What is Rwanda’s secret to progress?

The just published Mo Ibrahim Governance Index 2018 has ranked Rwanda as the most business-friendly country in Africa, overtaking Mauritius which has always occupied first position.

This sort of upward movement has been evident in most sectors in the country in the last quarter century and an indicator of progress.

All agree about this progress, but have different views about it. Some think it is beyond expectation considering where we have come from. Others, including most Rwandans, attribute it to correct policies consciously chosen and implemented, the right climate and hard work.

Whether they think it is beyond expectation or a consequence of good choice, what is it that has made this progress possible? What is the secret?

Rwandans have an answer to what seems to baffle others: they alone know the secret and it is beyond the ken of foreigners. That is not terribly helpful in understanding the secret.

But it says one thing: the secret, if there is one, lies within the Rwandan way of responding to the realities around the country.

And maybe it is not one, but several secrets,

One of them is love. Rwandans now love and value themselves and because of this love and value others. Love of self translates into value for one’s life. Similarly, love of others leads to valuing their lives.

Where this exists, no one does anything to harm oneself or others, but rather is prepared to defend that life and does that which enhances its quality.

Extended to the whole nation, this eventually becomes love of country.

Finally Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbour as yourself has been taken out of the confines of the church into daily life and become a basis for patriotism and progress.

We cannot forget that many years of teaching about this law did not prevent the hatred and devaluation of human life and dignity that resulted in the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.

Another is the fact that Rwandans are firmly focussed on the future. It is as if they are responding to different forces: one an irresistible pull forward, another a rejection of being bogged down in the present or held back by the past, and a third, conscious choice.

One example for this future-looking mindset is in the choice of the type of technology to invest in, mainly ICT and innovation. You hear a lot of talk about the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and not wishing to be let it pass us by like the previous revolutions.

To some people, it all sounds futuristic, stuff of science fiction, and not for people at our level of development. But all this is already in the world, and we cannot afford to wait for it to arrive in our country in its own good time because by then it will be in the past.

The establishment in Rwanda of international science and technology educational institutions, such as the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), the Next Einstein Forum (ENF), the East African Institute for Fundamental Research (EAIFR) and Carnegie Mellon University-Africa underlines this investment in the technology of the future.

The forward looking choices can also be seen in the country’s foreign policy. Rwanda has opted for a policy that looks beyond the moment and even the immediate region to embrace a more global role. In some ways it is markedly different from that of some countries in the region.

Some of these conduct a foreign policy of disruption and fragmentation, or weakening neighbours or perceived competitors so as to remain the pre-eminent players, indispensable arbiters or benefactors.

Rwanda’s choice is one of building bridges across nations and cultivating allies on the basis of equality.

It is one of consolidation as demonstrated in its commitment to regional and continental integration. This also perhaps explains Rwanda’s readiness to play a greater global role and to mend strained relations with others, of course without compromising principle.

Geographical location also helps. Sitting between East and Central Africa, between English and French-speaking parts of Africa, Rwanda is a natural link across the continent and is uniquely placed to play a unifying role.

The recent cabinet reshuffle was another signal of the direction the country wants to take. President Paul Kagame appointed ministers with a mindset of change, focussed on tomorrow, not looking back to yesterday.

But he also retained others with a firm footing in today and an understanding of yesterday in order to conserve gains already made. If we were to express this as an equation, it would be something like this: conserve + change = stability, continuity and progress.

With the re-evaluation of the self and relationship with others, and this sort of a mindset of the future, Rwandans have very little time for petty quarrels of today. They are already fighting the battles of the future. That is the secret.

Twitter: @jrwagatare

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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