I have been watching developments in Rwanda for the last 14 years, and that is why I was surprised when I heard a report on the government-owned Radio Rwanda that some villagers were dying of malaria-related diseases.
I was surprised because I know the great lengths the country has gone to, to fight malaria and other easily preventable diseases. Everyone in Rwanda has been mobilised to a point where they all know the causes of these preventable diseases and how to avoid them. And in case of sickness, medical facilities have sprouted everywhere and are within easy reach of everyone.
That is why whoever makes the mistake of ignoring all this and falling sick will be too ashamed to admit it. It seems that when they suffer from any of the diseases, the villagers are shunning medical facilities because they do not want to expose themselves to health officials as being illiterate or ignorant!
And this is only a tip of the Rwandan ‘volcano-berg’ when you see what the Rwandan leadership is doing. The campaigns and actions pervade all aspects of Rwandan life, and it actually seems that the leadership does not want to do anything in half measures.
For instance, in 2005 alone there were an estimated 21,000 deaths from HIV/AIDS. Today, a year sees a number that has progressively dwindled to a negligible fraction of that, largely due to the antiretroviral drugs that the government has availed to every HIV/AIDS victim, free of charge.
This is possible because the government allocates a chunk of its budget to the fight against all diseases, and it has enlisted the support of organisations such the World Health Organisation, and a variety of foundations, to join it in providing medicine to the sick, and creating awareness on prevention methods to the healthy.
For all forms of disease, government has galvanised the populace in taking up health insurance schemes, in addition to multiplying the number of health centres, district hospitals as well as national referral hospitals.
While the gainfully employed have their own arrangements of health insurance, the poorest peasant now gives a token subscription to ‘mutuelles de santé’, a health insurance scheme that has revolutionarily eased accessibility to health services for the citizenry.
This goes hand in hand with the empowerment of vulnerable groups, to the point that only Rwanda is represented by a person with a disability in the East African assembly. At the national level, there is a protection unit in the national police force to protect children against any form of abuse.
Education has received equal attention, and it is provided free in government primary schools, while private schools are encouraged to charge only nominal fees. Plans are at an advanced state to provide free universal secondary education, and to extend that to tertiary and university education after that.
Specific interests of the youth and women are aggressively championed at all levels, and at 48% in parliament and 36% in cabinet women representations, Rwanda is hailed as the most gender sensitive nation in the world.
To leave no one out in this race to a better life, the Rwanda government has been so decentralised as to involve every citizen in decision-making. Strong institutions have been set up to answer to all the needs of her people, in whatever station, and laws have been reformed to fit in the context of today’s Rwanda.
The institutions cover areas as diverse as unity and reconciliation, human rights, electoral process and inspection of government revenue and expenditure. There are institutions for checking corruption, for goods quality control, for ensuring transparency in revenue collection, tendering procedures, school examinations and many other areas.
With checks and balances in place to ensure good and transparent governance, Rwanda is set to take off economically. Vision 2020 provides a roadmap for development until the year 2020, and the National Investment Strategy aims at improving the prioritisation of investment in the country.
The tourism sector, once non-existent, is bringing in close to US $ 40 million and, overall, the economy has been posting an impressive growth of 7% for quite sometime now.
Knowing she is especially handicapped in the vital areas of infrastructure, energy and human capital, Rwanda has gone all out to explore all possibilities. Expansions of, and additions to, stretches of roads, a first-ever railway line and a bigger airport are set to give her regional and international access.
Rwanda’s most ambitious effort, so far, may be the never-tried-before extraction of methane gas, which will turn the potentially lethal Lake Kivu into a profitable venture. Instead of being a sleeping killer like the Cameroonian Lake Nyos, Lake Kivu will provide electricity to boost today’s meagre hydro, geothermal, solar, wind and other forms of energy.
Rwanda has developed a comprehensive set if ICT policies and strategies whose aim is to transform the economy into an information and knowledge-based economy, and emphasis has been on human resource and capacity development.
Considering all the above, the ambitions of cabinet ministers may not have been misplaced when they adopted the ‘Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper’ in 2000. It aims at reducing the ratio of poverty per head from 60% to 30% by 2015.
The government is working in close collaboration with whoever can contribute, to create innovation and competitiveness. That is how it has cultivated strong ties with everybody: from the private sector to individual countries; civil society to foreign conglomerates; the United Nations to the Breton Woods Institutions; the list goes on.
President Paul Kagame has been the engine behind this drive, and no one can express it better. He says Rwanda is guided by a "development vision of value-added agriculture, innovative private sector, human capital, and information technology" which aim at "fostering a knowledge-based economy ……"
The indefatigable president has thrown all his weight, time, energy and youthfulness into harnessing domestic and foreign investment for the fast-paced growth of his country. As we speak, he is winding up yet another of his numerous investment campaigns, this time a whirlwind tour that saw him comb the continents of Europe, North America and the sub-continent of the Far East.
Even outsiders are watching the developments in Rwanda with interest and awe. Lisa Marshall of Colorado, USA, after a visit to Rwanda to see the progress of her compatriot-investors’ businesses in the country, said the leadership was "aggressively anti-corruption and skilfully pro-business".
o her, Rwanda is an "emerging economic bedrock on an African continent riddled with problems." One of those investor countrymen, Worthington of Oz Architecture, involved in a multimillion-dollar contract with the Rwanda government, agrees with her and believes Rwandans "are trying to re-invent the whole country."
Yusuf Olaniyon, a columnist with the THISDAY Newspapers, travelling with a group of Nigerian businesspeople in Rwanda to invest in insurance, expressed his impressions thus: "Tragedy has surrendered to optimism and a firm determination to succeed.
"Strong political leadership driving a vision of a better future has firmly liberated the country from the shackles of the 1994 nightmare, and crafted a roadmap for the reconciliation of the country’s social, economic and political fabric."
In its ‘Doing Business’ survey, World Bank concluded that Rwanda was "the best country in Africa in terms of economic reforms and the 11th, in the whole world. ……. [It is] one of the top ‘three lion cubs in Africa’ because of its rapid economic growth."
Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Great Britain has recognised President Paul Kagame as "one of the African presidents changing the continent for the better …one of the leaders of a new wave of successful, reforming African countries."
And in a March 12th 2008 letter following his triumphal visit to Rwanda a month earlier, American President George W. Bush enthused: "Rwanda has taken bold steps to foster reconciliation, rebuild its devastated infrastructure, and to grow its economy. It is a hopeful economy."
All these efforts by Rwandans make one wonder over what happened to this country in now seemingly distant 1994. Time Magazine of USA then captured the feeling of the world with a cover page title that quoted a priest: "There are no devils left in Hell. They are all in Rwanda"
Today, it seems those demons have been exorcised and Rwanda is now inhabited by angels. Unlike Gen. Romeo Dalaire who "shook hands with the devil" when he was head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in the early 1990s, President George W. Bush, in one of the chapters of his memoirs, is likely to put a caption that reads: "Dancing with the Angels of Rwanda"! Following his visit to Rwanda in February 2008, a cover photo of the international version of Time Magazine showed him with Rwandan dancers, angelic in appearance.
I am happy to continue watching the developments in this ‘country of a thousand hills’, and a thousand chances!