Why Rwanda leaves other African nations behind
For anyone following the narrative and trends in Africa, gone were the days when the nomenclatures of giants and elephants affirm the state of affairs or define the type of investments they attract. Today, new poster boys are emerging and they are being adjudged not by their sizes but by initiatives and developmental goals that they embark upon. For Rwanda, all hands are on deck to move from the dark era to new beginnings where growth is inclusive and no one is left behind. FEMI ADEKOYA who was in Kigali recently for Rwanda’s National Dialogue writes on how the country renews social contract between the governor and the governed.
For Dione Nagiriwubuntu at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, his story of the 1994 genocide is very vivid, as he acknowledges that he still visits a therapist to manage his well-being. For someone who survived the genocide, witnessing a forum that brings everyone together again to discuss a future where none is left behind, is not only therapeutic but helps everyone to define and build the country they desire.
Today, the average Rwandese makes the conscious effort to be described by their nationality rather than ethnicity, in line with the peace education deployed across the country to disabuse the minds of citizens and re-calibrate the nation from its colonial history and past.
Much of the success achieved in Rwanda hinges on the power of its ideas, self-reliance, resilience, as well as on the forging of homegrown and innovative solutions that are now globally known, such as Gacaca, Imihigo, Abunzi, Ubudehe, and Girinka.
For non-Kinyarwanda speakers, Umushyikirano literally means a meeting where participants are able to exchange ideas, share experiences and question each other. Umushyikirano from its first edition has evolved into the National Dialogue Council.As Rwandans deservedly celebrate the current achievements, the new challenge is how to enter into a higher development gear, which is needed to reach the 11, 5 per cent GDP/year growth target stipulated in its plan.
Though the winds may not be favourable, the National Dialogue process offers a unique opportunity to fully explore possibilities for a dynamic change in Rwanda’s fortunes.
Rwanda’s first dialogue
The first National Dialogue Council took place on Saturday, 28 June 2003 and has been held ever since. As part of the custom, every year, the summary report and recommendations are produced at each dialogue and more importantly, a complete archive of the documents is accessible to the public.Provided for under the Rwandan constitution, Umushyikirano is attended by central and local government officials, representatives of the Diaspora, the private sector, civil society, and diplomats, among others.
During the two-day meeting, Rwandans directly engage leaders about the country’s challenges and opportunities.The event is broadcast live on public radio and TV as well as streamed online with slots for call-in sessions.Putting it into proper context, several years ago, as part of deliberate efforts to revitalise and reconstruct Rwanda from where the country was coming from and specifically to nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt the country’s development programmes to the country’s needs and context. Umushyikirano which was the outcome was a home-grown solutions template.
According to the official records, these home-grown solutions is a set of culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programs.The event is usually chaired by the President of Rwanda and usually attended by members of the Cabinet and Parliament, Local Government members, Rwandans in the Diaspora, media, the diplomatic community, and other invited guests.
From 2003, each Umushyikirano has had a theme and participants are asked to pose questions related to that theme or any other development issue. Once the question has been asked (via a participant at the venue person, via social media platforms, online or via an SMS or phone in; the appropriate official responsible would have to respond.
The 2019 edition of Umushyikirano was no different. The 2019 edition of the National Dialogue Council better known by the Kinyarwanda word Umushyikirano took place on Thursday 19th – Friday 20th December 2019.On the first day, the theme was ‘driving double-digit growth’; where participants reflected on choices, principles and values that have been central for economic progress over the years and most especially over the last year 2018. The theme for the second day was ‘engaging families for community resilience.’ And this session appraised the achievements made to address vulnerabilities, specifically in health and education, through national and locally driven solutions.
In his address, President Paul Kagame, affirmed that the state of the nation is strong and stronger than it has ever been. The nation is strong not by coincidence or chance but by the reliance of the strength of everyone in different sectors (individuals, the diplomatic community, partners etc) all have contributed to what Rwanda is today.According to Kagame, Rwanda hopes to record a growth of 8.5 per cent by the end of 2020, adding the country Rwanda needs to run and avoid distractions.
He said: “When we started vision 2020, we set some goals and today, we have RwandAir, building a new airport and expanding tourism by encouraging people to visit Rwanda to see things for themselves. There is an advancement, but it is slow. We need to build a knowledge economy in order to build global competitiveness.” He continued: “the gender indicators showed that we are in the top ten in promoting gender globally, however, our goal is to be in the top five. That means there is still a long way to go, to be in the top five. We have moved from sixth to ninth position.”
The President alluded to Rwanda’s past and stated that the country was once defined by a lack of security. But now, the State is leaving this behind and drawing strength from these lessons, to ensure that Rwandans do not repeat their past in their future.On Security, the President said Rwanda is stable, even as for the last two years or so, some elements wanted to sabotage it, a move he said the country has been able to address.
Climate change and relocation efforts
On the recent issue of relocation of citizens living in high-risk zones, the President stated that no Rwandan(s) should live in high-risk areas and more importantly It is our responsibility as leaders to protect their lives. Projecting into the future, the new year and the new decade, the President opined that as preparations are made, Rwandans take satisfaction in what Rwandans have achieved together.
When The Guardian visited some of the integrated facilities like those set up in Karama district, even distribution of development characterised the move, as many households have been relocated to designated areas while measures have been put in place to ensure that greenhouse farms, schools and cooperatives are set up for self-sufficiency of such societies.
The President went further to state that Rwanda is now measured at the global level and ranked amongst the top ten in gender equality.He stated that it is a reminder that there is more work to be done to be ranked in the top five. He further acknowledged the women who are making positive impacts and winning the fight for gender equality and requested that all actors should work together to increase the speed of progress, in all ramifications. And still, on gender quality, President Kagame said thus, ‘It is my wish that the next person who will hold my position will be a woman.’
