Feb.9 2012, posted in Africa

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Recently, I had an opportunity to visit Rwanda for the second time in 5 years. The last time I was in Rwanda was in 2007. My wife and I had just gotten married, were fresh newbies when we went to explore a bit of Rwanda. We ended up staying only one night, and so did not have the chance to explore extensively. Even then, one could draw a sharp contrast between Rwanda and the rest of the region in terms of organization, discipline and cleanliness. As we sat down quietly and ate away on our plates full of chips and crisp chicken, we gazed at the future of Rwanda and dreamed of being part of it. We enthused inhabiting the country we had just stepped into and had barely spent 24 hours in. Rwanda had put an imprint on our hearts, an indelible mark on our minds. 5 years or so have passed, and the mark hasn’t faded. I got another rare opportunity to visit Rwanda, this reaffirmed my desire. But beyond personal cares, I would like to ask and attempt to answer (in my own way) the question; What Makes Rwanda Tick?

1. Rwanda is a Community

Contrary to what the rest of the world purports to know, Rwanda is a united country. It is united by it’s history, culture, race and language. Whereas Rwanda has a troubled history, the country is attempting to put that behind it. Efforts such as the Gacaca justice system may have it’s flaws but the advantages far outweigh any inherent weaknesses. Rwanda has cultivated communities right from the lowest levels of villages to the city residences. Community initiatives such as Gacaca or Umuganda not only foster the country forward, they bring people closer; moreover, Umuganda promotes a good work ethic. These communal obligations help people to connect, and to appreciate interdependence. This connectedness at the village or cell level means that everyone almost knows everyone, and at the very least, the Umudugudu would know every resident.

2. Rwanda is Secure

Today, Rwanda is more secure than it has ever been. I have heard people say how Rwanda is on the verge of collapse or a tipping point of another conflict of catastrophic proportions. Many of the pessimists base their assumptions on Rwanda’s bloody history and on frequent negative media reports often mentioning Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame or the Rwanda Defense Forces. Rwanda’s security does not lie only in it’s armed forces. It also lies in the rapid development it has undertaken. Rwanda recognizes only too well that without development there is no security, and without security, there is no development. The development that is taking place in Rwanda, both in the city and in the villages would not be if there was an absence of confidence in the security of the country. Likewise, it is very unlikely that the systematic and systemic efforts to foster economic growth can be disrupted, but rather can only further pacify the country.

3. Rwanda is Hungry

Rwanda is hungry. Not hungry for food, but for growth. The Rwandans, as it were, have decided they will never settle for less. Rwanda is purpose driven. From fighting disease, improving household hygiene, and fighting poverty, Rwanda has declared itself as a nation of purpose, choosing to depart from a Rwanda of the past accused of lacking focus which brought on the country the divisiveness that almost totally destroyed the country. The poverty levels have drastically declined, and Rwanda is the first country to achieve the sanitation goal, surpassing it by eight percent, and is poised to meet most of the other millennium targets. President Kagame told Fast Company 3 years ago his views about aid, thus; “No country can depend on development aid forever, Such dependency dehumanizes us and robs us of our dignity.”

4. Rwanda Trusts its Youth

Rwanda has invested heavily in its human capital. From primary education to graduate education, Rwanda has put a lot of resources in developing its young population and preparing it for the future. A lot of Rwandans study abroad in top schools. They are then ploughed back into the system and lead departments at the highest level.  In fact, the president works with a lot of young people who have energy, zeal and passion to serve the country. On my visit to Rwanda, I met a lot of these young people, some my age and others younger, who are no doubt the engine of the tiny giant. More than half the population of Rwandans is below 18 years. There is no other way of creating jobs for all of them than to give them skills, a good education and prepare them for a competitive economy. The government is doing just that.

5. Rwanda Takes Advice

Proverbs 11:14; Where there is no wise guidance, the nation falls, but in the multitude of counselors there is victory. It can be argued that Rwanda took this wisdom literary. The counselors or advisors to the president of Rwanda (Presidential Advisory Council) are not your run of the mill type. They are chief executives of multi national corporations, spiritual heavy weights and global political leaders. They are men that would not be intimidated to look Kagame straight in the eye and tell him as it is. Men such as Tony Blair – former British Premier; Scott Ford – Former President and CEO of Alltel; Clet Niyikiza – GlaxoSmithKline Vice President of Worldwide Research & Development; Kaia Miller – founder of Aslan Global, Inc; Rick Warren – Religious leader, founder Saddleback Church, and PEACE Plan; Donald Kaberuka – President of the African Development Bank Group; They need nothing from Kagame or Rwanda; neither power, nor fame, nor money. They already got it. From the stature of these men, what you see is what you get. In aligning itself with such outstanding global leadership, Rwanda means business; and it listens. Needless to say that I have spoken to people who report to President Kagame directly and they all say; the man is humble, very humble!

6. Rwanda Doesn’t Steal

It is often said that following the second congo war, Rwanda, Uganda and other African countries stole from it’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda may have stolen from her neighbor, but what it doesn’t do is still from her own people. Corruption is the single largest factor that has hampered growth in most of Sub Saharan Africa. After more than 1 trillion dollars in development aid to Africa since Independence, there is little visible changes in most countries. Only about a decade or so after the conflict in Rwanda, the changes are evident. Infrastructural development, functional services, a sense of purpose and clear direction is what one notices. In the rural areas, people have turned fortunes by utilizing very little plots of land to feed their families and sell the surplus. In Kayonza, a model village has been established to pilot a program of bringing people into communities so that it becomes easier to bring social services to them.

7. Rwanda Has Vision

Proverbs 29:18; Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. This piece of scripture sums up what Rwanda is up to. It’s got vision. Without good leadership, Rwanda could be another Somalia hamstrung by chaos, it could be another Uganda plagued by corruption, or it could be another Burundi stuck in it’s own chaotic history. Instead, Rwanda is breaking free of all mediocrity that its leadership just can’t stand. Rwanda, who’s population is too big for its tiny land is poised to become one of the region’s largest exporter of agricultural products to countries in West Africa. Realizing a need for food stuffs (fruits, vegetables and other perishables) in Congo Brazaville, Ivory Coast, etc, Rwanda has opened up air routes for it’s entrepreneurs to take full advantage. On the other hand, Uganda, which owns 48% of all arable land in the East African region had a population facing hunger last year, plus, is auctioning/giving away land cheaply/freely to Asian and European/American “investors.” Where there is no vision, the people perish!

PS: My Rwanda travels were sponsored by Green Microfinance; an organization that seeks to address climate change and environmental justice by providing education and sharing knowledge on microfinance and environment – The Missing Bottom Line.