2015 is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)’s target year. Within this context, the world has been discussing what has been achieved in the past 15 years and what challenges still lay ahead.
Over the course of this year, the international community will build on these discussions to define the new global development goals and elaborate the new vision for the post-2015 era.
I started this year with my first visit to Rwanda, where one year ago, people commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Genocide that once wrecked the country.
This anniversary was an opportunity for the Rwandan people to look back on the past 20 years’ progress, while reflecting on future directions.
I myself attended the ceremony of Lightning of Remembrance Candle in Tokyo, whereas my predecessor, Mme. Sadako Ogata, had the honor of speaking at the commemoration event in Tokyo on April 7, 2014.
As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mme. Ogata had tirelessly supported Rwanda during its most difficult times in the 1990s, and she continued to be involved with Rwanda as the JICA President until she handed over the presidency of the agency to me in April 2012.
It was under the leadership of then President Ogata that JICA re-opened its office in Rwanda in 2005.
Over the ten years since JICA renewed operations in Rwanda, aligning itself with the government’s priorities, the agency has always emphasized the development of human resourcesand infrastructure in the country.
As part of its efforts to encourage human resource development, JICA supported the establishment of the Tumba College of Technology (TCT) in the Northern Province.
In 2008, then President Ogata attended the College’s opening ceremony, and in my recent visit, I had the pleasure of seeing the outcomes of the project when meeting with some of the institution’s 2000 graduates.
The College is now an integral part of the country’s efforts to enhance its TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) and to achieve the country’s vision of becoming a knowledge-based economy.
The focus on human resource development has widened recently. For instance, JICA has started inviting Rwandan youth to Japanese universities as part of a strategy to strengthen the partnership between the private sectors in both countries.
In 2014, JICA invited 10 Rwandan graduate students under the Africa Business Education for Youth Initiative (ABE Initiative) to study geothermal energy development and ICT in Japan.
Through this strengthened partnership, young ICT entrepreneurs who develop their capacities in k-Lab, the innovation space jointly established by Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Private Sector Federation (PSF)-ICT Chamber and JICA, will havemore opportunities to work closely with Japanese businesses.
JICA has also shifted its infrastructure development focus from the rehabilitation of basic facilities such as sub-stations, distribution lines, and water supply systems, to the enhancement of regional economic activities in the East Africa Community (EAC) region.
As committed in 2013 in the TICAD V (Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development), JICA intends to enhance regional connectivity within the African continent, thereby removing the bottlenecks land-locked countries face and reducing the cost of cross-border trade for all of Africa.
An important project that works towards this goal is the JICA-financed Rusumo Bridge and One Stop Border Post (OSBP) facilities between Rwanda and Tanzania in the Central Corridor.
I had the chance to attend the project’s completion ceremonyduring my three-day visit to Rwanda and see how these new facilities can improve connectivity in the region.
This project replaced the old one-lane bridge by a new two-lane bridge and is expected to turn land-locked Rwanda into a land-linked economy, where the Northern Corridor meets the Central Corridor.
As I witnessed the progress made in Rwanda, notably the economic and social development the country experienced, often dubbed an “African miracle,” I believe that even countries faced with great hardship can overcome challenges that seem insurmountable.
The entire global society is experiencing a dramatic transformation, especially given the increasing number of emerging economies that have asserted themselves in the past 15 years.
The economic rise of the Indian Ocean’s coastal areas has led to the Indo-Pacific growth hub.
Located at the edge of the Indo-Pacific coastal area, Rwanda has experienced one of the fastest rates of economic growth, partly because the EAC is one of the continent’s most advanced Regional Economic Communities (RECs).
While the world’s growth center is shifting from the Pacific to the Indo-Pacific region, instability and insecurity continue to be challenges in conflict-prone and fragile countries and areas.
Reducing risks of conflict and poverty in these areas will have to be a priority for the global society beyond 2015.
Indeed, these highly volatile areas are located in or close to the Indo-Pacific growth hub and can easily affect regional stability, which could have ripple effects throughout the world.
Moreover, the case of Rwanda illustrates how a country can move beyond a state of chaos and transform itself into a leading regional economy.
As a strategically-located country in Central Africa, Rwanda can contribute to the peace and security inthe Great Lakes region.
As we start 2015, let us not forget thatwe still have much of the MDG’s unfinished business to tacklefor sustained economic growth to become the driver of poverty reduction.
Furthermore, we will need to improve the quality of growth and development to address the challenges that remain beyond 2015. Development should be inclusive to leave no one behind, resilient to address downside risks such as conflict and natural disasters, and environmentally sustainable to deal with climate change.
Having achieved so much in the past 15 years, Rwanda and the world need to continue working together to address the new challenges in 2015 and beyond.
The writer is the President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)