As curtain fall on the presidential campaigns, one thing is certain; Rwandans have come of age. Of age in terms of their realisation of where they came from and where they are today.
Of age in terms of their political enlightenment and thus political choices. Finally, of age when it comes to the trust and love they have for their candidate, President Paul Kagame, who has rebuilt the country from ashes, and their lives from the abyss.
And what is interesting is that, the hundreds of thousands who turned up for his rallies have a trended behaviour: celebrative, hopeful, emotional, confident of tomorrow, and more importantly, a belief and trust in their presidential candidates.
All this because his record has left an indelible mark on each one of their lives. All from farmers to businessmen, professionals to civic leaders, civil servants to servants of God, leaders to the military; the story is the same. Each Rwandese at these rallies can give a testimony of how his or her life changed through the exemplary leadership of President Paul Kagame.
What is even more interesting is that, unlike in other African countries where the incumbent pays citizens to attend their rallies either in cash or in kind rest no body attends the same.
I have personally travelled with thousands of businessmen, academics, professionals and other elites of our country, all footing their bills to campaign for their beloved candidates.
And even in the west which was really gruelling given the tough roads that tested my 30 years international driving skills to the limits), these Rwandese were still in high spirits on the fourth day of campaigning and no sign of fatigue up to Saturday.
The journey back to the city on Saturday was akin to a return from a religious sojourn with satisfaction that no one could have monetized. In fact attending one of the rallies becomes contagious and you want to attend more and more… all for the love and support of their candidate to whom they owe everything Rwanda.
Beyond empirical evidence
In each of the rallies, from Musanze, Rubavu, Karongi, Rusizi I and II, Nyamashake, to Gicumbi I & II (like in other rallies) testimonies of many Rwandese whose lives has been transformed visibly from rags to riches defied empirical evidence adduced by research.
That President Paul Kagame has uplifted 1 million of our compatriots from abject poverty to prosperity may be an understatement of reality. It is much more than these statistics.
If one takes into consideration the unity and reconciliation that has taken place among Rwandese, security that has been taken for granted, infrastructure that does not add up to our budget numbers etc, one gets the real definition of rare transformational leadership.
That our country has had equitable and inclusive growth and development there is no doubt. Given that our country’s growth history in previous regimes (if any) was based on ethnicity, regionalism, religion, nepotism, cronyism, entitlement, distributive economics and all other vices typical of number of African political economies, ours has been designed and modelled to avoid these economic ills.
Choice with consequences
My best testimony, came from Ms Vestine Nyiratebuka from Nyamasheke, among many others. A woman who comes from a group that had been marginalised (the Twa) for long and discriminated against in the past but are now integrated into the new Rwanda A Rwandese with all rights and privileges now, and a leader in her own right.
She did not only change her social class like her kin and kith the whole country over, but her economic status as well.
These testimonies tell a story of what it means to change citizens from mere clients in the service of corporate or political elitist interests into fully empowered citizens that own their destiny.
One sector that is critically sensitive to the choices at hand is the economy, and trended growth that unless sustained has a direct knock on effect on other sectors which it sustains through financing mechanism.
Economic actors and agents especially in private sector, factor in their business decisions the type of leadership of the country and whether this can facilitate their interests by providing favourable and predictable business environment within which these can operate.
Their return-risk cut off, fundamental to their investment decisions is always bench marked to the political governance in place. With regard to our country, our economic recovery and thus growth has been but a miracle.
Up until 2002, one had to have an optimism of faith to believe that our country would be where it is today, in terms of sustained economic growth that has astounded even the most optimistic development economist.
They are few explanations to this phenomenal growth. The usual basic material endowments necessary to spur growth be their natural resources, market, of human capital leave alone capital 9 as we know in development economics), are not what we as a country can boost to explain this growth.
Like Singapore which shares similar resources constraints, exemplary and leadership of President Paul Kagame and governance structures he put in place, remain the only perusable explanation for our growth that ranks among the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, and indeed among the top ten in the world.
That he has served our beloved country with all that he has, is not in doubt, for results of our underlying economy attest to this and provides strong empirical evidence of his transformative leadership and the passion he has shown in driving our economy, indeed akin to a CEO of a private corporation.
This is a paradigm shift in leadership typical of other African economies, where leaders, lead for themselves and their kin and kith as well as their cronies and political patronages characteristic of many African economies.
This form of change management started with mind-set shift and trickled down to entire civil service creating a culture of delivery that is now brand Rwanda.
And so, such home grown initiatives as Imihigo, Ubudehe, Umugada, Girinka etc has reinforced this brand enabling our country to achieve targets that had eluded our country prior to 1994.
Nevertheless, we have had fundamental changes since then. Thus, the country’s economic growth as measured by GDP increased six fold from USD 1.1 billion in 1994, to over USD 8 billion to date, incredible growth by all standards. This translates into GDP per capita of over USD 700 today compared to USD 100 by 1994.
This also means that, literally all Rwandans were living below the poverty levels of less than USD 2 per day (as per UN measure of poverty levels).
This growth has not just meant that we have the so called ‘something for everyone’ measure growth of humanitarian institutions, but rather creation of the middle class that is the main driver of private sector development , and one that holds the key for our sustainable growth.
This has led to improvement in the living standards of Rwandans, leave alone allowing the country to have a healthy balance sheet.
What is more compelling for this growth is that, it has been consistent for all this period enabling our country to uplift up to 1 million compatriots out of poverty, and if this is trend is maintained for another ten years or so, no doubt our country will usher into development mode, from the current growth mode of a least developing country, and into possibility of a developed mode, if the trend is maintained at double digit growth rates for at least two decades.
This growth trend attests to the exemplary leadership we have had and one that has transformed other sectors of our economy through the financing mechanism generated by such growth.
No stable fundamentals yet
However, these trends are not yet anchored into stable and sustainable growth fundamentals. For sectors and institutions necessary to do so all are weak, and indeed at their construct levels that any changes in these will reverse these growth trends and with them all we see as a country today.
An economy, unlike other sectors, takes a direct hit from poor leadership, and the knock on effects is immediate. A number of readers have expressed ‘hope’ that our choice will translate into what is good for us as a country.
But hope is neither a strategy nor a policy we can sit back and buy time in the assumption that, events will automatically manage our political choices in these and other elections ahead.
This approach is disastrous, for events if left alone, will give us results akin to those based on hope: No results. Management of investor confidence, be they local or foreign requires that, our political choices be taken head on, and soon.
Not doing so will create uncertainties whose consequences, we cannot afford especially the knock on effect on our fragile economy which as argued in earlier articles requires that, we maintain strong leadership which is led by the ablest, most dedicated and toughest, has the extra drive, intellectual verve, an extra tenacity and the will to keep our economic path on the right trend and even scale the same up.
President Paul Kagame, has provided this leadership.
In his research on economic growth and political succession in Africa and Asia Pacific, Kelsall (2013) points out that succession tends be disorderly and disastrous to the economy and the spins off to other sectors accordingly, when the incumbent has had an excellent record of economic growth trended for a number of years.
President Paul Kagame has had this, and both visual as well as empirical evidence attests to this. This makes our political choices no puzzle at all if we capture these realities of our lives, our economy will as expected give us the bitter verdict.
My take home from marathon rallies is that, change with sustainability and continuity is unfinished home work.
To be continued…
The writer is an economist and financial expert.