“Rwanda descends into bloody chaos,” wrote the Chicago Tribune of April 8th, 1994. “Deadly Reality, Rwanda is Dying,” screamed an editorial of L.A Times on 4th May, 1994.
“Rwanda anarchy an omen for US; wrote the Cincinnati Enquirer on the 21st of April 1994.
A decade and half ago, Rwanda was simply a cursed nation. The horror that engulfed the state of Rwanda left a deep scar that for decades, if not centuries, will always remind us of our ugly past.
In 1994, Rwanda was as good as a cemetery. The only creatures that had life were vultures and dogs that feasted on decomposing bodies and of course the cold blooded murderous gangs.
There was a total blackout as the above headlines in US papers suggest. A few moving souls were lifeless as the nation continued to bleed for almost 100 days.
I recently held an interview with Howard Shultz, chairman and CEO of US coffee retail chain store Starbucks. Shultz was in Rwanda to promote a number of coffee projects and pledge Starbucks’ commitment to a lasting relationship with Rwanda.
Shultz a friend of Rwanda and in particular a friend of President Kagame had never known Rwanda probably not until four years ago. He had never captured well the magnitude of the slaughter, despite the above screaming headlines that run in US papers.
But Shultz remarks on Rwanda were captivating, especially put in the context of a man coming from a society that cares less about an impoverished nation sandwiched somewhere on the poverty stricken African continent.
He describes Rwanda as “a very special place” as opposed to the “omen” that Cincinnati Enquirer wrote of in April 1994.
He said Rwanda had moved from the “dying” nation described by L.A Times of 4th May 1994, to a nation witnessing not only a “transformation” but a “wonderful” example of post conflict recovery.
Perhaps RPF’s biggest achievement and one which can never be quantified is bringing hope into a nation that had lost a sense of direction. A nation that was at one moment scrapped off the world stage, termed all sorts of devilish names but interesting now, a nation that has emerged out of political quandary to be dubbed a “beacon of hope.”
RPF inherited a state administrative apparatus that was in disarray. State enterprises were pushed into bankruptcy and public services had collapsed. Health and education sectors were in limbo, public order was in anarchy and tensions amongst local populations boiled each day.
Even when cynics look back and deeply reflect on the mess that befell this nation, they are mesmerized by the remarkable socio-economic transformation that this country has seen.
True, the journey from a poverty stricken nation to a middle income state remains a far-fetched dream. But some basic social human development indicators point to the right direction.
In 1996, two years after the slaughter, World Bank estimated that between 85-95 percent of Rwandans lived below the poverty line.
Today, though poverty levels remain high, the average numbers have fallen to at least 50 percent of our entire population.
Still on social indicators the World Bank statistics put the enrollment in primary school at 65 percent and no more than 8 percent in secondary school in 1996.
Today, though government faces challenges of curbing drop out rates, primary school enrollment has skyrocketed to 97 percent. Enrollment in secondary schools is slightly above 60 percent.
For 30 years, that is, between 1963 to 1993, the number of undergraduates from our only university stood at 2100.
Today universities have not only mushroomed but enrollment has gone 20-fold to 45,000 students.
In 1990, mortality rate for children under five years of age was 195 for every 1000 infants. By 2007, this rate had dramatically fallen to 79 percent for every 1000 children.
Life expectancy by 1990 was a mere 33 years of age.
Today at least a Rwandan can live up to 50 years.
In 1994, inflation stood at 64 percent, today despite global economic pressures, inflation has been kept an average of at least 5.6 percent for the past five years.
Still in 1994, annual fiscal revenues stood at zero, today 51 percent of our Rwf 830 billion budget is financed by domestic revenues.
In 1993, real GDP growth was -6.8 percent. In 2008 GDP growth stood at 11.2 percent driven by stable macro-economic policies.
At least for now, our liberators and freedom fighters have not betrayed the very cause of their liberation struggle like it has happened elsewhere in Africa. With limited resources, a lot has been achieved in socio-economic and political spheres.
But as we pop the champagne and sing glory to these remarkable achievements, we need to reflect on the enormous challenges that lie ahead.
Agricultural sector that accounts for 40 percent of GDP and employees 80 percent of our population remains highly subsistence leaving a significant portion of our population within the poverty bracket.
Poor infrastructure especially roads and energy continue to be an impediment to private sector growth.
Though more of our children are in schools, quality of education remains a big challenge and with collective effort, we need to uproot the cancer of ethnicity.
In short, our challenge going forward is to leverage the remarkable achievements over the past 15 years for a higher development path that will put the country’s socio-economic vision within reach.