Why Rwanda punches above its weight

OVER THE past couple of weeks Rwanda’s liberation received some considerable coverage in both local and regional news media. RPF cadres and analysts were able to detail the birth of the movement as well as its direction and meaning to the country. 
Lonzen Rugira
Lonzen Rugira

OVER THE past couple of weeks Rwanda’s liberation received some considerable coverage in both local and regional news media. RPF cadres and analysts were able to detail the birth of the movement as well as its direction and meaning to the country. While some expressed reservations about this or that aspect of the liberation, a consensus seems to have emerged that it has achieved a whole lot of good for Rwandans. 

With most of the key achievements covered during the discourse, I want to point out something else. I want to point out the underlying stuff that is less tangible but omnipresent, and which is the driving force behind some of the more tangible achievements and results: Conviction. 

Even the most ardent critics of the RPF will concede that at its core is a certain conviction with which it conducts the business of state management. And that it has inculcated a particular mindset and belief among its cadres that its ambitions are bound to be realised. Moreover, those who are entrusted with realising them understand that failure to deliver is not an option. 

It is an attitude that is far-reaching. One could rightly argue, for instance, that the movement of women empowerment would have been hollow had it not been attached to, and a brainchild of, this mindset. 

A similar argument is that of a less known movement to empower young people. Over the past decade or so men and women in their 20s fresh out of university were recruited and elevated to occupy positions at the highest levels of the state. Unlike the conservative older folks, these young chaps were more likely to steer rapid social change. 

They were daring, less likely to resist new ideas and more likely to ‘think outside the box.’ They would also be expected to embrace “Thinking Big.” Today, with many already in their late 30s, they can be counted among the seasoned technocrats, with the gravitas to match. 

In other words, the substance of the “Thinking Big” mantra is the conviction that dreams can be achieved, which is then matched with a mindset for their realisation. In practice, this attitude has produced ideas that some have considered ‘too ambitious’ only to be surprised after their implementation. 

Such cautionary tales were present prior to the introduction of the universal healthcare scheme popularly known as Mutuelle de Santé, and are back to nip in the bud Rwanda’s aspirations of becoming “a regional information and communications technology hub,” as recently revealed by Frederick Golooba-Mutebi in a recent column in the regional newspaper The East African.

Apparently there is no such thing as ‘too ambitious.’ To grasp this spirit is to make sense of a statement by the former Minister for East African Community affairs, [now national coordinator of the Northern Corridor Projects in Rwanda] Monique Mukaruriza, that the Bugesera airport will be “the biggest airport in the region.” 

Taken together, these descriptions give credence to the oft repeated line that “Rwanda punches above its weight,” meaning that it does things others would consider impossible in light of limited resources. 

Therefore, to discuss the liberation without pointing to this spirit is to point to the water and disregard the fountain. More importantly, it would limit one’s understanding of reports such as a recent one by the World Bank that shows the country to be the “most improved in sub-Saharan Africa” in economic management and structural policies. Or the recent story in the Daily Monitor that Rwanda is one of three African countries among the top ten in the world to have reduced maternal and child deaths by more than 50 per cent in the last twenty years.  

What such reports represent is the manifestation of a conviction. Itself a result of an ambitious liberation whose great achievements have helped to produce greater expectations and a euphoria about what is possible. 

Now everyone wants to be part of the dream. In February residents of a neighbouring country protested that borders should be “redrawn so they can become part of Rwanda,” on the account that they “lack basic services such as schools, water and roads. But down the road in Rwanda these amenities are widely available,” according to a story carried by the BBC.  “We have been ignored because of our location. We get everything from Rwanda. We need to be part of Rwanda,” one resident protested. 

One more point on the dream. It came during a moment at the 25th anniversary of the RPF. A senior cadre was articulating the grand liberation and its numerous stages. The dream, he said, is such that at some point Rwandans will no longer feel the need to seek greener pastures in Europe or America. Some in the audience laughed. But he wasn’t. And his posture retained a conviction.

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