Many young Rwandans hardly know that carefully distributed kilogrammes of maize flour (posho), beans and rice were all civil servants could receive at the end of every month, in the immediate aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Still few people will remember that at the time, Rwanda did not have a national budget, as the state treasury had been robbed of every penny by the genocidal regime.
And when the government started to mobilise resources for the treasury, only a handful of billion francs could be raised to help rehabilitate the shattered economy. For instance, the country’s budget for the fiscal year 1998 was less than Rwf40 billion, about a tenth of the current budgetary allocation for the human development and social sector alone, and barely twice the amount allocated for the purchase of fertilisers during the 2011/12 fiscal year.
At the time, the budget was practically 100 percent funded by development partners.
Add the ever-present smell of the death of more than a million compatriots and the backlog of cases involving hundreds of thousands of suspects, and the situation would simply have been unbearable for any government.
Such was the grim reality that no one, even in their wildest of dreams, could have imagined that that Rwanda’s economy would be in the excess of Rwf1 trillion only 13 years later. And that Rwandans would raise more than 50 percent of this landmark budget!
Without a national budget, it’s difficult to talk about development, and so a small budget is not expected to result in robust growth. Yet Rwanda has, over the years, maintained an impressive average of seven percent GDP growth, which resulted in the increment of the GDP per capita from just US$200 in 2000 to US$560 in 2011.
This exceptional economic performance in extremely hostile situations mirrors mindboggling achievements in such areas as education, health, sanitation, and business.
Now, thanks to this unusual trend, Rwandans and foreigners alike have the luxury of assessing the country’s performance in the same context as other economies’, and in some cases, point to Rwanda’s resurgence, as a model for the developing world.
Today, Kigali comes under as much pressure as any other government on issues of job creation, quality education, investment climate, freedoms, et cetera! And the government has adjusted to this ‘unfair’ sort of scrutiny, often initiating reforms, whether political, judicial or business related, driven by the reasoning that the changes would help improve the livelihoods of Rwandans, after all.
Truth is that the rapid growth the country has since registered make 1994 looks like generations way back. Indeed, majority of young Rwandans will hardly believe that their parents would return home with a small sack of beans and maize flour at the end of every month, instead of a salary.
The situation has fast normalised, and conditions of yesterday only remembered as a matter of history! Little wonder, university students on government scholarship were enraged when their Rwf25, 000 monthly stipend was scrapped recently, although their scholarship remained intact, and were allowed to look for part-time jobs to make up for the ‘lost revenue’.
Sixteen years ago, Rwandan youths were desperate to return to school; today, they are demanding more reliable and faster internet connectivity so that they can ‘facebook’ and tweet away on their mobile handsets! Such has been the dramatic turnaround of this country that there’s a potential danger of the young generation losing touch with the country’s most recent history.
Yet, thanks to the massive investment in education, with thousands of new graduates hitting the street to look for jobs every year, the government has no choice but to invest more heavily in helping create new jobs to accommodate the new, ambitious workforce.
Obviously, the government will not produce all the jobs required. But it has the capacity to create conditions that are necessary for emergence of an enterprising population. This includes reforming the education system to suit the demands of the labour market, and to actively promote the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) as an ideal form of learning.
For that to happen, however, every Rwandan will have to play a part. Through hard work and paying taxes, they have a chance to be part of a process to build a greater Rwanda. Many are rising to the occasion.
Such as, Jean Baptiste Nemeyabahizi, the businessman who was, last Saturday, recognized as the most innovative taxpayer, are slowly but surely shaping that future.