Rwanda’s present development is unique in many ways. There is the phenomenal recovery and economic growth so soon after near total destruction. There is the remarkable reconstitution of the national social fabric less than two decades after it was unravelled and left in tatters. And many more – impressive by any standards.
But Rwanda is unique in another sense. It is perhaps the only country that is simultaneously creating its past, present and future.
Now, you might say, that is normal, there is nothing unique about it. But there is. Most countries have a past of achievements on which to build on their present and future. These are collective achievements usually claimed by the whole nation as exclusively theirs and are often a source of national pride.
In this sense, the past should ordinarily be a solid certainty that gives one assurance and to which all can relate because it is a real, familiar and uncontested experience. That is why in normal situations, people will look at it longingly and sigh with a mixture of joy and sorrow when they say – ah, the good old days.
I doubt whether there are many Rwandans living today who can look back with nostalgia on their lives and talk about the good old days. Surely, no one can look back longingly at life in a refugee camp. Nor can one wish for a return to discrimination couched in that most ironic of misnomers – equilibrium. Who in their right mind would long for the time when they needed a pass to travel to any part of their country? I don’t think there are many in Rwanda who yearn for the time when the country was closed to the outside world and its citizens lived in grand isolation.
But perhaps I err. There surely must be some who benefitted from a past, however flawed. Of course, there are, but I think they also recognise that their enjoyment of the good old days was fraudulent and cannot be honestly comfortable with the experience. There must be some who, for lack of knowing better, thought their life of ignorance was the ultimate bliss.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting in any way that Rwanda has no past. It certainly has – a glorious one, actually. But that past that should provide solid anchor into the future and about which we should all be proud was interrupted and systematically dismantled for nearly a hundred years.
In its place, we have a past that we should be ashamed of –when we allowed to tear ourselves apart, destroyed our country and dignity – a time best forgotten.
And so, in rebuilding the country, we are also reconstituting a past to which people will look back with nostalgia.
To do this, we must reconnect with the past and salvage something from it on which to form the present and a new past. And indeed this has happened. The past has provided us with concepts and practices of governance that have been adapted as the bases of present and future successes. In this way, Rwanda’s achievements of the present that are attracting many people to come and study them are a relaunch of a past from which to spring into the future.
That is why the most recent news about Rwanda’s ranking in various fields is so gratifying. It provides a sound base both into the future and the past and gives reason to be proud.
The rankings are becoming quite familiar – Rwanda is on the up as it has done in the previous years. For instance, the World Bank Doing Business Report for 2012 says that Rwanda is the second most reformed economy in the world over the past five years. It is the third easiest investment destination in Africa, and first in East Africa. Overall, the country has moved to 45th position, up from 58th last year, 67th the year before and 143rd in 2009
The Rwanda Development Board assures us that this ranking translates into millions of dollars in investment.
Getting top honours is becoming a habit. It is a source of confidence and pride and should normally spur us to greater feats.
At about the same time as the Doing Business Report was released, the results of another survey came out. The Hunger Free Score Card placed Rwanda third among countries declared the most free to confront the challenges of climate change, resource scarcity and rising food prices.
Rwanda has not known this form of security for a long time. The result is assurance of a better quality of life and dignity.
To cap the week of good rankings, Transparency International again named Rwanda the most corruption-free country in East Africa. This means you can sleep soundly knowing that the taxes you pay will be used for the purpose they were collected and not stolen by some itchy fingered government official.
All these achievements and many more, are perhaps the equivalent of nineteenth century military exploits of territorial expansion of the country. They give us a solid present to be proud of, an assured future to look forward to and a past to look back on with satisfaction.
In a sense we are reclaiming our history.