2009 has been a great year for Rwanda, with lots of reasons to celebrate. What with an extended successful chairmanship of the East African Community (EAC), the launching of the EAC Customs Union, the signing of the Common Market Protocol, the ‘Doing Business 2010 Top Reformer’ award, and the AAPAM (African Association for Public Administration and Management) to the Immigration Directorate for its innovative online VISA application, and now a member of the Commonwealth.
This has definitely been a year in which Rwanda has been recognized for its results -oriented approach in its development strategies.
So what has been behind this success? Given all the challenges we face like being a landlocked nation with limited resources, and a history that does not do us proud, it is hard to believe how far we have come.
When I first stepped into this country seven years ago, I remember being shocked by the laxity with which everyone went about business.
The first person I met was a taxi driver (taxi-voiture) who could not even lift a finger to help me with my heavy baggage, but was gallant enough to open the car boot.
There was the two hour lunch break (pause) for both public and private services from 12 noon to 2pm in addition to closing business at 4 pm.
It was quite bizarre walking into any shop and all you would get is an indifferent glance. You wouldn’t miss scenes where a shopkeeper slams the door into your face just because you’ve come in at the last hour, albeit with money in your hand, even at a time when the volume of business was so low.
In the public offices, getting an appointment with ‘the Director’ was nearly as hard as paddling upstream!
However, all was not lost. I remember being quite impressed, by the level of ICT equipment and facilities that I hadn’t yet seen in the more developed neighboring countries. I also thought the management systems were more organized, although a little too stringent (Rwandans had this naivety of believing rules were unbendable, and lacked the initiative to react to any circumstance that went beyond the norm and procedure).
The political will to change was almost palatable, supported by an eager and enthusiastic young labour force that was so willing to learn.
The theme at the time was ‘leapfrogging’ into development, and hasn’t that been just so! The truth is that for Rwanda to have come this far has been out of sheer will and focus on things that matter, with an ambitious speed that sometimes raises eyebrows.
Who would have believed that only 15 years after the genocide, Rwanda would rise out of the abyss to earn international respect, and become a force to recon with in the region? Who would have believed it would now be a part of the EAC block and as a bonus, admitted into the Commonwealth!
It has succeeded where many Governments have failed. Remember the huge outcry that arose when polythene bags were banned? How about insisting on the seat belt?
And the helmets on ‘motors’? or not crossing the green? The resistance to change on such simple matters was awesome, but once accepted, Rwandans have taken ownership and interestingly, made them become the pride actions that most of our counterparts in the region truly admire.
The changes in public service have also been incredible. Most Government Institutions are well facilitated with improved systems to make work easier for any individual working there or oneseeking support.
Exemplary service providers like Rwanda Revenue Authority, the Immigration Department have made things like the payment of taxes, business registration, or renewal of passports no longer a dreaded thing to do.
The private sector is beginning to boom with business working the longest hours possible, and with much improved customer care due to increased competitiveness.
Perhaps the greatest effort has been in changing the attitude to work, a process that Rwandans are still grappling with.
Government is now putting more emphasis on strategizing, planning and evaluation. Institutions are now obliged to set targets and come up with a budget plan that can be re-evaluated through a mid-term expenditure framework.
That said, I believe that after a long year of hard work in 2009, Rwandans, it seems, have embraced the culture of goal setting, meeting targets, while putting in nearly 100% of hard work.
Possibly by the end of Year 2010, these values will have been cemented within our national character as the country continues to make significant strides in the areas of socio-economic transformation.
Of course there are challenges to overcome in all this, but that is another story.
A Happy New Year to you all.