Rwanda’s GDP per capita increased from a paltry US$200 in the year 2000 to about $560 today. And the Government remains strongly convinced that the $900 per capita target for 2020 is achievable.
Whereas the growth registered over the past decade is obviously outstanding, by any standards, it is clear that Rwandans still have a long journey ahead, if they are to truly uplift themselves from the shackles of poverty.
Thanks to those four or so ruined decades – from the Independence days to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi – Rwanda still finds herself a long way from getting to the destiny enshrined in her bold economic blueprint, despite a robust economic performance since the turn of the new millennium.
Globally, the progress has been remarkable: an annual growth rate averaging about 7 percent; primary school enrolment rate is above 97 percent, university graduates increased from just 1,900 (graduated between 1960S and 1994) to more than 45,000; illiteracy levels halved in just 10 years (now at 25%, with a target of lowering it to 15% among men and 20% among women before 2012), a hugely successful universal healthcare system that covers about 95 percent of the population; and a remarkable infrastructure network; et cetera.
Nonetheless, whereas these figures may represent the giant strides this country has made, against all odds, as she rallied back from the abyss, there’s need to directly translate them into improved welfare at the very micro level. The income per capita may be growing at an impressive pace, but it is important that the statistics are not seen to be heavily influenced by the wealthy, while the majority of the masses have nothing to with it. This progress should be traced right from the household level in every part of the country.
Indeed, several recent initiatives, notably the Girinka (one-cow-per-family) and Ubudehe programmes are designed to boost the incomes of the needy. And, going by the recommendations from various retreats of central and local government leaders, over the past few weeks, it is clear that the government is keenly aware that the country’s development can only be accelerated through tailored programmes that directly impact on the livelihoods of every member of a household. By strengthening such programmes as grassroots-based Village Savings and Loans (VSL) – in addition to the traditional borrowing and saving system, which has hardly benefited those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder – the previously untapped resources will help in fast tracking economic development. By bringing individual households in the loop, the country will benefit from a much-needed multiplier effect.
However, it is critical that no one is left behind in this new approach. It must be gender sensitive and cutting across generations. Children, women and the senior citizens should all be catered for to make this development approach successful.
Already, citizens have increasingly realised the need to get out of their comfort zones and join hands as they seek to transform their villages. Last week, I was glued to the radio as a member of a local cooperative in Kiyombe, a small village in Nyagatare District, Eastern Province, testified that the members had distributed more than 3,500 cows amongst themselves, and that, as a result, their lives were fast changing for the better. Such inspiring stories abound across the country. Fifteen years ago, such community-driven initiatives were rare. Many people at the grassroots were passive and resigned at the time. Today, Rwandans are beaming with big dreams. They’re full of promise and will take every opportunity to move forward. The majority of the ordinary Rwandans have embraced a new and progressive mindset, which is largely why they are quick to respond positively to whatever initiatives that aim at improving their lives.
But they will need supportive, responsive and caring local leaders to realise their dreams. Whereas the districts remain the engine of local community development, sectors will need to increasingly shoulder more development responsibilities, without relying on districts. The 416 sector executive secretaries, their staff and the cell administrators will need to get more involved because they’re closer to the ultimate beneficiaries of new the development approach than anyone else. Their role is now critical than any time before.
On twitter @JMunyaneza