the dwindling national cake they are happy.

‘Accountability’ is a word that the classical politician has no time for. Why be accountable when you can be ‘untouchable’? The Imihigo performance contracts bind leaders to set targets and goals.

And with all honesty I think that’s fair. Would your househelp keep getting paid if they never actually improved the cleanliness of the house? Would YOU get paid if you never, ever met any of your targets at work? No, you would be fired and replaced with someone willing to fulfill the job requirements.

I’ve heard people criticize the system, calling it ‘” political blackmail” (because leaders don’t have a choice of whether they want to sign the documents or not), “too ambitious and likely to cause high turnover” and I can understand why they would say that.

They say that because never before have leaders actually had an ‘obligation’ to deliver on the promises they make to their people.

Very often people say that leaders are accountable to the people and if the people aren’t happy they will change their leadership. But let’s be honest here. How many politicians have stayed in power simply because they knew how to bride the right people at the right time?

These politicians aren’t accountable to the people; they are accountable to ‘special interest groups’.

The most successful businesses in the world are run on targets and forecasts, they aren’t haphazard. Why shouldn’t a nation be run on the same principles?

Experience has shown, all over the world, that political accountability isnt something that citizens can take for granted. Even in the nations with mature political systems people often find that the political elite show accountability when they want to get votes and the rest of the time do whatever they choose. All on taxpayer dollars.

I’m glad that I live in a country where rhetoric isnt what sells but rather hard work. And if a leader has to resign and lose their post, no matter how charismatic, I can live with that.

I much prefer a dour politician who quietly delivers rather than a charismatic one who sells hot air. And so does everyone else.


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