Recently I stumbled on an article detailing how Shyira Hospital in Nyabihu District, Western Province came to be and I could not help but be enthused and humbled by the way Rwanda has been able to deal with insurmountable challenges over the years.
From the story, I understood that in March 2016, President Paul Kagame pledged a state-of-the-art hospital to the people of Nyabihu to save them the trouble of traveling long journeys to access healthcare in far-flung parts of the country.
There was very little time to deliver the project. When the Ministry of Health called for bids, the bidder who would deliver the project at the earliest wanted at least 36 months to have it done, and at a humongous cost of Rwf9 billion.
It almost proved impossible to have the hospital built within the desired timeframe and at a reasonable cost that would not stretch the country’s ‘budgeted’ resources.
In came Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) Reserve Force and it offered to build the hospital in a record time of 12 months and guess what? At a cost which is less than half of what the lowest bidder was asking for.
Indeed, the Government handed the project to the armed forces and 12 months later, on July 4, 2017 – on Liberation Day – the Head of State unveiled the state-of-the-art health facility which is currently serving over 200, 000 people from Nyabihu and beyond.
The RDF Reserve Force completed the project at a cost slightly above Rwf4 billion, saving the country at least Rwf5 billion – which would not have been the case had the state considered handing the task to a private contractor.
I recently visited the facility and can confess that it is not just a health facility but it is also an architectural marvel. The quality of the infrastructure is unmatched and it is hard to believe that it was achieved at the aforementioned cost.
As we approach the 24thCommemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, one has to look at Shyira Hospital and hundreds of other projects RDF has executed over the last 23 years, to understand the contribution of the army to the socio-economic development of the country.
When we were growing up, the stories and experiences we had were such that the armed forces of the past were perpetrators of terror in most African countries. Soldiers used guns to have their way, robbing innocent civilians, shedding blood with impunity or engaging in all forms of corruption.
RDF has singlehandedly changed the way the army is viewed by the public not only on the continent but worldwide, and I can personally confess that if it was not the aspect of age, I would gladly enlist myself into the armed forces and serve my country.
Right after ending of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, RDF knew one thing –Rwanda did not have a lot of resources and neither would it depend on foreigners to reconstruct the nation which was in shambles.
The army played a leading role in rebuilding the country – from roads and bridges to schools, health facilities and preserving the environment – the work of RDF has been outstanding all through.
Even today, the RDF still plays a pivotal role of bridging the gaps whenever they are called upon, including emergencies. As such, the army has built over 500km of roads across the country, thousands of classrooms, health centres, health posts and biogas projects, to mention but a few.
RDF’s niche has been delivering projects where everyone else has failed and in a very short time as was the case for Shyira Hospital.
It is this experience and commitment that ensures that the RDF is called upon whenever landslides sweep away vital roads and bridges because they will restore them quickly.
As records would show, over the last two decades, the Government has encountered challenges in its efforts to provide shelter for Genocide survivors and vulnerable households mainly because private contractors would collude with local government officials to do substandard work, costing the state billions.
It was not until RDF was handed the task of building houses for Genocide survivors and Intergraded Development Programme (IDP) model villages across the country that this challenge was addressed.
Since then, thousands of houses have been built, complete with cattle sheds and good roads.
The RDF has also been pivotal in preserving the country’s environment, planting millions of trees, putting in places thousands of hectares of radical terraces and ravines as well as water sheds on rivers.
This laborious work of the armed forces has also tremendously contributed to agricultural transformation in Rwanda over the last 23 years, making the country food secure.
As a matter of fact, the army has contributed over Rwf215 million to the One Cow per Family (Girinka) programme, under which hundreds of thousands of vulnerable households have received at least a cow each.
One cannot assess RDF’s contribution to Rwanda’s socio-economic development without assessing the role of the army in healthcare provision. In fact today, one can rightly argue that the army is at the forefront of ensuring access to healthcare.
Thousands of Rwandans have benefited from outreach services and free surgeries offered by military doctors during the annual Army Week drive, while Rwanda Military Hospital (RMH)-Kanombe continues to offer tertiary medical care at an affordable cost for ordinary Rwandans.
While RDF has a constitutional mandate to participate actively in the country’s development, it is not often that we see the army contribute effectively to national development in many countries.
As we approach 25 years of the existence of RDF -- next year - we can think of how to replicate the RDF model.
The writer is a publisher, consultant and free thinker.