President Paul Kagame has called on leaders gathered at the 15th annual National Leadership Retreat to pull in the same direction in order to achieve the country’s development goals.
The four-day retreat, which opened Monday at Rwanda Defence Force Combat Training Centre in Gabiro in Gatsibo District, was attended by First Lady Jeannette Kagame and attracted about 300 leaders from the central government, local government, parastatals and the private sector to discuss a number of critical issues affecting the country.
“Leaders must make sure that we are constantly delivering on our vision. Over the last 15 years we have insisted on coordination and working together, but, for some reason, when it comes down to execution, herein lies the problem and people fail to work together,” Kagame told the leaders.
He added: “How can we achieve our vision without working together?” The president urged the leaders to complement each other’s efforts in order to fast-track the development of the country and its citizens, adding that leaders are supposed to show the way and inspire the rest of the population to set out to achieve their development goals.
“The reason why we are leaders is because we have to provide leadership. Leaders set the vision. This retreat should help us to understand whether the vision set is clear to all of us and to everyone and how we are travelling that journey to realise the vision,” he said.
This year’s retreat discussions will focus on where Rwanda is today in relation to the country’s development targets, prerequisites for the country’s growth agenda, transformation through enhanced urbanisation and competitiveness.
Other topics under discussion include education that promotes a knowledge-based economy, fighting corruption and improving the quality of healthcare services.
The 15th National Leadership Retreat comes after the adoption of the National Strategy for Transformation (NST1), a seven-year government programme.
Under the seven-year programme, from 2017-2024, the Government plans to connect all Rwandans to water and electricity, create 1.5 million off-farm jobs, and double tourism revenues from the current $404 million to $800 million a year.
Under Vision 2050, Rwanda seeks to become a high income economy – making it possible for every Rwandan to earn at least $12,000 a year and leading a higher standard of living.
The annual per capita income currently is around $720.
At the on-going retreat, President Kagame urged leaders to think further on how the country’s vision can best be achieved.
“It’s not just a custom of coming here to discuss issues and go back home, but it should serve as an opportunity to make changes to certain things. What is not working should be changed,” Kagame told the leaders.
Among other key things that the President pushed the leaders to fix immediately is the issue of child malnutrition as well as the issue of children who end up on the streets instead of staying in school.
How serious is malnutrition?
While the country has made significant improvement in its health sector over the last decade, including significant reductions in maternal mortality from 1071 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 210 per 100,000 in 2015 and significant decline in child mortality rate, the issue of malnutrition continues to be a challenge.
The cost of Hunger Survey indicates that Rwf503.6 billion, which was the equivalent of 11.5 per cent of GDP, was lost in 2012 as a result of child under nutrition.
According to statistics presented by the Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente in Parliament early this month, the issue of malnutrition continues to decline at the rate of 6 per cent every five years, or 1.3 per cent annually.
However, the Rwanda Demographic and Health survey 2014/2015 shows that the percentage of malnourished children stood at 38 per cent in 2015 as compared to 51 per cent in 2005.
Up to 9 per cent were underweight compared to their age, 2 percent were underweight compared to their height, 37 per cent were anaemic, while 8 percent were obese.
In an interview, then, Senator Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo said that it was time to shift focus to policies that advance prevention other than remedies.
“I feel like we need to stop focusing on remedies and start focusing on prevention. We have some good programmes but we need to strengthen the policies aimed at fighting poverty within society. If 38 per cent of our population live below the poverty line, that means about four million people. The question is; do they get food and if they do, is it enough?” he said.
Ntawukuriryayo also advised that the ministry in charge should promote internal trade so that areas that have an abundance of food can share with others that are not food secure.
He said that for this to work, there was need to teach people about family planning focusing on the younger generation.
The National Leadership Retreat, commonly known as Umwiherero, borrows from a tradition in Rwandan culture whereby leaders would convene to reflect on issues affecting their communities.
Additional reporting by Nasra Bishumba