Rwanda, the East African country devastated by genocide that claimed over one million lives about two decades ago, has become an economic phenomenon in Africa having recorded remarkable growth in its economy and government. Arguably, the country holds out lessons for African countries, particularly Nigeria, on what is possible in terms of economic growth and development. In this interview with CHUKA UROKO, Property Editor, and INNOCENT UNAH, Senior Analyst, the country’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Stanislas Kamanzi, speaks on the economic reforms and growth in the country, political development post genocide, and other critical issues. Excerpts.
Let us start by asking Your Excellency to kindly provide for us some basic information about where Rwanda is today. We are very familiar with the history of Rwanda and the past, but more impressed by the transformation that has happened given the very difficult situation the country found itself in, so where is Rwanda today in the scheme of things in Africa?
Rwanda, I would say, has come to be a stable country – a country that has properly defined its destiny. Even if it has not come of age, it has at least laid a solid foundation to transform into a country where citizens have the dignity they deserve, from various perspectives.
First is the socio-political perspective. As you mentioned, two decades ago, Rwanda collapsed completely, and during the past 23 years, Rwandans have been working on rebuilding the nation that had gone astray, and this was done through a sustained reconciliation process. The people of Rwanda, as you may know very well, had been driven into a divisive approach to living together. Actually, they had opted not to harmoniously live together, based on wrong premises mainly nurtured by reckless politicians with no vision at all for the society of Rwanda. But we have been able to move forward and the Nation is now built on solid ground.
The second perspective is about leadership. The situation that prevailed before 1994 was just a reflection of leadership that never made sense of the worth of the people, and its potential to positively transform the Country. For Rwanda to move from the dire straits it had faced, it was critical to mobilise the people to fully take part to the process of making things happen. This could only be possible based on a true sense of national belonging and entitlement for all Rwandans. Leaders had to abide by that principle and be held accountable for it. This was constantly pursued by the new leadership of Rwanda and it has certainly paid-off concerning where Rwanda was then and where we are now.
Third is the economic perspective. In 1994 when the genocide was stopped, our national GDP growth was negative or zero at best.
Our progress afterwards was due to unconventional strategic plans that were put in place. The Government succeeded to tap the potential of the people, and also worked out strategic reforms to facilitate investment in productive activities to support the economy. Government cooperated with the Private Sector, providing a regulatory framework and necessary facilitation to unleash investment.
Economic growth has been steady for the last decade and the GDP per capita is currently around 750 USD from near zero in 1994, which is a significant achievement given the very gloomy departure line..
That is indeed a significant progress. You must be proud of what you have done.
There are good reasons to be happy about those achievements, considering the 8 per cent economic growth that consistently characterised the last 10 years. But we are also mindful of the remaining long way to go to transform Rwanda into middle income Country, as contemplated in our national strategic plans
The substantive reforms on ease of doing business, placing Rwanda second to Mauritius in Africa, are a strong catalyst for the acceleration of that transformation.
How were you able to do that considering the constraints your country must have faced?
Consistently, we have endeavoured to look for home grown solutions to address issues that were specific to our own situation. The ultimate objective was to empower the people to be productive and to contribute to the transformation of the Country. Programs were devised and run at local level, which benefited communities and contributed to poverty eradication. Examples include the Girinka/ One Cow per Family Program, which stood out to be a developmental game changer in Rwanda.
As background, in Rwanda, from time immemorial, cattle has been a treasurable asset comparable with modern monetary values. Traditionally, the more cows you owned, the more recognition in the society you had. With that in mind, Government kicked-off a program to donate cattle to poorest families with a view to improve their livelihoods. Cattle presented a high multiplier effect in that connection. Cows produce milk poor families feed on, with associated benefits of combating malnutrition Cows also generate organic fertiliser small farmers use to improve productivity of their land, which iteratively contributes to food security and wealth creation at domestic level.
The second example is the Vision 2020 Umurenge Program, which was initiated in a bid to localise the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals/MDGS. By the way, Rwanda ranks among countries that have managed to meet or exceed most of the MDGs owing, among others, to this program.
