Rwanda is one of Africa’s smallest nations in Central Africa, bordering Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Republic of Congo. Rwanda has three main tribes, the Hutus, the Tutsis and the Twas. Although about 85 per cent of Rwandans are Hutus, the Tutsi minority has long dominated the leadership of the country. A couple of years ago, I was privileged to visit Rwanda on a business trip. Hitherto, I knew very little of the country, apart from the much reported genocide in 1994 that resulted in the slaughter of about 800,000 minority Tutsis and their Hutu sympathisers by ethnic Hutu extremist. With the genocide in mind, I was apprehensive at first about my trip, not knowing what to expect.
I arrived at Kigali airport with my main luggage in one hand and a plastic carrier bag in the other. Just as I passed through Immigration, I was approached very politely by an airport official who informed me that they did not allow the use of plastic bags in the country for environmental reasons. I was quietly surprised but proceeded to hand over my plastic bag to the gentleman, after transferring its contents into my main luggage. As I made the onward journey to my hotel, I was struck by the serenity and cleanliness of the capital city, Kigali. It began quickly to make sense to me why plastic bags are not allowed into the country, as I contrasted in my mind a picture of the streets of Lagos blighted by used pure water sachets in every nook and cranny. Rwanda as a country is tiny, about the size of Oyo State, but like Israel, they tend to punch above their weight. It is remarkable how the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, has managed to transform his country after one of the worst genocides that the world has ever known. Kagame does not need to take out an advertorial on TV to tell his people about his “uncommon transformation” as we have become accustomed to in Nigeria. They can see for themselves the marked changes he has brought to Rwanda with very limited natural resources.
Over the past 10 years, Rwanda has achieved an average annual growth in excess of eight per cent with poverty levels down from 60 per cent in 2000 to 45 per cent in 2013. Literacy levels have increased from 48 per cent in 1995 to over 70 per cent in 2013 with millions of dollars invested in education and university places. For $2 a year, everyone is insured on the government health insurance programme making health care available to the poorest of the poor. For Kagame, the rhetoric of zero tolerance for corruption has not been just words but backed up by affirmative action which has seen high level public officials thrown into jail for corruption and made to repay their loot. Rwanda is currently ranked the third easiest place to do business in Africa by the World Bank, largely because of its successes in dealing with corruption. The process of registering a company, from filling in the forms to walking away as a company director, is believed to take just 24 hours making Rwanda the eight best places to start a business in the world. Kagame wants to establish Rwanda as a financial hub in Africa, but who can doubt his ability to succeed.
There is a sense of defiance by Rwandans against detractors of their president, as their experience is a leadership that has brought stability to the country and improved standards of living of the citizenry. At times, it is hard to believe that Kigali, the capital, is in Africa because of the orderliness of society and cleanliness of the city. As a tourist, you will be forgiven at times for thinking you are in a small town in the United Kingdom, France or Germany. Kagame gives the rest of us hope that Africa is not cursed. Our problem is just leadership. It is possible to transform our countries if the will is there at the very top of government. Our particular challenge in Nigeria over the years has been corruption and a leadership in denial.
You cannot solve a problem you refuse to admit exists. Sooner or later, the problem will overwhelm you, as we have discovered from the current insurgency in Nigeria, where we were told for a long time that the government was on top of the situation even when insurgents were running rampage in the North-East. Government ministers and their advisers will do well to learn lessons from their colleague, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, and the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, on the exemplary way they have handled the Ebola crisis. Instead of going into the usual denial mode, the duo was frank with Nigerians about the threat of Ebola, without causing panic. Communication was honest, timely and effective, leaving no one in doubt how they could support government in containing the spread of the virus. We may as a result of their leadership have succeeded in nipping this problem in the bud.
There is no doubt that President Goodluck Jonathan has some very able ministers who are doing their best to improve the lot of Nigerians, but he has suffered, and indeed the country by default, from poor advice. A classic example is the meeting of the President with the parents of the Chibok girls that finally happened after 100 days of the kidnap. Worse still, that meeting seemed to have been prompted by a 17-year-old Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, who urged the President on her visit to Nigeria to meet with the families of the girls. So shameful for a nation. Contrast this with the recent beheading in Iraq of the American journalist, James Foley. President Barack Obama reportedly met to condole with his family within 24 hours of the news breaking. Although our leaders are quick to visit and condole with families of “big men” that have passed, one doubts if same empathy is extended to families of bereaved security agents that have lost their lives from the current insurgency.
Government advisers are however quick to label as “opposition” good counsel from well-meaning Nigerians like Wole Soyinka and I dare say Oby Ezekwesili. The #BringBackOurGirls campaigners are seen as a nuisance for doing what millions of Nigerians should be doing anyway, as a matter of course, holding the government of the day accountable for its actions and inactions. If 250 girls were kidnapped in the UK, the whole country will be camped outside the House of Parliament demanding answers from their government. It is a weakness of our democracy that our leaders are not held accountable enough through public protest. This is why state assemblies are able to award governors amoral pension emoluments, even when civil servants are owed many months of unpaid salaries.
Commentators say that selfless leadership and a disciplined approach are at the centre of Kagame’s vision to create an orderly and efficiently run society in Rwanda where things work. Unlike Rwanda, Nigeria is a much bigger fish with complex challenges, not least, the deep rooted corruption in society. Notwithstanding, we are still a great nation with huge potential, but like Rwanda, we must find our own way of realising these potentials.
Nwachukwu, an International Business Consultant, wrote in from London