RWANDA IN THE EYES OF A RETURNEE
by Dr. Alfred Ndahiro
Communication & Public Relations Advisor to the President of the Republic
2006 Rwanda Conference, Houston, Texas
I would first of all like to express my gratitude to the Organizers of this Convention for giving me this opportunity to talk to you about my experience since I returned to my homeland. I seize this opportunity to commend the good job they are doing in bringing together Rwandans of all walks of life to devise ways and means of contributing to the development of our country.
Before I tell you my experience, allow me to give you a little bit of background information about myself, which should serve to contextualize my talk and ensure that we are all on the same wavelength.
My first visit back to my native land was in 1999 when I went as visiting lecturer at the National University of Rwanda for 6 weeks. That was 39 years after I had fled my country at the age of 8. I went back two years later for the Diaspora Meeting held in Kigali in 2001. And then in 2002 I went back to stay.
I fled Rwanda in 1960 when the troubles started and lived in a refugee camp in Uganda for 16 years. That refugee camp eventually acquired a more respectable name of a refugee settlement.
After graduation in 1976, I went to the then Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo, looking for greener pastures. I worked at the University of Kinshasa for 10 years and then went to the UK for further studies. I ended up getting the job of Lecturer at the University of Liverpool until 2002 when I returned to Rwanda.
Now, I know that some of my compatriots in the audience have not been back to Rwanda for a while, and some of our friends have never been to Rwanda; it is mainly those that I would like to address. I sincerely believe that I am in a position to give you an objective view of the achievements of post-genocide Rwanda, coupled with a rational analysis of where we have come from and where we are going.
Friends and former colleagues often ask me how I feel now that I am back in Rwanda. Some still harbor an image of a war-ravaged Rwanda, and a country torn apart by genocide. The University authorities in Liverpool could not believe their ears when I told them I was leaving. They actually volunteered to give me leave of absence because, in their academic thinking, I would not cope in my country and I would eventually go back to my job at the University. How wrong they were!
I can assure you that my return has given me an enormous sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, and an interminable sense of satisfaction. Now I know that I needed to experience and live the reality of Rwanda to be able to rekindle and strengthen the bond with my motherland. For me it is a dream come true, and I sing our national anthem loud and clear whenever I get a chance to do so.
Of course, some Western media, champions of doom and gloom are reticent to depict the true image of our country today. There is indeed, a campaign, orchestrated by our detractors and those who do not wish Rwanda well, that aims to rubbish anything and everything that emanates from Rwanda. I read this everyday on the internet and in some foreign media. There is nothing surprising though; these are the same prophets of doom who, in the immediate aftermath of the genocide, did not give Rwanda a chance. They condemned Rwanda to the list of failed states, without any hope of recovery and no prospects of reconstruction.
11 years on, if you ask any Rwandan or delegate to major conferences and summits that have been taking place in our capital recently, they will assure you that Rwanda is on the move and there is no turning back. One delegate to the COMESA summit recently held in Kigali was overheard telling his colleagues that Rwanda was slowly becoming the Singapore of Africa while other Africans were watching.
So, let me outline to you what I consider to be the major achievements in the last few years and also give you a synopsis of the problems that we still encounter.
I would like to start with the progress made in unity and reconciliation, then move on to peace and security, to democratization and good governance, then talk about the economy and poverty eradication strategies that the Government has adopted, and finally give you a picture of the education sector.
But let me, for a while, take you back to 1994, to those fateful months of April, May, and June. Think about how long it took Europe, even with the Marshall Plan, to recover from the Second World War. Then think about the destruction and devastation that the genocide caused to Rwanda. I would like you to bear in mind the number of people killed, to remember countless numbers of the survivors who were maimed, widowed, orphaned, and all of them very traumatized. Remember that law and order had totally broken down and that the social fabric in Rwandan society had completely ruptured. You will then be able to imagine the enormity of the task the leaders at the time faced to rebuild the country and to bring back Rwandan people together again. You know, sometimes I shudder at the thought of bleak scenarios that could have unfolded in the wake of that tragedy. And yet, by what some people have called the Rwandan miracle, now Rwandans of all walks of life are once again living side by side, working together, eating and drinking together, sharing moments of joy, and mourning together in times of sorrow. We in Rwanda consider this to be the result of the sheer determination and resilience of the Rwandan people, but especially a dedicated and visionary leadership, determined to heel the wounds, bring back unity and reconciliation among the Rwandan people, and knit together again the social fabric of Rwandan society. This, I have to admit, was the thing that struck me when I first went home.
Some people have rightly argued that reconciliation is never dictated from above, but it is necessary to keep preaching that reconciliation means valuing each other, seeing the positive attributes in your neighbor and your colleague. Of course, all Rwandans know that unity and reconciliation are a process, and not an event that happens overnight, and that it will take a long time to undo the damage that was done for about half a century.
