Today is Christmas Day when Christians around the world mark the birth of Jesus Christ. Everyone, not just Christians, celebrates Christmas and looks forward to the day, at least the holiday and feasting bit. In a way, Christmas has been appropriated by all humankind and become our shared heritage.
Next Tuesday will be New Year’s Day when we say good bye to the year just ended and welcome the arrival of another. It is a moment that signifies more than the simple passage of time.
For some, it is a time of hope and optimism, similar to the sentiments of the “golden future time” of the animals’ song in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. For others, it is an opportunity to leave the disappointments of the past behind and another chance for a new beginning.
The whole week between Christmas and New Year, and even extending beyond, is a season of festivities. It is an interesting meeting point of the religious and the secular, but without the controversy and even open conflict such meetings often excite. Instead, it is marked by goodwill, a spirit of generosity and a feeling of common humanity.
Away from its religious significance, Christmas marks the end of the year and New Year the beginning of another. And so the festive season also offers us the opportunity to reflect on the year just ended. On the whole, it has been a good year for Rwanda.
Our President, Paul Kagame, was elected to chair the African Union. He immediately immersed himself into the new role with characteristic singular application. For him, chairing the continental body was not a matter of prestige or ceremony, but an assignment for real work, at the end of which concrete results were expected.
He wasted little time and moved across the continent, and beyond, to attend to Africa’s pressing issues. We hardly saw him much here, but we followed him everywhere he went and understood that his absence was because he was taking care of our continent’s business. We were happy with what we saw. A lot has been achieved in the short span of one year of his stewardship.
Africa has never enjoyed higher visibility or African issues been more the focus of world attention. The notion of Africa as a partner, with meaningful contribution to global matters, and not a mere recipient of charity, has been presented with strong conviction.
The idea has moved beyond wishful rhetoric or mere expression of pride. As a result Africa is increasingly regarded with more seriousness and respect, and our pride has grown.
Deeper integration has been at the heart of President Kagame’s transformation agenda for the continent. March this year saw the landmark signature in Kigali of the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Protocol on the Freedom of Movement of Persons. These were followed by another agreement on air transport - the Single African Air Transport Market.
All these were happening as the African Union was undergoing reforms to make it more effective and responsive to citizens’ needs.
To cap it all, President Kagame was named the 2018 African of the Year at the All Africa Business Leaders Awards in Johannesburg.
In 2018, the Made in Rwanda campaign continued to gather momentum. It is now more than a wishful slogan, but a recognisable stamp on real products. The baby steps of two years ago are becoming confident strides. Soon we will be sprinting.
This year saw another effort to market Rwanda as a tourist destination. The highlight of the promotion dubbed Visit Rwanda was the contract with English football club, Arsenal to display the logo on the players’ playing kit and on stadium advertising. It immediately drew wide attention and controversy, much of it a result of ignorance or paternalistic attitude. But that too was a form of publicity.
The numbers of visitors to Rwanda has continued to grow. International conferences find the country an attractive venue. Hotel owners no longer complain about low occupancy or failure to repay bank loans.
Towards the end of the year, Ms Louise Mushikiwabo, former minister of foreign affairs, was elected to head la Francophonie. Her election was evidence of Africa working together to advance common interest, which has not always been the case.
To crown the year’s achievements was a sporting honour. Mr Joseph Areruya was named African Cyclist of the Year. Cycling is becoming a sport at which Rwandans excel, and it may not be long before we dominate it, at least on the African continent.
Of course, there were also failures and shortcomings, but I do not wish to dwell on them and spoil your celebration with a catalogue of not so good happenings.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.