Rwanda’s nation branding and local patronage policy
For Rwanda, nation branding has been very profitable, especially for its tourism industry, while also opening up the nation’s export market ahead of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).The country’s decision to sponsor Arsenal FC, for an estimated amount of $40 million over three years, was controversial at the time.
On social networks, critics pointed directly at the Rwandan president saying, “Paul Kagame leaves his country to give astronomical sums to Arsenal when Rwandan orphans are so poor that they cannot afford a ball to play football”.But in response to these criticisms, the Rwandan presidency had indicated that this campaign is financed by tourism revenues and, in addition, the country has more or less made a return on what it has invested and that it expects much more.The Rwanda Development Council already estimates the value of tourism benefits at 20% higher than the $40 million invested in Arsenal jerseys.
According to the Chairman Private Sector Federation-Rwanda, Robert Bafakulera, the campaign has increased the country’s hospitality business, noting that occupancy rate of many hotels has risen to almost 60 per cent since the campaign commenced.Similarly, one of the things that stood out during the National Umushyikirano Council proceedings was how Rwandans have embraced ‘Made in Rwanda’ products, especially the clothes.
President Paul Kagame, First Lady Jeannette Kagame, the chief executive of Rwanda Development Board (RDB) Claire Akamanzi led with their ‘Made-in-Rwanda’ outfits on the opening day, a move that was emulated by a significant number of participants on the last day.Rwanda had equally had issues with the United States over the importation of used clothes into the country, with Kagame asking for better treatment and dignity for Rwandans; the move saw the Trump administration partially suspending Rwanda’s benefits to export apparel duty-free to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act – AGOA.
While commenting on the Made in Rwanda project, Minister of Trade and Industry, Minister Soraya Hakuziyaremye stated that three years ago, the contribution by the manufacturing sector to the GDP was 300 billion Rwandan Francs.But today, after the Made In Rwanda policy was adopted, exports of Made in Rwanda products grew by 17 per cent and the sector contributes circa 510 billion Rwandan Francs. Mr Yusuf Murangwa, the Director-General of National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda whilst commenting on the food price hike stated that as the economy grows, consumption of agriculture production would also grow.
On agriculture, President Kagame reiterated that the sector continues to drive the economy. And he thanked the farmers, including the young people who are actively involved in agriculture. And projecting into the distant future, the President stated that the country would focus on intensifying agricultural extension and irrigation services to increase productivity.
Beyond 2020, Rwanda plans for ‘Keza Nyiramajyambere’
Keza Nyiramajyambere was introduced to the Dialogues by RDB chief executive Clare Akamanzi, as the future of Rwanda, with emphasis on the need to start planning for year 2050 and build the capacity of new individuals being introduced to the society.
According to Akamanzi, every day, at least 10 children are born at the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK).“One of the children born today could be Keza Nyiramajyambere, who will be 30 years old in 2050”, she said.“She will be working in a country whose economy is knowledge-based. In 30 years, Keza will have options so she could be into IT business. She will be running a business that is worth $1 billion and will be employing at least 50,000 people. That is the kind of girl we are looking at for the future,” she said.
Affirming this, the President stated that as the world keeps changing, the future belongs to those who are equipped with the right skillsets and have made good use of the available technologies. And Rwandans must be equipped with the skills to compete successfully in the global knowledge economy.
Speaking about Rwanda on the international stage, President Kagame stated that the foundation of Rwanda foreign policy is the pursuit of mutually beneficial relationships with partner States and Rwanda seeks to play her part by making meaningful contributions to the multilateral system.
Concluding his State of the Nation address during Umushyikirano, President Kagame went thus, ‘ask yourself as someone who contributes to this country, where am I coming from and where am I going, how can I do more so that our collective results and benefits can increase?This Umushyikirano should go beyond government evaluating our achievements, everyone here should evaluate themselves.’
Lessons for Nigeria and other African countries
Every country has to discover its path to development by identifying the most valuable asset in each moment of its transformation. One glaring feature of this type of dialogue is that the leaders hear and see first-hand that matter to the governed. So, what means is that as an elected official, one can’t feign ignorance if by the following years Umushyikirano; the same problems tabled at the dialogue have not been solved or in the process of being resolved.
National dialogues as an accountability framework represent an honest assessment of the principles that guide the relationship between governor and governed. As an observer, the proceedings of the national dialogue, Umushyikirano, offer leaders the opportunity to defend the promises made to their citizens and justify the mandate given to them.
Rwanda is not perfect but presently becoming the poster boy for Africa. It has shown how deploy home-grown solutions to its problems. For instance, Finland exemplifies the learning organizational model in which institutional environments mold the functioning of the economy, the manner in which economic agents go about running their businesses, and the nature of their interaction. Singapore shows adversity is the beginning of a journey, not its end. Uruguay shows that small can indeed be beautiful in many unsuspected ways.
In the words of Carlos Lopes, the former Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), to be successful and endure the test of time, societal changes must be rooted in the cultural, political and economic history of the country.“In defining this transformation, Rwanda like Finland, Singapore or Uruguay ought to identify which key choices should shape a prosperous future for all. Every country has to discover its path to development by identifying the most valuable asset in each moment of its transformation. Predictability can be more valuable at a point, inclusivity on another, safety yet on another and so on. Many ingredients make a successful development experiment, but it is not a zero-sum game. It is complex. It is unique. Rwanda has been demonstrating it knows its way”, he added.
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