To implement it, least developed areas were identified and listed as priority targets for an accelerated and integrated development program, which aimed at achieving transformation and poverty eradication. The program involved building basic infrastructure such as roads, schools, health care facilities, water distribution networks etc. It was conceived with provision for a high intensity labour component, which permitted earnings in cash and savings within those poor communities. Savings consequently permitted access to micro finance and emergence of small enterprises and subsequent enhanced creation of wealth. Gradually, millions of people managed to be lifted out poverty through this program, which once again confirms the importance of people-centred governance and leadership.
Apart from these initiatives tailored to address immediate and localised needs, Government also invested in programs with systemic and long term impact, especially those relevant to creating a knowledge-based economy, as defined in the Rwanda Vision 2020. ICT infrastructure was one key feature which involved the laying of a 5000 km long fibre optic backbone across the Country, which has permitted the increase of access to broadband internet, nationwide.
Increased connectivity has for instance enabled local farmers to competitively and seamlessly access local and international markets for their products, like coffee, as an example.
Currently more than 90 per cent of Rwandans are subscribers to mobile money transfer services, which permits gains in cost and time reduction for a wide range of transactions.
Benefits from broadband penetration also materialise owing to the inauguration of a Government to the Citizenry and Government to Government portal #RwandaOnline or Irembo, which is a platform running more than 50 services accessible to the general public.
How is politics playing side-by-side with the economic development of Rwanda?
Your question brings me back to what I said that Rwanda is ranked number two in ease of doing business in Africa. One important principle we upheld was that, at the core of economic growth, Government should aim at setting the right regulatory environment, providing facilitation, and then open the system to local and international players to do business. For instance it takes only 6 hours to register a business in Rwanda. There exist provisions for access to land for strategic investments. Altogether, ease of doing business reforms provide for a broad range of facilities that have elevated Rwanda’s competitiveness in attracting foreign investment within the wider East African sub-region.
Most importantly, the Rwandan Government has boldly institutionalised a policy of zero to corruption, and the principle of accountability concerning the citizenry and the leadership.
May I take you back a little to the issue of access to land for investment?
It is a globally established fact that foreigners have restricted entitlement to land ownership on a free hold basis and Rwanda is no exception.
However, that is where ease of doing business comes into play, concerning Rwanda. Land for strategic investment is earmarked and allocated to investors based on a number of criteria that are quite investor-friendly, in a competitive market, comparative with other places in our region and beyond.
What kind of political system do you have that weaved this kind of excellent reforms in Rwanda, a country that is today not only a reference point in Africa but all over the world?
The point to this is that we have a multi-party system in Rwanda. We have eleven registered political parties. However, different from Nigeria and other places, not only political parties in Rwanda enjoy free association and exercise independently their constitutional right as political contenders, they also have an established mechanism to build consensus over national priorities.
That mechanism is the Forum of Political Parties. The Forum was put in place, among others, to allow even the smallest political parties in Rwanda to participate in the decision making processes in the Country. The forum is presided over rotationally by all its constituent membership with equal deliberative prerogatives. This is quite unique and fitted to our own context and history; as we normally know that elsewhere, in multi-party systems, the winner takes it all and other political players have little or no say that may contribute to the prevailing dynamics of the Country. In Rwanda, the ruling party cannot appoint more than 50 per cent of the Cabinet membership. The Speaker of Parliament may not come from the same party as the President of the Republic.
These constitutional provisions guarantee power sharing and sustain consensus, which in turn permits an environment conducive to focusing on development as opposed to unnecessary and damaging divergences, which in the recent past crystalized in the planning and the execution of the genocide against the Tutsi, and ran the Country adrift.
Which model is your constitution inspired from? Was it adapted from somewhere?
It is fundamentally Rwandan;, based on our peculiarities. When the Genocide against the Tutsi was stopped, there were many proposals on the fate of Rwanda, including from our friends and foes, but none seemed to provide a sustainable solution to our realities. The leadership in place steered a process of broad-based consultations to deeply reflect on our history and the lessons we can draw from it, so to be able to lay a strong foundation to build the true Nation of Rwanda. Matters that had gone wrong were revisited for a better understanding and solutions for the future were found in our traditional best practices, adapted with a modern touch. That process inspired our post genocide constitution, which along the way got amended to fit in the fast changing national and global dynamics.