President Paul Kagame’s New Year’s message to the Nation was full of pride and admiration for what the country has achieved over the past year, thanks to individual and collective efforts from the Rwandan people. He pointed out the fact that Rwandans had continued to trust each other as well as have confidence in the governance institutions.
He made a special mention of the military and police forces for their customary support to socio-economic programmes, with their contribution in 2011 having been more evident in the construction of both the nine-year and 12-year basic education programmes.
The President also pointed out the fact that the country’s economy defied the odds, posting a robust growth of 8.8 percent, while inflation was contained at just 7.4 percent in a difficult year for many countries, including EAC member states, some of which recorded inflation rates as high as 20 percent or more.
In a year when the Eurozone and US struggled to contain debt crises, with some Western countries cutting back on their oversees support programmes, it’s hard to explain how an economy, which should, by any measure, be vulnerable to external shocks, has managed to weather the storm and continue with its growth trend.
Rwandans will have been happy that the central bank’s prudent monetary policy helped cushion the effects of external trends, but equally helpful were strong performances of both the agriculture and tourism sectors and decent FDIs (perhaps due to the country’s growing reputation as an ideal business destination).
That we can look back, as a nation, to 2011 with a smile – particularly in the economic sense – is testimony to our ability to stay the course even in the most hostile of circumstances. By now, we do not need to draw any comparisons with the immediate after aftermath of the Genocide – there was no such a thing as national economy or social fabric to speak of then; nonetheless, the experience of those days will always give us confidence to sail through many difficulties, especially as the global economic outlook remains pretty much uncertain. But we will need to remain focused, formulate longer term strategies and look far beyond the MDGs and Vision 2020.
Looking at the achievements in the agriculture sector over the past 2-3 years, particularly in terms of volumes, it’s safe to say that we are no longer a food insecure country; but we are still just good enough to feed ourselves and that’s it. We remain pretty much at the mercy of climatic conditions in the sense that we are hardly prepared to sufficiently deal with overly prolonged draughts. Yet last year’s strange rains – in normally dry periods – is indicative of how unpredictable Mother Nature has become for farmers. However, just like the rest of the region, Rwanda is endowed with water bodies, including rivers that snake through the valleys and hills across the country. These can be exploited to sufficiently cater for our irrigation needs. Egypt is one of the countries that offer lessons in that area.
In addition, there is need to streamline the horticulture subsector. Despite the talk about unlocking the potential in this field, there is little to show on the ground. It is one area where we will need to do better in 2012 and beyond.
Job creation is yet another area that needs to be addressed. It’s good that the government has set sights on creating more than 200,000 off-farm jobs annually; a target that is achievable if the institutions that were established to help address this challenge can do their job accordingly. For instance, we have one of the most elaborate and progressive national policies on technical and vocational education and training (TVET), but it will need to be implemented to the letter to make an impact. Structural reforms in both training and employment conditions will be needed to help deliver the intended results. The private sector is slowly but steadily picking up, but it will need to do much more if it is to take its place in the region.
Away from the economy, 2011 marked a turning point in Rwanda’s diplomatic relations. Rwanda and France continued to mend their ties, with the historic visit to France by President Kagame, a reciprocate gesture to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s earlier visit to Kigali. Close to home, Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni’s visited each other, something that was welcomed by the citizens on either side of the border. And relations with the DR Congo significantly improved as well. We can expect more goodwill and mutual cooperation from abroad.
Of course the slashing of an earlier life sentence to Genocide architect Col. Theoneste Bagosora to 35 years, among other sentences that were downgraded by appeals chambers at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) were among the downsides of 2011, but the imminent transfer of Genocide suspect Jean Uwinkindi by ICTR to Rwanda, sets an important precedence which should prompt other jurisdictions to transfer similar suspects.
On the whole, Rwandans will be looking forward to yet another fruitful, if not more productive year. A happy 2012.