Rwanda: ris­ing from the ashes

Twenty years after geno­cide, Rwanda makes huge devel­op­ment strides

Africa Renewal - - Contents - By Wadzanai Mhute

For the sur­vivors of the 1994 geno­cide in Rwanda, it feels like only yes­ter­day that ma­chetewield­ing Hutu mili­tias em­barked on a mis­sion to an­ni­hi­late Tut­sis. Marie Claude Mukam­a­bano, a Tutsi aged 15 at the time, was one of such tar­gets. She re­mem­bers vividly how scar­ily close she was to los­ing her life when the mili­tias grabbed her and threat­ened to cut off her head.

A few days ear­lier, she had wit­nessed her sis­ter grue­somely mur­dered just for be­ing a Tutsi, and it ap­peared her fate was now sealed. But she had fake iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pa­pers show­ing she was a Hutu. She showed them to the mili­tias who ex­pressed dis­be­lief. Trem­bling, she said a prayer in her mind. Mirac­u­lously, the mili­tias spared her life. Now liv­ing in New York, Ms. Mukam­a­bano told Africa Re­newal she was not sure why the mili­tias changed their minds about killing her. It could have been the fake iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pa­pers or the prayer or both.

The Hutu mili­tias were re­veng­ing the deaths of two prom­i­nent Hu­tus: Pres­i­dents Ju­vé­nal Hab­ya­ri­mana of Rwanda and Cy­prien Ntaryamira of Bu­rundi, whose plane was shot down while about to land in Ki­gali, Rwanda’s cap­i­tal city. The tragic in­ci­dent blew open years of an­i­mos­ity and strug­gle for po­lit­i­cal power be­tween the two eth­nic groups.

For about 100 apoc­a­lyp­tic days, a bloody cam­paign un­folded while the rest of the world silently looked on. About 800,000 peo­ple were killed dur­ing this pe­riod. For­mer UN Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Kofi An­nan said in 2004: “The geno­cide in Rwanda should never, ever have hap­pened. But it did. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity failed Rwanda, and that must leave us al­ways with a sense of bit­ter re­gret and abid­ing sor­row.”

As the world marks the 20th an­niver­sary of the geno­cide this year, Rwanda has moved on, eco­nom­i­cally, so­cially and po­lit­i­cally. It has one of the world’s fastest-grow­ing economies, av­er­ag­ing 8% per year over the past decade, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund. The World Bank says Rwanda is the third best place to start a busi­ness in Africa, be­hind Mau­ri­tius and South Africa.

Many con­sider Rwanda one of Africa’s lead­ing lights on in­for­ma­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tion and tech­nol­ogy. Nick­named “the Sin­ga­pore of Africa” for its tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, the World Bank lists the coun­try “among the ten most im­proved economies in 2013.” Rwanda’s goal is to be the tech­no­log­i­cal hub of East Africa. It has an im­pres­sive e-govern­ment sys­tem,

which en­sures that most of the govern­ment’s fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions and other tasks are done elec­tron­i­cally.

In 2012, Rwanda launched the One Lap­top per Child Pro­gramme, which aims to sat­u­rate its pri­mary schools with 500,000 lap­top com­put­ers. Over 100,000 have so far been dis­trib­uted. Last De­cem­ber, it com­pleted the lay­ing of fi­bre-op­tic ca­bles across the coun­try that will pro­vide af­ford­able and re­li­able in­ter­net ser­vice. And in Fe­bru­ary this year, it part­nered with Face­book, the so­cial me­dia com­pany, to launch a pi­lot project to pro­vide Rwan­dan stu­dents with ac­cess to on­line ed­u­ca­tion.

Un­like many other coun­tries in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa where eco­nomic growth has so far not trans­lated into vis­i­ble signs of devel­op­ment, Rwanda has an im­pres­sive record. For ex­am­ple in 1994, 78% of Rwan­dans lived be­low the poverty line ( less than $1.25 a day). By 2011 that fig­ure had dropped to 45%. In ad­di­tion, Rwanda has a 99% pri­mary school en­rol­ment, the high­est in Africa, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank.

