Different periods in history are often defined by certain words. They are used frequently in policy making discourse and also in general usage to express the collective mindset, ambition and even achievement of the time.
You might say each epoch has its defining words.
If you asked any Rwandan today the words that define the country’s aspirations in the last twenty years, you will most likely get: transformation and innovation. Both have been happening at an amazing pace, even in these hard times of the corona virus pandemic.
For instance, robots have been introduced to manage and contain Covid-19, and protect the lives of health workers.
Change is normally incremental and gradual, and hardly noticeable at the time it is happening. It only becomes visible after some time. It is different in Rwanda. You actually see the change as it is taking place, right in front of your eyes, in real time. Witnessing such transformation is a very exciting near revolutionary experience
This is not because Rwandans have invented anything new. It is rather because when they commit to something, they do so completely and without reservations. They inject a sense of speed and urgency into the way they do things and so subvert the normal or familiar pace.
Just like in era-defining words, humans have found a way of expressing complex concepts and plans associated with their development in easy to remember, quick to grasp and image building phrases.
In this sense we haven’t changed much from our ancestors who captured their whole history in a single image painted on a rock or in a cave.
Actually we are more like them; the visual image and memorable sound matter most today.
Twenty years ago, the first such concept in Rwanda was building a knowledge-based economy. That single phrase captured the whole vision for national transformation over a twenty year period.
The results of that vision are visible and invariably involved innovation, such as investment in ICT and placing it at the centre of everything; the use of drones for medical deliveries, mapping and spraying mosquitoes; investment in satellite technology, and now the use of robots in Covid-19 management.
All this is in addition to investment in education, agriculture, industry, infrastructure and other strategic investments.
Along the way, there was talk of another kind of economy – the green economy. Traditionally that was associated with agriculture. This time it was much more than that; it now included the environment generally, architecture, urban planning and a whole new way of life.
Again Rwandans took to this new economy with characteristic commitment and speed. Rwanda has been among the first countries to accede to various international protocols on the environment and climate change. Only last week, it was the first country in Africa to submit its national climate plan as part of commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Kigali continues to be transformed from a sleepy, dusty, backwater town to a green, modern and attractive metropolis, a city of the future.. In the process it has escaped the ugly, concrete jungle menace of older cities.
Today we are entering yet another economy- the space economy. A week ago Government announced the creation of the Rwanda Space Agency to lead efforts in this direction.
Rwanda is not the first African country to do so. But it is the first of its economic size. It is joining Africa’s giant economies – the Arab north that some want to project as not part of Africa, South Africa, whose citizens occasionally declare their apartness from the rest of the continent, and Angola and Kenya who are sizeable economies.
In many aspects space is the next frontier for humans, not necessarily in terms of possible future settlement, but with regard to how it can be exploited to make life on earth better.
And it is a huge economy. The New Times last week quoted the Africa Space Industry Report as saying that in Africa the space economy is worth $7 billion today and will be worth $10 billion in four years’ time.
At the moment Rwanda may not be in a position to compete with the big players in the space economy that have been there for many years, but it can take advantage of the opportunities it offers. If the past is anything to go by, it may not be long before we see positive results.
As they say, life is a race, certainly in terms of development, with time as the other competitor. As so often happens, decision-making, timing, and physical and mental conditioning are key to winning a race.
How quick you get out of the blocks determines how you fare. Once well on the way, endurance and stamina will ensure how far you can go and how long you can keep going.
Rwanda seems to have adopted these racing strategies on its journey of transformation.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.Follow https://twitter.com/jrwagatare