Rwanda's quiet revolution beginning to get noticed

It is now a regular happening. We wake up to the news of a new world ranking that places Rwanda among the very best. You would think that by now it should not be news. It is, and for very good reason.

It is now a regular happening. We wake up to the news of a new world ranking that places Rwanda among the very best. You would think that by now it should not be news. It is, and for very good reason.

The most recent ranking placed Kigali International Airport second best airport in Africa and number one in East Africa. Perhaps that is news because not too long ago, there wasn’t much of an airport to talk about, certainly in terms of traffic.

The airport ranking is part of a long and growing list of top places in other areas – doing business, competitiveness, environmental conservation, effective governance, anti-corruption, health care – among many.

I don’t know whether we know that we are doing great things, that in fact we are making a revolution. I have a feeling most of us have not quite grasped the import of what is happening here. It is a revolution.

Now, when you mention revolution, most people understand change that is accompanied by violence and great upheaval. The word denotes a complete break from the way things have been done. Some might even say that what is happening in Rwanda is so orderly and peaceful and surely cannot be a revolution.

A closer examination of events in Rwanda in the last two decades reveals that they have actually been very disruptive.

First, we have disrupted the mindset of Rwandans and changed the way we think about ourselves, our abilities and our relations with others. We now know that we are the primary guarantors of our existence and must work to make it more meaningful. The result has been a tremendous growth in self-belief.

That is partly what has led to the changes in Rwanda that everyone can observe and the top places in various rankings. Self belief is behind other achievements in government and in such other areas as sports. The record breaking batting performance of cricketer Cathia Uwamahoro last week and Eric Dusingizimana before her is testimony to this.

Second, we have upset the expectations of non-Rwandans about what we can do. We are compelling the world to view us differently, making it turn away from conventional perceptions and stereotypes, and even outright negation of who we are and our achievements.

We are not only forcing a revaluation of ourselves but of Africa in general. One of the ways this is being done is to change attitudes about government and politics on the continent.

For most of the thirty years that followed independence, governments in most African countries were viewed with mistrust by their citizens as well as outsiders. They were corrupt, wasteful, ineffective, and uncaring.

The response to this situation took several forms. One was the birth of civil society organisations, encouraged on the most part by outsiders. They set themselves up as alternatives to governments and provided what the latter should have done but had failed to do.

Another was the reclaiming of the people’s rights through armed struggles or political activism.

Then the World Bank and IMF effectively took over the running of African economies.

In the last twenty years or so, Rwanda has shown that governments do work. They produce results and can be trusted. This has been evident in the growth of the economy generally, in efforts to reduce poverty, effective use of aid, the fight against corruption, improvements in education and healthcare, and in a host of other areas.

The effectiveness of government is beginning to make donors rethink the role of governments in development. Civil society organisations will also have to reset their operational mindset. To be effective they have to work in partnership with government, not in opposition to it.

Effectiveness on the ground is a powerful argument for change of attitude to government that no amount of denial, falsification or wilful blindness can refute.

Our recent history, too, of rebuilding a broken nation, reconciling a divided people, healing the wounds and soothing the pain of the severely injured and bruised, and above all creating prosperity, is in the same mould of radical change.

All this is revolution whichever way you look at it. Perhaps it goes unnoticed because it is peaceful, gradual and incremental, and not violently disruptive.

We must be cautious, though, and not allow success to go to our heads. All change runs out of steam at some point. Or people get used to good things and the urge to do more slowly disappears. Others, more eager to move forward, may overtake us and we find we cannot catch up with them.

For now we are making a revolution and perhaps our gradualist approach will guarantee that we don’t run out of breath any time soon. It should be kept that way.


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