Rwanda’s Liberation Day: Five points for reflection
On 4 July 2013 Rwanda celebrated 19 years of liberation. Rwandans in India, like all their compatriots in Rwanda and abroad, celebrated the miraculous rebirth of their country. The celebration held in New Delhi was attended by over 350 enthusiastic Rwandans and friends of Rwanda, including diplomats, government officials and members of the Indian business community.
The enthusiasm and passion of the participants at the event and their genuine marvel at the miraculous rebirth of Rwanda led me to pause and reflect on what 19 years of liberation have meant for Rwanda.
In this piece, I share five points that we need to reflect on as we continue to strive for the complete rebuilding of Rwanda.
First, we celebrate 19 years of the rebirth of a new Rwanda. The country’s journey has been long and eventful. Rwanda had a very turbulent and tragic history. The first three decades of the country’s independence were characterized by unfortunate upheavals perpetuated by ideologically bankrupt politics.
This culminated into the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in which over one million people were annihilated in just 100 days.
During the dark three months of the Genocide, Rwanda died and descended into an almost failed state.
July 4, 1994 was, therefore, an important turning point in the history of the country.
The gallant sons and daughters of the Rwandan Patriotic Front/Rwandan Patriotic Army stopped the Genocide and liberated the country from a vicious genocidal regime.
This liberation is a crucial landmark in the rebirth and renaissance of the country.
Liberation day is, therefore, a moment to commemorate this rebirth. Most importantly, it is a time to pay tribute to the heroes who sacrificed and many who paid the ultimate price to save the country and its people.
Second, this is a time to assess and reflect on how far Rwanda has come. Over the last 19 years, Rwanda has moved on. Like the proverbial phoenix, the country has risen from the ashes.
Today, Rwanda is a flourishing country. It is a nation of hope, promise and dignity.
The economy and infrastructure of Rwanda has been rebuilt. Rwanda’s economy has grown at an average annual GDP growth rate of above 8 per cent over the last decade.
The country is on track to achieve most of the millennium development goals. The quality of life and productivity of the Rwandan people as measured by core health, education, income and general welfare indicators have greatly improved. Access to basic social services has tremendously expanded.
The soft assets of the Rwandan society like social cohesion, national unity, citizen participation in national development and confidence in the institutions of governance have been greatly enhanced.
The business environment, foreign direct investment and tourism have enormously grown.
Today Rwanda is ranked as one of the fastest reforming countries on the World Bank doing business report rankings and is highly rated as free of corruption by Transparency International.
Rwanda is on track to achieve its vision of becoming a middle-income country, reducing poverty and becoming a knowledge-based economy by the year 2020.
On the global scene, Rwanda has assumed its rightful role on regional and global matters. In January 2013, the country became a member of the United Nations Security Council on a rotational non-permanent seat. Rwanda had a successful and productive presidency of the Council for the month of April, which it used to champion issues of conflict resolution and tackling root causes of conflicts in Africa.
The country has transformed from being one of conflict and genocide to a global promoter of peace and security. Rwanda has become the sixth largest contributor of United Nations Peace keepers in the World. Rwanda’s peace keepers are in different parts of the world, including Darfur, Haiti, South Sudan and Chad.
Rwanda has transformed into a stable, peaceful and well governed country.
The miraculous strides of transformation that Rwanda has made in just a few years must be celebrated with a resolve to keep up the pace of positive change.
Third, it is important to think deeply about why Rwanda has turned around where many post-conflict countries have stagnated or even failed.
The resilience of the Rwandan people who refused to be bogged down by tragedy, but chose to take ownership of the rebuilding of the country after the 1994 tragedy is of critical significance. Taking ownership of the country’s tragic past and the resolve to rebuild a new country based on reconciliation, tolerance, national unity and prosperity marked a change in mindset. This has ensured that Rwandans work together to shape a new and common destiny.
Leadership matters. The leadership of Rwanda under President Paul Kagame has tremendously reshaped the country for the better. His clarity of vision, discipline, focus and charisma has greatly inspired the Rwandan people and guided the country from despair to profound hope, growth and prosperity. Every country has needed a charismatic leader to show the way at the time of tragedy. President Kagame has championed the total transformation of Rwanda.
Rwanda’s ambitious reforms and institutional building has ensured the establishment of an efficient and responsive state where citizens are engaged. This has put the country on a solid course of democratization.
Creating a market driven economy and a private sector led, business friendly environment has helped bring in the needed foreign direct investment to power the growth of the economy.
Equally important, Rwanda has built partnerships and a network of global friends who have been instrumental. Rwanda has built an array of regional and international connections that it has leveraged to support the efforts of rebuilding the country. Rwanda is benefiting from the gains of regional integration through its membership to the EAC and other global organisations like the Commonwealth and effective and accountable use of foreign aid.
Fourth, liberation day is about a re-affirmation by Rwandans that the gains Rwanda has made over the last 19 years will be consolidated and even expanded for the continued transformation of the country.
Rwandans have tested the fruits of success. They have seen their country drastically change. The majority of ordinary Rwandans are the beneficiaries of this success story. Just in the last five years, over one million Rwandans lifted themselves out of poverty as measured by Rwanda’s most recent household living conditions survey undertaken by the National Institute of Statistics in collaboration with a number of global economic research institutions. Rwandans across the country share stories of personal and household socio-economic transformation. The Rwandan people are most optimistic about the future and are determined to continue changing the country into a new and modern nation. This got re-affirmed in community discussions across the country on liberation day.
Fifth, the theme for Rwanda’s 19th Liberation Anniversary- “Celebrating Africa’s Renaissance, Working towards Self-Reliance” was revealing. Rwanda has championed the values of dignity, self-worth (agaciro, as popularly referred to in the local Kinyarwanda language) and self-reliance. These are values that Rwandans believe our other brothers on the continent should not cease striving to achieve in continuing with the spirit of the continent’s founding fathers.
Rwanda’s journey continues. Rwandans are determined to rebuild their lives and their country. The Rwandan government is unwavering in providing the leadership required to power the country’s transformation. Achieving Rwanda’s Vision 2020 to become a middle-income country is ever closer to being a reality. The struggle continues.
Ernest Rwamucyo is Rwanda’s High Commissioner to India