‘I’ve haven’t seen a government that does so much for its people!’ — shared Carson G., an executive of a global consulting group who was in Rwanda on a scouting mission to understand the economic empowerment landscape.
It was mid-afternoon as we stood on the hilltop that oversees the Rwamagana Agakiriro Centre. An extensive facility that had been recently opened for young people in the region to start their businesses in wood works. The centre which offers free access to machinery and storage for their first 6 months into business, was filled with a positive buzz from the young women and men who are working out of the space. A few weeks earlier, the Ministry of Commerce (MINEACOM) had announced the enforcement of the Made in Rwanda policy on a whole new scale. Furniture and other interior fixtures that consumed a considerable public budget annually, would now be purchased from local manufacturers in a bid to empower the local industry. Young cooperatives and businesses established in centres like the one in Rwamagana, now get to produce furniture that can be consumed by local offices.
The changes and progress in Rwanda are the results of a focused and organized leadership. H.E Paul Kagame has demonstrated the power of uniting people towards a common vision and building a culture of accountability in public governance in an African context. He has promoted economic diversification and south-south collaboration, with the intent of positioning Rwanda as a knowledge based economy and a beacon of intra-african trade. To fully apprehend the depth of his leadership, the choice of policies and his values, one must understand a leader who has stood continuously for the greater good of the entire nation and inspired practices of great leadership.
A leadership with and for the people: Rwandans at the center
In 2000, under Kagame’s leadership, Rwanda established a clear vision for its growth into a middle income nation by 2020. The foundations of this vision are the people of Rwanda. Thanks to innovative home-grown initiatives, decentralization and inclusiveness, Rwandan citizens are actively involved in the decision making process and policy implementation of their country.
Social Cohesion and Unity
In the aftermath of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide, the nation was destroyed by what has been defined as one of most horrific genocides of the 20th century. The number one priority was to rebuild a broken nation and to re-establish a sense of belonging, hope and trust in government. The so-called ethnic distinctions which had led to the destruction of our social fabric were eliminated and all Rwandans were given new identity cards with no mention other than “Rwandan”. This ensured that all have equal access to services, education, and healthcare and were equal before the law without distinction.
Seeking wisdom in our own culture, the traditional community-based court, also known as “Gacaca” were used to judge millions of genocidaires and accelerate their reintegration into society. Had we used a western justice system this process would have lasted hundreds of years. This would have been unproductive, and possibly resulted in a vicious cycle of the elements that led to instability. The ‘Gacaca’ courts closed in 2012 making a major contribution to legal history and conflict resolution.
The Rwandan government has put in place systems and autonomous institutions whose main mandate is to serve as an eye on good governance, namely the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) and the national Ombudsman Office.
RGB is an autonomous public entity that serves to promote principles of good governance, and conduct research and policy analysis related to good governance. The Ombudsman Office works closely with communities to educate and resolve issues related to corruption and injustice. Here, leadership and politics mean serving people.
One example of inclusiveness and public accountability is the “Umushikirano” forum — also known as the days of the “National Dialogue” — an annual fora convening all members of the Government, civil society leaders, members of the diaspora, and followed on media by the entire nation. Over the duration of two days, citizens are given access to a toll-free number and are able to speak directly to any of the leaders seated in the room including the President. Leaders report back on the performance contracts “Imihigo”, that they laid one year earlier — and their communities are invited to provide feedback. The discussions are live-streamed on TV and radio across the whole country.
Women are also strongly encouraged to play a central role in the development of the country and currently make up 64 percent of the members of parliament (a world record). Political will and pro-active policies have increased their financial inclusion and empowered women to be stronger economic players.
A Skilled Workforce and the Making of a Knowledge Economy
One of the pillars of the “Vision 2020” was to ensure universal access to education. In Rwanda, this was unprecedented. In 1994, the nation was partly illiterate mainly because of previous apartheid-like policies that favored the education of one part of the population versus the others, as means to ensure that opportunities were only passed on to a few. In a nation that is the most densely populated in Africa, with few natural resources, this policy was disastrous. The population was then largely involved in agriculture, with poor use of technologies to ensure optimum production.
Under the leadership of Kagame, education has been widely accessed and promoted. In addition to primary education, the government of Rwanda has invested into increasing technical and vocational training to increase the numbers of skilled workers. The ministry of education also oversees the integrated polytechnic and vocational colleges that are training electricians, plumbers, construction technicians and more.
A technology ecosystem
A countrywide fiber optic infrastructure connects the entire nation to 4G Internet. Heavy investment into the ICT ensure that the cost of access to the internet by individuals, businesses and homes is within reach. Attached to this is the country’s continued investment in building human capital that can export skills. Since 2012, a tech incubator, kLab has been home to Rwanda’s young techpreneurs as they develop market driven products. This year, kLab partnered with technical colleges to establish presence across the country. This will increase community-based innovations that respond to local challenges. Leveraging mobile penetration of its people, Rwanda is re-engineering access to government services with the introduction of IREMBO, an e-government portal, which for the past two years is innovating and increasing the number of government services that are accessible online.
