Every time Rwanda has featured among the best-performing countries in various areas as has been the case over the years, objective observes around the world have expressed both admiration and approval.
Indeed, the country’s impressive and dazzling annual ranking is becoming routine, whether on the continent or around the world.
When you have an entity doing exceptionally well, even the most well-meaning among analysists and observers, while they will not hold back in expressing their endorsement and recognition for what is an obviously remarkable achievements most will not take time to reflect on who the extraordinary high achiever is or indeed where they are coming from.
To most people, success is always something to applaud and encourage, the other side is that few ever take time to look back at the challenges and hurdles these exceptional achievers encountered along the way, especially given that they are often varied and at times very profound and breathtaking.
The standards applied during the process of evaluation are uniform and the benchmarks and requirements are the same for everybody, regardless of the unique circumstances and dynamics of individual countries.
And that is how it should be; there should be no consideration for any possible extenuating circumstances. Everybody needs to make the cut and earn their grade in accordance with the principles and practices governing the evaluation exercise.
As I read this year’s International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA)’s report ranking Kigali as “the second most popular destination for hosting international conferences and events”, I almost didn’t give it a second thought, given that Rwanda has been doing remarkably well in most of these global rankings.
However, “Conferences and Events” took me back to Rwanda’s early efforts and struggles at reconstructing the country in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, and the insurmountable obstacles and challenges the government faced.
The infrastructure and facilities that have propelled Kigali to the summit of the ranking among the best cities to hold conventions on the African continent have been around for less than two decades.
On the other hand, Cape Town which features in the same elite category as Kigali has had established facilities and infrastructure for close to two centuries.
Clearly, as President Paul Kagame has pointed out, where others have had the luxury to walk the Rwandan people have been sprinting and it’s paying off big time.
To say that the genocide devastated the country would be an understatement. Rwanda went to hell and back. However, what tends to be forgotten is that even before the genocide these facilities simply didn’t exist.
The government, therefore, struggled to rebuild not only what the world, at that time regarded as a likely candidate for a failed state, but also confronted all the existing challenges of a poor and underdeveloped economy that like anything else in Rwanda was a victim of bad governance.
The fact that the government of Rwanda draws a line from the beginning on how it was going to use the available resources to rebuild the country has played a critical role in the development of the country.
There was the ever sticky question of how the foreign donor funds are appropriated and this is where the government did what no one else had done before, by insisting on spending the available resources on the basis of national priorities and not on the dictates from the donors.
As it turns out this is a policy that the donor community has been applauding the government of Rwanda for and wishing all the other recipients would be as transparent and accountable.
It wasn’t an easy journey though, as Rwanda’s vision initially faced stiff resistance from both friend and foe.
When the government put forward plans to construct a five-star hotel in Kigali in the early 2000’s, a number of representatives of western countries in Rwanda openly opposed the idea, urging that a five-star hotel was the last thing the country needed, many betting the government would never raise the required budget and if that ever happened, the facility would end up as a white elephant.
They worked hard trying to convince the government that even in the unlikely event that the hotel was successfully completed it would never be sustainable as the chance of any possible occupancy was out of the question.
They insisted that Rwanda was not a country that was ever going to attract the kind of clientele and guests that would require five-star hotel accommodation. In any event, the government went ahead with the project and has never looked back. As they say, the rest is history.
Not so fast though. During the back and forth between the government and some members of the donor community, one ambassador from a major western country expressed particular resentment to the idea, pushing the tired argument that such an undertaking was not a priority for Rwanda.
As President Paul Kagame has always reminded the world, “everything in Rwanda at that time was a priority” and the government wasn’t going to relent. Eventually, her assignment to Rwanda came to an end and she moved on to other positions back in her country.
On one of her trips back to the region, with a few days to spend in Kigali, she instructed her embassy to book her into the then Intercontinental Hotel, Kigali, now Kigali Serena.
“There was no room, the hotel was overbooked,” was the feedback she received from the embassy staff.
In the end she settled for a humble alternative. Talk of poetic justice, only with a happy ending. However, she was graceful enough to share her lesson with the top leadership in the government.
I bet she wouldn’t jump on the band-wagon of the sensational crowd that senselessly attacked last year’s Rwanda Development Board (RDB) “visit Rwanda” contract with English Premier League club Arsenal, which is precisely proving to be part of the success of the tourism industry in the country.
She had learned her lesson. That is Rwanda for you. I know her story has likely been told elsewhere, probably not in print but given the recent news headlines with Kigali among the top favored destinations for conference and events, it just had to come up.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.