I see nothing wrong with Rwanda’s exceptionalism

EDUCATION IN Rwanda is a key development pillar and fundamental to the government’s policies. Few economists can argue that education reform has a clear effect on future development.
Adam Kyamatare
Adam Kyamatare

EDUCATION IN Rwanda is a key development pillar and fundamental to the government’s policies. Few economists can argue that education reform has a clear effect on future development. 

Something less tangible, but possibly just as important, is a feeling in students of exceptionality and unhindered promise. Rwanda needs to nurture an environment where students believe that they, individually, can achieve anything and that they deserve it.


Exceptionalism, the idea that one is qualitatively different from the rest of the pack, is an uncomfortable notion for most people. People are often taught that they are part of a group, that they should blend in, and that thinking highly of oneself is wrong. 

While these lessons have their merits they negate the distinctive impact that believing in oneself can have. 

As the party nominations for Untied States President began in 2007 there were many people running, and not running, who could have arguably effectively run the nation. 

While there were various reasons why Barack Obama won the nomination, one cannot deny it was an unbridled belief in his own ability that was palpable to many Americans. 

As recounted in the 2010 book ‘Game Changer’ by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, on one occasion, as advisors tried to give candidate Obama last minute advice, his retort was ‘Don’t worry. I got this.’ And he did.

Bill Gates and Mark Zukerberg both attended Harvard University and both dropped out to manage companies they created. According to the Wall Street Journal, three out of four start-ups fail but these men would go on to lead two of those that succeed; Microsoft and Facebook. 

It goes without saying that these are pioneering geniuses, but they equally have a huge sense of their own destinies. 

The Economist found that over 90 per cent of Forbes 500 CEOs have above average height. This often correlates with a history of athletic activity, success with the opposite sex, and emitting authority through body language. 

These CEOs are nurtured to believe that not only are they different but that they deserve leadership positions and they therefore seek to attain those roles.

Exceptionalism in Rwanda

In a pictorial complied by Akilah Institute, students were asked to write on a small blackboard their thoughts and then have their picture taken holding it. 

One read ‘I will soon be Rwandan [sic] female President’. Believing that in your time Rwanda will one day have a female president is notable, believing that you are that president is exceptional.  

Early this month, three students from Rwanda were accepted in Harvard University, two of them are Bridge to Rwanda scholars and one is from Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. 

Bridge to Rwanda Scholars (B2R) are picked from a large pool of applicants for their future promise and then guided through the U.S. university application process and helped to gain scholarships. 

By applying to enter the B2R Scholars students believe in their own exceptionality. They believe that they deserve the best and that they can be the ‘masters of their fate’. 

This should be encouraged as it instils in students early an idea that they can be the agents of change for themselves, their environments and their country.

Speaking at this year’s 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, President Kagame put this idea succinctly; Rwanda ‘chose to think big’. Many skeptics wonder if Rwanda will be able to achieve all the goals that it has set for itself. 

While it might not, these naysayers forget the most important portion of the goals – that they are set at all. The ability of this nation to look at its past and say that it will not only overcome it but surpass nations that began ahead of it and have not suffered the same tragic past is remarkable. 

President Kagame epitomises this notion of exceptionalism. Few can argue that a man who started in a refugee camp, helped liberate a foreign nation, ended a genocide, in his own country, and leads a radically developing country doesn’t have a keen sense of his own ability. 

Rwandans need to unleash this perception in their children. Children should believe that if they work hard enough, they can achieve anything and that they deserve it. 

It is no vice to believe that one is destined for great things; on the contrary it may be the highest level of selflessness possible.

Adam Kyamatare is an economist based in Copenhagen

Twitter: @adamkyam


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