1994 was a year of untold horror for the small East African country of Rwanda. Three months of genocide irreversibly scarred that nation and, in the eyes of the world, the nation was beyond any turnaround. How could a country ripped apart by ethnic violence, division and economic destruction ever come alongside the international community in any meaningful way? Enter Paul Kagame. 2018 African of the Year, Paul Kagame and his government have, over the last few decades, facilitated one of the most remarkable national turnarounds of our time. As Paul Kagame settles into a third term, let’s consider some of the factors that make the nation of Rwanda an example to the rest of Africa.
One of the ways that Rwanda is leading the rest of Africa is with a strong leadership committed to their national interest. This begins at the top, with the figure of President Paul Kagame. President Kagame, aged just 36, came to power at the end of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide as the head of the RPF, the military movement which seized control of the nation, bringing to an end over three months of widespread killing. President Kagame has been described as a strong authoritarian leader running his nation with almost military discipline. Under his leadership, a new and diverse range of Rwandan politicians has developed. Of particular interest is the prominence of women in government in Rwanda. Rwanda has one if the highest percentage of women Members of Parliament of any nation in the world. In Rwanda, 64% of MP’s are women, in contrast to the global average of only 22%. In this way, Rwanda is leading Africa towards a more balanced and equal distribution of political leadership under President Kagame.
President Kagame has also proved to have an iron fist when it comes to stamping out corruption which has led to the Rwandan economy becoming an attractive investment proposition. Consequently, the Rwandan economy has grown at an astonishing rate of between 7-8% over the last two decades. In 2017-2018, the economy grew by 8.9%. Through its strong anti-corruption policy as well as its streamlined administration and tax infrastructure, Rwanda has been recognised as the second-easiest country in Africa to do business in by the World Bank. In this way, the nation serves as a model to other developing economies on the African continent. Despite attracting enormous foreign investment, Rwanda has continued to focus on internal growth by using policy to facilitate the strengthening of local industry and production. Over the last two decades, the country increased the domestic funding of its budget from 36% up to 84%. It has reduced its reliance on outside help in this by way of a continuous commitment to diversification and modernisation of its exporting, manufacturing and IT industries. It also continues to position itself as a tourist destination. Arsenal fans may be familiar with the ‘Visit Rwanda’ logo on the team’s kit sleeve. This was sponsored by the Rwandan government, with Arsenal being President Kagame’s favourite team.
Visitors to Kigali will also be struck by Rwanda’s commitment to cleanliness and environmental practices. Rwanda has banned plastic bags since 2006, putting to shame not only African neighbours but even the global community at large. This policy has been put forward by organisations like Plastic Oceans as a sustainable policy that should be implemented internationally
It is areas such as this, as well as in its economic policy and governmental leadership that Rwanda has provided a leading example to its African neighbours, and all in this in the face of terrific adversity and the dragging weight of a horrific history.