Ac­cess to af­ford­able health ser­vices has ex­panded through the in­tro­duc­tion of com­mu­nity-based health in­surance. The coun­try is on track to reach the Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goal on ma­ter­nal health. Ki­gali, the cap­i­tal, is a thriv­ing city. “Life is or­derly, pave­ments are clean and roads are free from pot­holes that curse much of Africa. Ki­gali is nur­tur­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as the safest city on the con­ti­nent,” says the

Guardian, a UK news­pa­per. A lot of the changes for Rwanda’s trans­for­ma­tion were ini­ti­ated by Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, who is cred­ited for end­ing the 1994 geno­cide and es­tab­lish­ing po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity. In 2000, Mr. Kagame’s govern­ment crafted a devel­op­ment pro­gramme dubbed “Vi­sion 2020” whose goal is to “trans­form Rwanda from a low-in­come agri­cul­ture-based econ­omy to a knowl­edge-based, ser­vice-ori­ented econ­omy by 2020.” The plan is to make Rwanda a mid­dle-in­come coun­try by shift­ing “from a hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance phase as­so­ci­ated with the 1994 geno­cide into one of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment.”

Econ­o­mists con­sider Vi­sion 2020 plan cred­i­ble, not­ing that Rwanda’s over-re­liance on agri­cul­ture could be prob­lem­atic in the long term. While agri­cul­ture con­tin­ues to be the eco­nomic main­stay, pro­vid­ing jobs for 73% of the pop­u­la­tion, it ac­counts for only 36% of na­tional out­put, ac­cord­ing to the African Devel­op­ment Bank (AfDB). Rwanda must there­fore re­duce its re­liance on agri­cul­ture and ramp up eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion.

De­spite the cur­rent em­pha­sis on de­vel­op­ing a ser­vice-based econ­omy, there are also strong ef­forts to boost agri­cul­ture’s share of the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. In 2007, Rwanda be­came the first coun­try in Africa to sign the Com­pre­hen­sive Africa Agri­cul­ture Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme, an African Union ini­tia­tive to in­crease in­vest­ments in agri­cul­ture. The pro­gramme re­quires mem­ber states to com­mit at least 10% of their na­tional bud­gets to agri­cul­ture. Agnes Matilda Kal­i­bata, Rwanda’s agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, says that her govern­ment’s in­vest­ment of 10% of the na­tional bud­get in agri­cul­ture has re­sulted in 6% growth in the sec­tor. The govern­ment sup­plies farm­ers with cows, links them to the mar­kets, has in­creased ir­ri­ga­tion pro­grammes and is fo­cus­ing on crops such as cof­fee that grow well in the coun­try.

An­a­lysts say Rwanda’s im­pres­sive so­cioe­co­nomic devel­op­ment is partly due to its fo­cus on women’s em­pow­er­ment. The coun­try leads the world in the num­ber of women rep­re­sented in par­lia­ment, hold­ing 56% of the seats in the lower house.

In an ar­ti­cle for So­lu­tions Jour­nal, an on­line pub­li­ca­tion that show­cases in­no­va­tive ideas for deal­ing with, among others, the world’s so­cioe­co­nomic prob­lems, re­searcher Rox­ane Wil­ber ad­vises na­tions look­ing to im­prove gov­er­nance to learn from Rwanda’s ex­pe­ri­ence. “Women bring in­struc­tive per­spec­tives and in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to gov­er­nance,” she ex­plains, adding that Rwanda’s achieve­ment is not an ac­ci­dent. The govern­ment “pri­or­i­tized women, in­tro­duced struc­tures and pro­cesses de­signed to ad­vance them at all lev­els of lead­er­ship.”

The coun­try’s eco­nomic man­age­ment has now caught the at­ten­tion of the world’s mar­ket­place. Forbes, a US busi­ness pub­li­ca­tion, writes that the “im­par­tial voice of the mar­ket­place has spo­ken, with a ring­ing en­dorse­ment of its eco­nomic turn­around and prospects for con­tin­ued growth.” That was after the coun­try de­buted on the global bond mar­ket in April last year, rak­ing in $400 mil­lion after an of­fer­ing that was eight times over­sub­scribed.