Since 2008, non-biodegradable polythene bags are illegal. At the Kigali Airport, a sign informs visitors that plastic bags are not welcome in the country and staff of the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) ensure that the regulations are respected. Global Rankings have recognized Kigali as one of the cleanest cities in Africa. Rwanda is committed to both mitigating further growth in greenhouse gases emissions and signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The Paris agreement is a historic international treaty that aims to limit global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, with an ambition of keeping increases below 1.5 degrees. In October 2016, the country hosted the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol. This global rendez-vous gathered more than 200 countries to sign an agreement on phasing out toxic gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration (hydro fluorocarbons). Every year, Rwandans plant millions of trees to protect the country’s forests, rivers and wetlands. All these efforts have one objective which is to make Rwanda a developed, climate-resilient and low carbon economy by 2050.
Universal Healthcare Coverage
Another significantly important policy has been that of universal access to modern healthcare. Rwanda like many third-world countries had very poor health infrastructure. Given levels of education that existed previously, a pronounced poor usage of the existing infrastructure led to premature deaths of children and women particularly. In 1999, through its Ministry of Health, the Government of Rwanda initiated a universal health insurance which today reports over 85% coverage of the population. The insurance paid annually is affordable and covers every member of the family; it covers access to public health centres and referral hospitals. This increase in insurance coverage has in turn increased usage of health care services. In December 2016, a long time partner to Rwanda’s Healthcare system, the Gates Foundation, recommended that Rwanda’s Healthcare infrastructure become a model that can be adopted given the impact and results it yielded. Rwanda has demonstrated that even in resource constrained situations, there is a possibility to establish access to quality primary care.
Made in Rwanda
With the opportunity to diversify into previously non-existent or segmented industries, the economy has seen the rise of young micro and SMEs which are leveraging the positive business environment to get on their own feet. Agribusiness for local and export markets is an area that is continuously being developed with extensive Research and Development supported by the government. Private sector entities are in foras engaging the government to innovate in addressing hindrances that hold back growth. Tourism, ICTs, Financial Services, Fashion and Artisanal Production are some of the growing industries where entrepreneurs are connecting the dots to build stronger value chains and create new jobs that didn’t exist on the market before.
To further incentivize growth, the Government has established a privately run guarantee fund that backs investments that banks traditionally view as high risk, supporting particularly youth and women. The Business Development Fund now also makes equity investments in scalable businesses, creating room for access to more patient capital for businesses that require that type of investment.
A More Connected Africa
In addition to internal policies that have improved human development in Rwanda, Kagame envisions a more connected Africa, one that trades more, and creates infinite opportunities for its people. He is now driving this by actively engaging governments to create more open trade policies and has supported the growth of the nation’s airline RwandAir that is looking to bridge the current cost of traveling and trading across the region. In the last two years, the airline has increased investments to create weekly connecting flights that reach cities in West, South and East Africa and most recently connecting directly to cities in Europe too.
Tasked to lead the efforts to reform the African Union in 2016, H.E Paul Kagame put together a team of 9 eminent African advisors among which, Dr. Carlos Lopes, the outgoing Executive Director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Strive Masiyiwa, the Econet Wireless Founder, Amina J.Mohammed, Nigerian Environment Minister, Mariam Mahamat Nour, Minister of Economy and international cooperation, Vera Songwe, the International Finance Corporation Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Tito Mboweni, former Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, Former President of the African Development Bank, Acha Leke, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Co-Founder of the African Leadership Network, and Christina Duarte, Cape Verde’s Finance Minister. The key task for the team has been to ensure the AU weans itself off of foreign aid, thereby making the organization more efficient and economically independent. Handling Agenda 2063 with a sense of urgency, H.E Paul Kagame stated: ‘This process is not about what each country can do on its own but what we can all do together; for each other and with each other.’ Top priorities are to make Africa accessible to all Africans #visafreeAfrica, build one airspace, increase intra-Africa trade and wave roaming fees.
Moving Forward Faster
All of the above and much more not mentioned cannot happen in a vacuum. It has taken a devoted, forward-looking leader who has modeled integrity, accountability, and service above self — #Agaciro.
The 2017 Presidential Elections gave Rwandans a platform to voice their choice. Young and old came out in a #ClimateOfCheer to exercise our rights and over 6M people lined up at their community electoral posts. It is a statement of faith and if you come to Rwanda today, you will be inspired by the positivity, the hope and resilience of its people.
While western media has continued to publish content questioning or perhaps one should say falsely accusing the leadership of President Kagame, we, the People of Rwanda have decided. We have chosen continuity to cement what has already been achieved, and to address the challenges yet to be addressed.
Ibyiza Biri imbere (The best is yet to come!) #RwandaDecides2017.