To fix a country you must first fix its political parties.

That is one of the biggest takeaways I am returning to Ghana with having been invited as a guest of President Paul Kagame’s liberation party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in Kigali as it celebrates its 35th anniversary. 

Entrance to the main auditorium of the Intare Conference Venue in Kigali

My observations while I sat through the party’s International Conference, the first in a series of activities to mark the anniversary leads me to one conclusion.

Ghana continues to be a poor country with its development gear firmly stuck in reverse because we have failed to fix the two main political parties that have governed us in the last 31 years under the 4th republic.

In a democracy, only political parties can form a government. Governments fix countries. An indisciplined political party will produce an indisciplined government. An indisciplined government will produce a poor, corrupt and underdeveloped country. That is the problem of Ghana in a nutshell.

Since 1992, NDC and NPP have been competing with each other over which party can impose the most economic misery. Each administration had done worse than the one before. The last time the economy nearly collapsed was under the NDC in 2014/2015. We went to the IMF then. The NPP took over and they have succeeded in inflicting Ghana’s worst economic crisis in a generation.

The governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) have much to learn from the RPF, a party created by a group of Rwandese in exile amid a genocidal conflict that left an estimated 800,000 people slaughtered.

But today, RPF superintends over a country ranked first on the continent and amongst the top ten fastest-growing economies in the world, pre and post covid-19, according to the African Development Bank.

The RPF exudes discipline.

Here at the Intare Conference Arena in Kigali, there was an order. It was a political party event and yet there was no chaotic hawking of party paraphernalia by party foot soldiers, loyalists and activists.

The Intare Conference Arena

Unlike at an NDC or NPP event where rowdy party foot soldiers would crowd out the streets leading to the venue and take over the premises selling all manner of party paraphernalia, here in Kigali the streets around the venue were quiet, empty in fact. As for the premises, not a single party crowd could be seen.

The only people I saw in party T-shirts were mainly ushers and stewards who did their jobs with great discipline and professionalism. The remainder of the nearly 2000 people who occupied the main auditorium were in formal clothing.

There were no raised voices, no screaming of party slogans, no chanting of party songs, no drumming and dancing and no yelling of appellations to greet party officials.

No party posters were littering the walls of the venue, no party flags hanging from street polls and not a single President Kagame T-shirt anywhere.

The Conference venue was neat throughout and T-shirt-wearing ushers were disciplined in their task

When President Kagame, who by the way is chairman of the party walked in, he was greeted with only applause.

What there was in abundance though was an exclusive focus on policy and not politics. The only party official allowed to speak was the national vice chairman who spoke for 4 minutes or less.

This is a political party radiating discipline. Even at lunch, there was no sense of entitlement by party members. Everyone joined an orderly queue and waited for their turn to be served. 

I have been to many political party events in Ghana and I have watched as party members fought over food, littered the venue with rubbish and treated everyone not in party colours as strangers not deserving of anything the party has funded. Here at the RPF event grounds, there was not a single litter of rubbish anywhere, not even after lunch when more than a thousand people had eaten.  

But here is the best part.

To enrich the conference, the party invited an excellent panel of international experts from the fields of development, finance, industry and economics to lead the policy discussions.  

The President of Rwanda and the Chairman of the party himself, Paul Kagame never once mounted the stage. He walked in with his wife and sat down in the front row. He came in just when the second panel was about to begin, took out his pen and note pad and began to actively take notes.

Soon he was pleading with the moderator to contribute, one that will pitch him against a Harvard Professor and a former President of the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Do not forget this is an event of an African political party and yet here was the President and Chairman of the party being openly challenged at his event in a healthy exchange of ideas about how best to develop Rwanda and the rest of the continent.

Dr Donald Kaberuka, Former President of the AfDB Group argued that Africa must first focus primarily on determining what to do and how to do it when dealing with its developmental challenges instead of focusing on implementation. In his view, if you do not know what to do and how best to do it, you will implement the wrong solutions.

President Kagame raised his hands, apologised to the moderator and appealed for time to challenge Dr Kaberuka. He stayed in his front-row seat and spoke.

He was emphatic that Africa’s real problem was implementation. He argued that African leaders already knew what our problems are, what to do to fix them and how to do it. For him, the only problem is implementing what we already know.

“When it comes to doing things we either do nothing or do the wrong things,” he said.

If this was an NDC or NPP event in Ghana, after President Nana Akufo-Addo or the presumptive opposition leader and former President, John Mahama had spoken, no one will dare raise a challenge.

But that is exactly what happened here, in an auditorium packed with party supporters.

Dr Célestin Monga, a Professor at Harvard University fired back. “I will dare say that I am on the side of Dr Kaberuka on this one. I can tell you, Mr President, I’ve had interactions with a lot of ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents who believe in the wrong ideas. So I believe that ‘the what’ in some situations is still relevant”, he said.

President Kagame challenged that position some more but the panellists stood their ground. In the end, this was a beautiful exercise in diagnosing Africa’s problems but most importantly finding solutions to them.

Throughout this very riveting exchange, never once did I hear any of the party supporters, loyalists, members and activists in the auditorium raise a voice at the experts.

If you are a Ghanaian, can you imagine President Akufo-Addo or John Mahama sitting in their front-row seat and being openly challenged at their political party event with thousands of party supporters in attendance?

President Kagame interacting with the panellists after the policy discussions

The RPF is a political party that prioritizes discipline over chaos, policy over politics and my personal favourite, meritocracy over party loyalty.

That last bit is the reason they had a panel made almost exclusively of international experts with no affiliation to the party at their commemorative event. If this was an NDC or NPP event, the panellists would have been party loyalists, sympathizers and activists who chose not because they are the best in their fields but because they are party people.

If only the NDC and the NPP can adopt this policy over a political approach Ghana may well be on its way back to economic salvation.

Rwanda is not claiming it has arrived. Far from it. They still have tremendous challenges. But right now they are Africa’s brightest shining economic light.

They are because they first fixed their governing political party.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.