Nonetheless, and as the His Excellency President Paul Kagame has said, Rwanda has painstakingly embarked on an irreversible process of national reconciliation and reconstruction to forge a new beginning of promise and hope, and to turn the sad chapter of our history and build a nation fit for us all and posterity.
And, in any case, no one is denied their Hutuness, their Tutsiness, or their Twaness. What the Government has consistently said is that if pride in being Umuhutu means hating Umututsi, or if pride in being Umututsi means hating Umuhutu, then that pride is misplaced and in fact has no place in present-day Rwanda.
With regard to peace and security, I would like to assure you that Rwanda is an oasis of peace, security, and stability in our region and our Government is playing its role in promoting that kind of environment in the rest of our region. Today, you can move anywhere any time in the country and you will at all times feel secure. Similarly, you can walk the streets of Kigali at any time of day and night without fear of the person you meet. This peace and security, needless to say, is the foundation for everything else our country can do, and is particularly in line with the Governmentís desire and drive to create a conducive environment that will attract investors.
As for the economy, let me remind you once again that the Government inherited a shuttered and ruined economy. But the Government has rehabilitated it, and is rebuilding the infrastructure. Institutions and mechanisms to enhance the socio-economic development of the Rwandan people have been put in place and there is a national poverty reduction and growth strategy in line with the nationís Vision 2020. In that Vision, Rwanda is expected to be a middle income country, operating on a knowledge-based economy.
For the last four years, Rwanda has been registering an average of 7% of GDP growth rate, and inflation has been held steady at an average of 7% in the same period. While the economy is still donor driven, there are efforts to diversify exports and to reduce the heavy reliance on the traditional exports: coffee and tea. Already tourism is picking up and is expected to be one of the most important foreign exchange earners.
Privatization of government enterprises is on-going and is intended to give ownership to individuals in order to enhance efficiency and attract investment.
Kigali of 11 years ago belongs to history books, as someone said recently. New buildings are springing up, and the roads are being resurfaced. For the first time in the history of the Country, we now have a five-star hotel Ė the Intercontinental. No wonder Kigali has now taken over from cities like Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam, Cairo, and Abuja as the most favorite venue for summits and other big conferences.
As for democratization, I can tell you that the culture of inclusive and democratic politics is taking root in Rwanda. In 2003, a new constitution was promulgated through a referendum, and this paved the way for parliamentary and presidential elections in the same year.
In addition to democratization, there has been the process of decentralization and devolution of power and decision making to the grassroots. The Government has also created institutions that guarantee checks and balances, ensure good governance through transparency and accountability and zero tolerance to corruption.
∑ The Human Rights Commission, to monitor whether peopleís rights are respected;
∑ The Office of the Ombudsman, with the responsibility to fight corruption, injustices
and other malpractices;
∑ The National Tender Board, charged with the responsibility to award all Government tenders;
∑ The Office of the Auditor General, that ensures that public funds are properly used
and accounted for;
∑ The Rwanda Revenue Authority, responsible for state revenue collection;
∑ The Rwanda Electoral Commission, responsible for the administration of national elections; and
∑ The National Examinations Board responsible for the standardization of exams, grades,
and ensures that our children access education and higher education institutions
on merit, rather than their background.
With regard to justice, I can report that important legal reforms have been made which are expected to improve our judicial system, and put a halt to the culture of impunity that had permeated Rwandan society.
But I would like to say a word or two, if I may, on the Gacaca courts, on which a lot has been written in the last few months.
Gacaca is our innovation, a return to our traditional system of solving conflicts and rendering justice. Gacaca is nothing other than a mechanism to enhance reconciliation in that it brings survivors of genocide and the perpetrators back together in their villages, encourages them to tell the truth about what happened, encourages the perpetrators of minor crimes to repent and ask for forgiveness and, where appropriate, accept the punishment given. It is intended to dispense participatory and restorative rather than punitive justice. It is the only system that is appropriate for certain categories of crimes, given the sheer number of people who took part in the 1994 genocide.
With regard to education, observers agree that Rwanda has made big strides. This is partly because education is a human right, and consequently, it must be accessible to all Rwandans, and partly because the Rwandan people are the most important resource we have and education and skills training add value to them. And here are a few illustrative statistics:
The number of pupils attending primary school in the 1995/96 school year was 1.039.657, while in the school year 2003/2004, that number had increased to 1.752.588. The net school enrolment rate at the end of 2004 was 94% in primary education. In secondary schools, enrolment grew from 55.641 to over 200.00 students. Higher education institutions have increased from 2 in 1994 to 14 today and the number of students has risen from 3.948 in 1996 to 25.233 at the end of 2004.
