The headlines have not stopped or changed in the last several days. They have all been a variation on this: Rwanda launches electric car in partnership with Volkswagen, the German car maker – the first of its kind in Africa.
This has been in reference to the unveiling on October 30 of the e-Golf model that will be running on Rwanda’s roads.
It follows the introduction of electric motor cycles on Rwanda’s roads a little earlier.
In between the two events, there was another first: the inauguration of a smart phone – the Mara – made in Rwanda.
All these are examples of this country’s readiness to innovate, venture into new areas, and find fresh things that will transform the country. That is also the meaning of innovation: to provide solutions to current challenges, but more importantly look to the future. This also happens to be the focus of Rwanda’s leadership.
These firsts of the last few days are part of a pattern that goes back more than two decades. One would be forgiven to think that scoring firsts has become a habit in Rwanda. It seems to be a habit of bold initiatives and approach to issues born of the determination to transform the country.
First in this apparent pattern was the pioneering gender policies which have defined the country’s approach to social and development issues.. For well over a decade, Rwanda has been the world’s number one country in women in parliament. The representation of women in public life actually goes beyond the legislature. Their number in cabinet, as CEOs of corporations, and in other top decision making positions is also among the highest in the world.
Then the economy began to claim top spot in global rankings across different sectors. This happened in doing business, competitiveness, government effectiveness, safety, the fight against corruption and many more. GDP continued to grow at an average rate of eight percent per annum for well over ten years. Poverty reduced significantly.
The same was evident in social affairs that saw the expansion of education and healthcare, drastic reduction in mortality due to disease or absence of medical care, and a corresponding rise in life expectancy.
Less spoken about but equally remarkable has been the country’s leading position in environmental protection and wildlife conservation. The ban of plastics bags, which was also a first, and conservation of the famous gorillas are perhaps the exception.
But there is more. For instance, it was reported this week that the country had reached the 30% forest cover of its total land area one year ahead of the date it had set itself.
Reforestation, together with the restoration of wetlands across the country, the management of the steep hillsides, better land use and planned, modern village settlements have been key to national environmental protection.
In the last few years Rwanda has embraced and become champion of the concept of smart cities and green architecture. This, in addition to being a leading supporter of the Montreal Accord and the Paris Climate Agreement, show Rwanda’s commitment to protect the earth we share..
Again, this concern for the environment is not because it is a fashionable campaign, but rather because it and climate change are grave existential matters that this country takes very seriously. And as in many other instances, the practice here is to think ahead, anticipate challenges and prepare for them instead of waiting for them to become emergencies and then act.
Along the way innovation of all kind, especially in terms of technology and policy as well as actual practice, has taken centre stage. Young people are constantly coming up with various applications as solutions to the challenges we face and so make our lives better.
The latest innovation, at least in policy terms, also a first, has been the introduction of the VW electric car and the electric motor cycle. Both are, of course, a solution to mobility. But more than that, they are an answer to concerns of rising carbon emissions. With their introduction, environmental issues are being taken to another level.
The significance of this development in national and global terms cannot be gainsaid. It shows that you can grow the economy and protect the environment at the same time; that you can combine technological innovation with environmental conservation, and in fact use one to serve the other.
For many years, Rwanda was known for its steady and high rate of economic growth, and gender policies. It has now become a country of innovation as well and will be defined by that for the next few decades. It will also be seen as a country where innovation and environmental protection meet and propel development.
Last year the World Travel Guide ranked Rwanda the 17th greenest place in the world. With these new developments we should not be surprised if the next ranking is way near the top.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.