Pres­i­dent Kagame’s lead­er­ship with its im­pact on the lives of 12 mil­lion Rwan­dans has made him a ris­ing star among his peers. For­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair once called him “a vi­sion­ary leader.” For­mer US Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton was even more ef­fu­sive, re­fer­ring him as “one of the great­est lead­ers of our time.” Nige­rian No­bel lau­re­ate Wole Soyinka said of Mr. Kagame: “Given the scale of trauma caused by the geno­cide, Rwanda has in­di­cated that how­ever thin the hope of a com­mu­nity can be, a hero al­ways emerges.”

De­spite such com­ments from sup­port­ers, Mr. Kagame’s geopo­lit­i­cal

poli­cies, par­tic­u­larly his al­leged in­volve­ment in the con­flict in neigh­bour­ing Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, which he has strongly de­nied, have prompted closer scru­tiny of his treat­ment of Rwan­dans who op­pose him at home and abroad. The New York Times has ar­gued that “if there’s any hope of Rwanda win­ning truly last­ing sta­bil­ity, it must change course and stop fu­elling con­flicts across its bor­ders.” Ca­rina Tert­sakin, a re­searcher for the US-based Hu­man Rights Watch, con­sid­ers Mr. Kagame an enig­matic leader, and ac­cuses Western gov­ern­ments of ig­nor­ing Rwanda’s hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and abuses against his op­po­nents.

Pres­i­dent Kagame’s demo­cratic cre­den­tials took a hit after he won the 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in which three op­po­si­tion par­ties were re­moved from the bal­lot. The pres­i­dent was re-elected with 93% of the vote. His cur­rent term ex­pires in 2017, but his op­po­nents say he may seek a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to al­low him to con­test for a third term. Boni­face Twa­gi­r­i­mana, vice pres­i­dent of the op­po­si­tion United Demo­cratic Forces, has said he does not be­lieve Mr. Kagame will re­lin­quish power in 2017.

There is no doubt that the pres­i­dent con­tin­ues to re­tain a good mea­sure of do­mes­tic sup­port. “The pres­i­dent is run­ning the coun­try like a CEO of a com­pany who en­sures that ev­ery direc­tor is ac­count­able for their depart­ment… The West tries to use its stan­dards in the de­vel­op­ing world and it isn’t fair,” says Ger­ald Mpy­isi, man­ag­ing direc­tor of In­spire Man­age­ment In­sti­tute, a lead­er­ship learn­ing in­sti­tu­tion in Rwanda. Mr. Kagame’s ac­com­plish­ments com­pli­cate the op­po­si­tion’s ef­forts to drive down his pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings.

But Rwanda faces other head­winds. The coun­try de­pends on for­eign funds for up to 40% of its bud­get. The AfDB warns that sus­pen­sion of funds could un­der­cut its econ­omy. Al­ready, calls are get­ting louder for Bri­tain and the US – the two lead­ing donors – to use their lever­age to in­sist on re­spect for hu­man rights and democ­racy.

Re­porters With­out Bor­ders says there is lim­ited press free­dom as me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions are mostly gov­ern­ment­con­trolled. And the Hu­tus and the Tut­sis are not nec­es­sar­ily bed­fel­lows 20 years after the geno­cide. There­fore, more needs to be done to fos­ter eth­nic har­mony.

At the many cer­e­monies that will be or­ga­nized to com­mem­o­rate two decades since the geno­cide, there’s likely to be a fo­cus on the heinous crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the geno­cide. Ques­tions will be asked why the world couldn’t in­ter­vene. There will be dis­cus­sions whether the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Tri­bunal for Rwanda es­tab­lished by the UN in 1994 to judge those re­spon­si­ble for the geno­cide has played its part ef­fec­tively. But what must not be lost are the strides that Rwanda is mak­ing and how peo­ple’s lives are get­ting bet­ter. These pos­i­tive strides are what have truly im­pressed the world.

PYMCA/Alamy/Mis­cha Haller

Happy school­boys, ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Rwanda’s high pri­mary school en­roll­ment.

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