KIGALI - The Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, has commended the government of Rwanda for successfully banning plastic bags, saying that the country has set an example for other African states to follow.
He said that Rwanda’s feat to become plastic-bag free is attributed to good leadership and policies.
“It all goes down to leadership, determination and a willingness to address issues,” Steiner said during a news conference in South Africa.
“In Rwanda you have seen a government that has looked at the challenges that environmental degradation poses ... and has been willing to act on that and seize the opportunities for new kinds of jobs, business and a different development path,” he added.
Steiner’s remarks came ahead of next week’s release of a UNEP report on environmentally sustainable development in Rwanda.“Rwanda has leaders who take responsibility and catalyse innovation in their country, and that makes a big difference,” Steiner said.
“I’m still perplexed at how many countries are reluctant to act on thin film plastic bags,” Steiner said, noting that Kenya, where the agency is based, “has been discussing the issue for the past decade.”
Rwanda passed a law banning plastic bags in 2004 and has gone to great lengths to enforce it.
In an interview with The New Times, Rose Mukankomeje, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) affirmed the government’s commitment to safeguard the environment in the development process.
“It is not just about plastic bags, Rwanda’s newly amended constitution has the new organic law on the environment---article 3, which stipulates that every person has the right to live under a safe and clean environment,” Mukankomeje said.
“At the same time, it is everyone’s responsibility to safeguard the environment. If you look at the economy, agriculture, EDPRS, environment is a sector in itself, and a crosscutting one,” she added.
Mukankomeje said that the country prioritises the environment in its development pursuit, citing several efforts, including the restoration of Rugezi wetland.
“A country like Rwanda which has only 26,000 sq/km and with three well recognised national parks, which draw multitudes of tourists, shows you how much the government is committed to environmental conservation,” she added.
The REMA boss added that as the champion of MDGs, President Paul Kagame has emphasised the implementation of MDG 7; which is sustainable development that puts the environment on top of the agenda.
She added that the country is managing the environment in that tourists today choose Rwanda as their favourite destination, adding that the country is well on track in restoring the ecosystem that was degraded by years of war.
Mukankomeje said that the country is “going green” in all sectors of the economy, from schools to agricultural activities and towns.
“Today, our city is one of the greenest and cleanest in Africa, and it’s not just Kigali, tourists can go to other cities including Musanze, Rubavu and others which are also green. It doesn’t end in Kigali alone,” she said.
She noted that some of the initiatives the country has started to preserve the environment do not require “donors” or big budgets, including the ban of plastic bags and community cleaning activities Umuganda, which people voluntary carry out to safeguard the environment.