You know, friends, it is no use learning history if we canít learn from history. And one of the lessons we have learnt from our history is that, as I was saying a moment ago, the Rwandan people are the gold, the diamonds, and the oil of our country. Instead of banishing them and condemning them to a life as stateless people, the Government recognizes that all of us belong to one Rwandan family and that together we can bring about the development of our country we so badly need.
And you and I, as well as the rest of the Rwandan people, are the common denominators of continued progress and socio-economic development. We must all strive to uphold a democratic, politically stable, economically progressive, and socially improved Rwanda.
Am I suggesting that all Rwandans in the Diaspora should take the next flight back to Kigali? It would be fantastic if we all met there with our intellectual baggage, our financial resources, our wisdom, our technical expertise, and most importantly, our imagination and creativity that Rwanda needs today.
But I am a realist, and I know that that will not happen overnight. I am suggesting two things though:
First, that no one should claim to be more Rwandan than another Rwandan; in other words, that patriotism is no oneís monopoly. But patriotism comes at a cost. You know the famous saying: Do not ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. What that means is that we should all be torchbearers of Rwanda, helping to shape our common destiny.
Second, in my humble view, our country is going through a defining moment and all Rwandans, inside and outside the country, need to seize the moment and invest their money, their skills and their know-how, and be part and parcel of our development agenda. We should all consider ourselves as an indispensable component in the achievement of our Vision 2020. And as someone said, we donít have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change for the better. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people can transform our country. Experience has shown that when Rwandans have unity of purpose, we can move mountains. This is the philosophy that underpins the current leadership in Rwanda and their mission to transform it into a country fit for all of us and for posterity. What other ideal can be higher than that?
Now, of course, I am not here to deny that our country still has daunting huddles to overcome; challenges which we must all face. And I would like to mention a few of these: Clearly, there is slow pace of rural development and real per capita income growth in the countryside is still inadequate. Although poverty levels are falling, they are not falling fast enough and they are still unacceptably high in some areas. But there are efforts to inject money into the rural areas in order to monetize the rural sector and open up opportunities for job creation. These efforts include many projects that are up and running in the various districts, intended to generate income, build capacity and develop infrastructure. Every District now has a Community Development Plan generated from a needs analysis at grassroots level, and showing development priorities.
Other initiatives include a labor intensive public works program (HIMO) that is also geared towards raising income levels in the rural areas.
Another one is UBUDEHE, which involves communal work that aims to promote community development initiatives agreed upon by people in their villages and which, in their reckoning, will make a difference in their lives.
Another problem that we still face is the continued suffering of genocide survivors, many of whom suffer in silence. As you know, many of them were infected with HIV/AIDS and need treatment. Although the Government is trying to help, the demand is overwhelming and the resources are limited. HIV/AIDS in general remains one of the stumbling blocks to the Governmentís development efforts, but once again the Government is investing the little resources it has in its prevention and treatment.
Although I said that Rwanda has made significant strides in the education sector, here too, there are still challenges, and they include the high drop out and repetition rates in primary schools, which inevitably have a knock-on effect on the illiteracy rates that remain high in some areas. Another problem is the supply of didactic material, which remains generally inadequate in the whole country, and the small number of qualified teachers.
There are of course people who still harbor the genocide ideology; people whose outlook is still narrow and who are not aware that Rwanda has moved on. I guess they have not yet understood either that the Government is determined to uproot this ideology and relegate it to the history books.
Friends; Ladies and Gentlemen, before I conclude, you might want to ask what I have gained in terms of personal and professional development.
Well, besides being at home, serving my country and contributing, in however small a way, to its reconstruction and its development, it has been a privilege and an honor to work under and very closely with His Excellency President Paul Kagame, a visionary leader and a great statesman. The developments I have outlined above did not come about by accident, but rather, they are a result of a focused leadership with a vision of a better tomorrow. Above all, I am proud to serve under a man who stopped genocide in our country in 1994 when the whole world had abandoned us. That alone is enough for him to assume the moral high ground, and for me to feel privileged and honored.
Even as his Adviser, what I have learnt from him in the last three years is a lot more than what I ever learnt in my long years of academic education, and in my professional career. He is a man who has a clear vision of where the country needs to be tomorrow, and is equally focused on what it takes to get there. I also believe that he has the capacity, and has indeed shown capacity to mobilize all Rwandans and instill in them hope for a better future. I am certain that time will tell, while history will judge him, and confirm what I am saying now.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that for me, it has been a satisfying experience to be back home. I have outlined to you what I consider to be the very important achievement of our country in the last few years but I have also indicated that there are still problems, which, given our resolve, are not insurmountable.
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Reader says high school students will benefit from reading Alfred Ndahiro's presentation about the history of Rwanda
Reader plans to discuss the article "10 Years On - The Story of Rwanda" with her Grade 12 students
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