John C. Maxwell, a highly acclaimed leadership coach and prominent author, sums it up well when he says; Everything rises and falls on leadership”.
After independence, the leadership of Rwanda was characterised by dictatorship, politics of exclusion and discrimination.
The lack of diversity was in all areas of the country’s governance including political systems, policies, and actions; which resulted in the devastating 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
After the Genocide, there emerged a new style of leadership engineered by RPF-Inkotanyi. A clear vision for the country as well as a set of guiding values was crafted.
Servant leadership, good governance, and accountability were among the key principles on which the new Rwanda was being built.
In understanding Rwanda’s journey, we look at 10 areas whose results have improved the welfare of the Rwandan people.
1. Unity and reconciliation:While the international community would have believed that Rwandan reconciliation would be possible, Rwanda’s post-genocide exceptional leadership has taken it as a priority. Today, empirical findings indicate that Rwanda is far ahead in the process of reconciliation.
On average, the current status of reconciliation in Rwanda is at 92.5% (Unity and Reconciliation Barometer, 2018).
2. Power-sharing and inclusiveness:Rwanda’s new era that started in July 1994 is characterized by a strong sense of inclusiveness politically, socially and economically. Rwanda is now one of the few African countries where power is shared fairly between political parties and also considering special groups such as women, youth and people with disabilities.
Along with political inclusion, policies, and institutions put in place took into consideration the inclusion of all Rwandans. Policies and practices meant to discriminate among Rwandans in education, the military, public administration and elsewhere were repealed and replaced by those that give equal rights and opportunities. Today, everyone is encouraged to contribute to building the nation regardless of their background, socio-economic status or ethnic belonging. Such inclusivity has never been seen in Rwanda before.
3. Education:Before 1994, education in Rwanda was reserved for the privileged few. Thanks to citizen-centered leadership, over the last 25 years, access to education has increased tremendously. Today, a child born in Rwanda is guaranteed a minimum 12-year basic education (6 at primary, and 6 at secondary school level).
As per MINEDUC records, the net enrollment rate was 98% in 2017, where the net enrollment for girls was 98.1% while it was 97.8% for boys. Many of the primary schools turned into high schools under the 12-Years Basic Education Program, enabling the poor children to access free high school education near their homes.
4. Health Access:Without healthy citizens, the nation cannot develop. Rwanda’s leadership has put a special emphasis on ensuring Rwandans are healthy. Today, with 92% of Rwandans covered by the nation’s community-based health insurance scheme dubbed “Mutuelle de Santé”, this insurance system is celebrated as one of the most successful in the world.
Moreover, health provision has been made effective, at all levels, from hospitals of excellence to inner communities served by Community Health Workers (CHWs). As a result, Rwanda has doubled citizen’s life expectancy at birth from 34 years in 1990 to 68 years in 2018.
5. Women and Youth Empowerment:Rwanda is a global success story of women empowerment politically, socially, and economically. Indeed, currently, Rwanda’s parliament leads the world in female representation with 64% of its seats. Women hold key leadership roles and Rwanda’s policies are cited as a model for gender inclusiveness.
Being the majority of the country’s population, youth are also taken in high regard and are considered for special opportunities and incentives as a special group, enabling their increased participation in the country’s development.
6. ICT Hub:Rwanda has emerged to be one of the fastest growing African countries in ICT. The WEF 2015 Global Information Technology Report (GITR) has ranked Rwanda the 1st globally in government success in ICT promotion to drive social and economic transformation. According to the report, Rwanda scored 6.2 points out of 7.
7. Zero tolerance to corruption: The Government of Rwanda has undertaken a number of anti-corruption measures and these coupled with immense political will and public support, have led to a low impunity environment. These efforts have resulted in strong ranking for Rwanda both regionally and internationally. According to Transparency International’s 2018 Global Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Rwanda currently ranks the 3rd least corrupt country in Africa after Seychelles and Botswana.
8. Economic growth: Rwanda has been ranked as one of the world’s fast-growing economies. The nation’s growth averaged 7.5% over the decade to 2017 while the per capita GDP grew at 4.7% annually. Rwanda’s GPD per capita in 1994 was $146, stood at $774 in 2017, and is projected to have reached around $819.652 by the end of this year 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In addition, Rwanda is the 29th easiest place to do business in the world – the only low-income country in the top 30; according to the 2019 Doing Business Index. All these milestones have been achieved in only a few years, because the leadership paid heavy attention to real sector concerns, such as trade, tourism, investment, technology, agriculture and services.
9. Environmental protection:As one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, Rwanda is acutely aware of the challenges that lie ahead. Therefore, to achieve its vision of a low-carbon and climate resilient economy by 2050, Rwanda has established the Green Fund, a ground-breaking investment fund, the largest of its kind in Africa. In addition, Rwanda’s top leaders value the benefits of keeping the country clean and set the example. The capital City of Rwanda, Kigali, has long been regarded as the cleanest city in Africa and has clearly set the pace for other African cities to emulate and follow.
10. National Security: From being known as an unsafe country where none wanted to go in 1994, Rwanda has turned into an impressively safe, stable, and easy-to-visit country. Rwanda now ranks the ninth (9th) safest country in the world by the World Economic Forum; and the 11th safest country in the world by the 2017 Gallup Poll. Ranking ahead of countries like Austria and New Zealand, Rwanda has really gone the extra mile to make tourists and residents feel as secure as possible.
From the above achievements, we can affirm that good leadership remains the main cornerstone of sustainable development; and has undoubtedly been the force powering Rwanda’s rapid growth and transformation into a dignified nation.
In a nutshell, based on Rwanda’s experience, it is clear that good governance stems from the commitment of leaders to the values of servant-leadership and accountability, exercised with consistency and excellence. It also requires the ingenuity of leaders at all levels to shape meaningful citizen-centered home-grown solutions and the participation of citizens in tackling local problems, thus ensuring the current growth rates are sustainable.
Prof. Pierre-Damien Habumuremyi is a Political Science Expert, and Patrice Habinshuti an International Development Expert.
The views expressed in this article are of the authors. This article was originally published in the New Times