Rwanda: Sense and sensibility

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Recently, Rwanda has become one of the most discussed African countries in the Western media. Unlike in the genocide era, the present news about Rwanda goes beyond atrocities and senseless killings. Rwanda is portrayed in the Western media as a success story.

African country portrayed in the Western media as a paradise? Paradise? I am not the author of that statement! Ok, I understand your surprise! Often when one reads about African countries in the Western media, one is confronted with all kinds of negative reports ranging from corruption, mismanagement, war, under-development, infant mortality, Aids epidemics, malnutrition to mention just but a few. More often than not, these negative reports go a long way in creating or reinforcing an existing negative social cognition of the country in question. You now understand why some people have deleterious ideas about you even before they have interacted with you? Shocked? Well, it is either you accept the undeniable fact and live with it or you try to do something about it. Yes, changes are the offspring of actions. Regardless, recently some African countries have tried to change this – often prejudicial ““ Western portrayal, by trying to re-define or even create their own identity. Who says identity is single, static or pre-given? To disengage themselves from the shackle of the Western media`s definition, or better still, to re-define those Western pre-given identities, some Africans have embarked on good governance. Good governance? Oh yea! Welcome Rwanda!

In as much as Africa is often believed to be allergic to good governance, the story is changing steadily. African countries like Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius, Cape Verdes, Ghana, Rwanda have struggled to reconceptualize themselves through economic and social development. Apart from democratic reforms, rule of law has become a sine qua non for the development of these emerging African countries.

Far from the depressing images of the genocide era, Kigali the capital of Rwanda, has metamorphosed into one of the most rapidly developing cities in Africa. With the recent road construction project aimed at addressing the miserable traffic menace, Kigali has equally witnessed the rapid expansion of its Central Business District. Voted one of the cleanest African cities, it is little wonder why plastic bags are banned in Kigali. With zero-tolerance of crime, the government of Rwanda is striving to make the country conducive for the citizens and many other Westerners who live and enjoy the peace and tranquillity in the country.

In terms of entrepreneurship and business, the government of Rwanda has encouraged small businesses which have created jobs and made a profit through innovations. These small scale businesses contribute 50% and more to the country`s GDP. Furthermore, the government tries to minimize unnecessary bureaucratic impediments which hamper smooth starting and running of businesses. With a stable regulatory environment that encourages healthy competition, backed up with dependable infrastructure and strong property rights, many businesses in Rwanda are encouraged to set up. Having in mind that they are not only operating in a stable and business friendly environment, their investments are rewarded handsomely with profit.

Development comes with challenges. Presently, many African women are questioning their social status and hierarchy. The reality of gender is no more what it used to be. Things are falling apart. Nor can the center hold. Increasingly, those laws which had systematically subordinated and segregated women to a second class citizen position are fearlessly being questioned by women. Only a government without sense and sensibility can ignore the agitation of these women who have been subservient to men. Rwanda, with other emerging gender- conscious countries in Africa like Namibia and Botswana are taking historic steps towards addressing biased gender inequalities as well as promoting women empowerment. For example, the constitutional of Rwanda stipulates that the national police force must reflect at least thirty percent women officers. With the large number of women in the police force, issues like gender-based violence and child protection are easily addressed. But that is not all. With more than half the Parliament made up of women, Rwanda has the highest representation of female parliamentarians in the world ““ unlike Western countries such as the UK, Germany or the USA with less than one in four members of Parliament female.

Ironically, the 1994 genocide, which left Rwanda`s population with 70 percent of the women, helped elevate women`s position – from traditional roles to powerful political entities – in the society. However, mere figures do not transcend into action. One needs visionary leaders to make policies that can carry the country along. This is what one finds in Rwanda. Unlike in many African countries where women are quickly married off at a tender age and forced economically into destitute, the Rwandan government has made remarkable efforts towards women’s integration. Furthermore, the government in Kigali has increasingly tried to give women a sense of belonging in their various communities and the country as a whole. Women are now not only able to own land, girls also can inherit from their parents. This gives women economic empowerment as well as protecting them from the economic dependence on men ““ especially in the case of a bad marriage. This women`s right to land and property is rare in Africa.

