Why 2017 was a good year for Rwanda

How would you sum up 2017? From a global perspective, the era of Trumpism continues to be fascinating; the unintended consequences of Brexit are silently emerging; about 83 million people in 45 countries required emergency food assistance; the ideological underpinnings of foreign aid are now self-evident-clarity was provided during the United Nations vote on the decision by the United States to relocate its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; localised slave trade on the African continent and the global plight of refugees.

How would you sum up 2017? From a global perspective, the era of Trumpism continues to be fascinating; the unintended consequences of Brexit are silently emerging; about 83 million people in 45 countries required emergency food assistance; the ideological underpinnings of foreign aid are now self-evident—clarity was provided during the United Nations vote on the decision by the United States to relocate its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; localised slave trade on the African continent and the global plight of refugees.

On a positive note though, there seems to be notable improvements with the global economic outlook. Although IMF warns of an incomplete recovery, it predicts that global economic growth will average 3.6 per cent in 2017, which is half a percentage point higher than 2016. Overall, stock markets are recording impressive numbers; the United States is experiencing the lowest levels in unemployment rates and China is on the verge of reaching 6.5 per cent economic growth rate.  

Obviously, it is too early to predict whether economic growth will deter some of the prevailing political rhetoric that will continue to manifest in increased protectionism. On the African front, Africa’s growth is expected to rebound to 3.4 per cent after a slowdown in 2016 to 2.2 per cent. Africa’s growth is fuelled by a jump in domestic demand and an increase in commodity prices across the continent. Global dynamics aside, Rwanda, which is the focus of this article, continues to register modest progress, notwithstanding global and regional challenges.

The year 2017 will undoubtedly be etched in our minds for so many reasons.

Here below are my top 10 events that explain why

1. Peaceful and well organised presidential election campaigns

Remember all the hullabaloo from the so-called experts on Rwanda and the misguided opinions from defeatists. Yes, recall them for just a minute! If anything, the year 2017 resolutely answered this group of people. It demonstrated that Rwandans are politically mature and are the shapers of the country’s destiny. Throughout the campaign season, the genuine admiration of President Paul Kagame and his brand of politics was self-evident.

The campaign period was a very moving moment as evidenced from the huge crowds and numbers, the joy, and the tears, all of which illustrate that Rwandans are indeed in charge of their country. The peaceful elections were followed with a colourful inauguration ushering in seven years of more prosperity. The calmness in the elections and peaceful co-existence cannot be taken for granted considering how elections are divisive events in many parts of the world.

2. Young Cabinet

In August, President Kagame appointed a young and energetic Cabinet, led by a 44-year old prime minister and including a couple of 30-somethings. This is a true reflection of Rwanda’s demographics.

3. 30 years of RPF

In December, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)-Inkotanyi celebrated thirty years of existence. Importantly, this is not just in numerical terms but in depth and substance – a formidable existence geared towards transforming Rwanda’s socio-economic fabric. From its infant days to date, through ideological clarity, the RPF has achieved big things that include not only stopping the Genocide against the Tutsi but also re-engineering Rwanda’s rebirth and sustainable prosperity.

4. New National Strategy for Transformation

A new National Strategy for Transformation (NST), 2017-2024, was adopted to further drive Rwanda’s transformative agenda. The new strategy is remarkable because it does not only replace EDPRS2 but focuses on completing unfinished projects in EDPRS2 and Vision 2020; scales up implementation of homegrown solutions; furthers the development of the private sector as the driver of Rwanda’s economic growth; places sustainability at the forefront of economic transformation and, equally important, ensures inclusivity for all segments of society.

The NST is bold and ambitious and, if effectively implemented, will further accelerate Rwanda’s transformation. The conditions for success are favourable considering slowed population growth and about 40 per cent of the population that is below working age and youthful. Over the last decade, investments in voluntary family planning, prioritising education especially secondary education for girls and child survival rates have led to significantly lower fertility.

This trend therefore suggests that Rwanda is likely to benefit from a demographic dividend similar to many countries in Asia and Latin America which have experienced impressive economic growth facilitated by the demographic dividend.

5. Launch of the construction of Bugesera International Airport

Even though we had a busy political season, construction of the new Bugesera International Airport was launched in September. The project is of strategic importance for the aviation sector and has spill over effects for Rwanda’s economy beyond opening the country to the outside world.

Still on the aviation front, RwandAir continues to add new destinations to its network. This year alone, new destinations have been added including London, Brussels, Mumbai, Harare, Dakar, Bamako and Conakry. Crucially, the national carrier opened a West African hub in Cotonue, while plans are underway to enter the American and Chinese markets with flights to New York and Guangzhou.

6. Investments in Human Capital

In April 2017, the Africa Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) was launched while in September the African Leadership University (ALU) opened its second campus in Rwanda. The institutes will enhance skills development for the future of work and scientific innovation which cumulatively position Rwanda to leapfrog into the 4th industrial revolution.

7. Inauguration of the first cricket stadium

On the arts and sports area, a Rwf950 million state-of-the-art international cricket stadium in Gahanga was inaugurated in October 2017. This is a critical milestone for the cricket fraternity and will enhance the development of talent for many young men and women cricketers.

8. Rwanda opens borders to the world

While countries are busy bickering over travel bans and border walls, Rwanda generously opened its borders to all nationals. Specifically, from January 2018, all nationals without discrimination will receive a 30-day visa upon arrival.  The decision is most remarkable for the lack of strings attached or any reciprocal conditionality. This initiative will undoubtedly increase the number of tourist arrivals to Rwanda but is also aligned with a broader vision to deepen and accelerate integration towards the Africa We want.

9. Kigali Amendments to the Montreal Protocol

In November, the Kigali Amendments to the Montreal Protocol reached the threshold required for the agreement to enter into force. This was timely because of the rise in greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide that reached their highest level in 800,000 years. This milestone is important and seeks to combat effects of global climate change. I am glad Rwanda continues to play its modest part in addressing these global challenges!

10. Kagame meets Pope Francis

President Kagame and Pope Francis’s historical meeting in March has a lot of significance. This is in part because of the role the Catholic Church played in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi but also the Church’s failure to apologise for crimes committed by its clergy during the killings. Indeed, the apology from Pope Francis will assist in cementing the relationship between the Catholic Church and Rwanda.

The writer is a Senior Lecturer, School of Law, University of Rwanda and an independent consultant.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.