Today, as we celebrate the International Labour Day, I reflect upon the great challenges that Rwanda faced 21 years ago and then consider the great progress that has been made by all the workers in Rwanda; I am so proud to call Rwanda my home.
However, when I read news articles suggesting that our progress is somehow “following in the footsteps” of other countries, I find this argument wanting. Though it may not be intentional, such a characterization of our progress has the insulting implication that workers in Rwanda are incapable of seeking out innovative solutions to improve their lives on their own.
My conclusion is that some of the people who make such claims, many of whom have never set foot in Rwanda, believe that a country of black people in the heart of Africa is incapable of achieving the kind of progress they only read or hear about.
On the contrary, under the visionary leadership of President Paul Kagame, workers in Rwanda have demonstrated great will and ability to plan and deliver substantial improvements on our economy, health, education and governance sectors.
After 1994, much of the world viewed Rwanda as a failed state. They expected us to stay disorganised. That has always been their expectation of black Africans, a pre-judgment that is not immune to racism. Indeed such analysis unveils a pernicious double standard.
Thus, for those who have observed Rwanda’s progress, they have been surprised. According to the World Bank, Rwanda still only has a GDP per capita of $638. Yet, we have made progress that exceeds this level of development.
We have managed to do more with each available dollar.
The world does not expect that workers in Rwanda keep streets clean, and that the country is governed according to the rule of law. A population full of energy and hope, a police force that protects and services the people without asking for a bribe, an army that protects civil rights and uses its personnel to promote the health, education and wealth of the citizens under its protection. And yet this is the reality here.
And still, today, 21 years after the Genocide, people are astonished that we used our own energy and forward looking minds to get out of the dark hole that characterised our past, and even more so, that we have done this in one generation.
Their surprise is due to the unwarranted low expectations of us. They cannot deny the undeniable evidence that such progress has been made, they only argue that it is because we have followed in the steps of others. Often, they suggest that we are mimicking Singapore, as opposed to building our future based on our own Rwandan values.
The desire to strive for excellence is universal. To simplify the pursuit of excellence in Rwanda to an effort to “mimic” or copy another’s success undermines all the Rwandan workers who have made Rwanda’s journey possible. We do not need other countries to inspire us to work for the good for our people.
We have had our own innovations that have contributed to Rwanda’s development. These include Gacaca courts, the One Cow per Family programme (Girinka), the national dialogue (Umushyikirano) during which leaders are held accountable by the electorate, and the conception of global partnerships such as Rwanda’s Human Resources for Health Programme, which is creating high quality physicians to improve our nation’s health.
Other examples include community participation to facilitate vaccination of 90 per cent of our children with 11 vaccines, a record rate of coverage. Another example is the community empowerment of people in villages to select 45,000 dedicated voluntary health workers.
I could also talk about the national policy to ensure equity in human development and access to health opportunities even for the most vulnerable – a pillar of our national policies – which has allowed Rwanda to have community-based health insurance (Mutuelles de Santé) a health centre staffed by nurses in each sector (except 18, to be covered soon), a district hospital in each district, and a provincial hospital in each province. In addition, three new referral hospitals are planned to ensure that Rwandan citizens are equitably served.
We certainly have had the accompaniment and support of tremendous partners since 1994 and we are absolutely grateful to them, but it is the Rwandan people who, with their relentless efforts, have fundamentally driven this progress.
I am grateful for the transformative leadership that holds us accountable to ensure we meet the highest expectations, that does not accept actions that would promote double standards, and promotes the fulfillment of human rights as we carry forth on this path towards a better tomorrow.
Happy International Labour Day!
The writer is the Minister for Health.