In the area of health care services, the Rwandan government has proved many doubters wrong. Those who think that an affordable health care service in Africa is a utopia, may have to visit Rwanda. The thinking amongst the Kigali government is that for a government to expect maximum productivity from its citizens, it must first invest in the workforce (citizens). The government of Rwanda has introduced various health insurance schemes, with the largest of them, Community-Based Health Insurance Scheme called Mutuelles de Sante. With a mere annual fee of USD $6 per family member (increased in 2011 from USD $2 per person), insured citizens pay only a 10% service fee for each visit to a health centre or hospital. Furthermore, Rwandans have full access to health care at all public and non-profit health centers in the country. The success of this program which was introduced in 2004 is huge. Six years after the introduction, 91% of the Rwanda population were insured through Mutuelles de Sante.

But the desire of the government of Rwanda to invest in the health care services is not limited to the health insurance scheme. With the Butaro Cancer Centre for Excellence, the government has equally demonstrated its commitment to adequate health care of its citizens ““ and cancer patients in particular. With the health care co- sponsored by both the state and citizens through health insurance, Rwandans cancer patients have access to almost free cancer treatment ““ a disease which is responsible for the death of many Africans.

Although Rwanda was ranked as the most competitive economy in the region by the World Bank Economic Forum report 2014, unfortunately, Kigali has a high cost of living. Prices of goods ““ most of them imported ““ are exorbitant. Recently the International Monetary Fund (IMF) advised the government of Rwanda on how it can consolidate its present economic success as well as achieve and register an impressive 6 per cent economic growth by the end of 2014. With the country’s economic growth rate tagged at 7.5 per cent for the year 2015, the IMF, has advised the government to quickly address issues such as high cost of electricity, labour costs, transportation, interest rates etc. in order to avoid a slow economic growth.

Next to the infrastructure development, the government of Rwanda has invested heavily in tourism. With the diverse wildlife ““ especially the rare mountain gorillas- tourism has remained the country`s largest source of foreign exchange revenue. Recently, Rwanda has experienced more than 20 % number of tourists than in the 2013. It goes without saying, that peace and security can only guarantee tourism increase. Many Europeans have started re-locating to Rwanda to live ““ and thereby bringing much needed foreign currency into the country.

However, despite all the good stories, Rwanda, like every other country in the world is facing other challenges. Ranging from the rebels operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to poverty, Aids, inability to increase health care spending to at least 15% of government spending, a target only Tanzania has achieved in Africa. Definitely, a healthy person is a productive person. Suffice to say, therefore, that improving health care contributes indirectly to the economic growth of a country.

Apart from the above challenges, some have criticized and accused the government of Rwanda of high-handedness ““ especially against oppositions or critics. Others argue that the government is rather establishing a flourishing economy and nurturing social changes before bringing about a wider political opening. Regardless, even in the USA, the epitome of democracy, President Obama has been repeatedly accused of undemocratic tendencies. It does not help that some are even discussing impeachment possibilities against President Obama. All said and done, many Africans interviewed by Kata Kata`s reporter believe that the best way to transform, bring sanity and inculcate some sense of seriousness and discipline in Africa is through a combination pragmatism and high-handedness.

“In Africa, preaching alone does not get things done. Nor does warning transcend into action. Both must be followed by a decisive action; otherwise nothing can be achieved. Moreover, the government cannot impose democracy on the people. The people must be part of the democratic vehicle. Otherwise, this (democratic) vehicle may miss its road and land into an abysmal pit. For the first time, we are seriously involved in the building of our country. The road has been tough, but looking back from where we started some twenty years ago, we have gone far“ Mutuzo Gasana told Kata Kata`s reporter.


How many other Africans would be proud to say the same about their countries?