When a People’s Resolve and Governance System of Choice Handsomely Pays Off
Critical analysis of any governance system in a civilized society or State should be viewed in the mirror of the country’s internal context. This is particularly true in Rwanda which for over three decades suffered institutionalized ethnic discrimination climaxing into the devastating 1994 genocide against Tutsi. Post-Independence Governments in Rwanda until July 1994 glorified and excelled in inculcating the divide and rule policy initiated by Colonial Masters. This systemic ethnic discrimination targeting Tutsi manifested in mass killings and exiling of Rwandan ethnic Tutsi into neighboring countries in hundreds of thousands as far back as 1959. Further cyclic killings targeting Tutsis spanned over three decades climaxing into the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in which over one million innocent souls were slaughtered within one hundred (100) days. The Genocide was planned and implemented by whole-Government machinery and was executed at the fastest killing rate in history, averaging ten thousand deaths per day. Indeed Rwanda is a product of both the worst of politics mercilessly executed from 1959 to 1994 and best political efforts engineered by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) to salvage the nation after successfully stopping the genocide and liberating the entire country on 4th July 1994.
Building a Political System of Choice:
After ably stopping the genocide, Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) enlisted other politicians both from the old regime and other political parties with no known role in the genocide and together formed a Government of National Unity (GoNU). In line with this political system of choice, National Security Forces were formed by integrating members from the former regime with no known role in the 1994 genocide against Tutsi. The newly formed Government of National Unity (GoNU) sworn into office on 19th July 1994 began a new chapter in the history of Rwanda albeit so many challenges, not least: salvaging a devastated economy; rebuilding a destroyed moral fabric; repatriating millions of Rwandan refugees herded into exile in 1994 by fleeing genocidal forces that held them, hostage, for continuous replenishment of their rebel/militia group in the hope of returning to complete their genocidal agenda; fending for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable genocide survivors including orphans and widows; as well as fighting genocide ideology and its related impunity.
At the onset of the journey of nation-building, Rwandans made three very important choices: we chose to stay together; to be accountable and to think big. These three broad choices were aimed at recreating own dignity and establishing a larger national sense of purpose. It is moreover against this background that several relevant institutions, policies, and laws were instituted to ensure full accountability to the citizenry. The Governance system in Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi is a product of a very frank debate that was never constrained by time and involved the broadest spectrum of Rwandan society.
The 1998 – 1999 ‘Village Urugwiro’ Consultative Dialogue
The post-genocide government was motivated by a quest to establish a Governance system for a just society that is devoid of discrimination and ethnic differentiation among Rwandans. It was also inspired to ensure the sustainable development of Rwanda with equal opportunities for all. Given the decades of mismanagement and politics that epitomized ethnic discrimination and extremism, rich knowledge of this historical context informed the formulation of the remedial policies. Consequently, Government organized consultative meetings in the Urugwiro Village (President’s Office) that lasted from 1998 to 1999. Participation at these deliberations was broad, frank, and on wide-ranging topical issues of national interest. Participants included politicians both from the RPF and from the old regime, Youths, as well as Women. It is the consensus outcomes of these consultative meetings that informed the Constitutional making process that led to the 2003 post-transition Constitution which was revised in 2015.
To make Rwanda’s developmental model people-centered, Rwandans chose consensual democracy that is bed-rocked in an all-inclusive consultative system of governance as opposed to confrontational democracy, where the winner takes it all. Guided by this overarching principle, the Rwandan Constitution to date has institutionalized power-sharing where a winning political party for the Presidency must share power and cannot take more than 50% of Cabinet or legislative positions and nor the Speaker of Parliament.
As a matter of survival of the nation, Rwandans also chose to work hard at fighting genocide ideology as well as ensuring fair justice for all. With the overwhelming genocide cases, Gacaca Courts were adopted as transitional justice to fast-track trials of over a million cases between 2002 and 2012. Blended from Rwanda’s traditional justice system, Gacaca Courts facilitated communal healing in the wake of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi. Relatedly, law no18/2008 of 23/07/2008 relating to the punishment of the crime of genocide ideology was promulgated to fight and defeat this scourge that not only birthed the 1994 genocide against Tutsi but is still propagated across the globe by genocide fugitives and their support networks. Genocide ideology is an aggregate of thoughts characterized by conduct, speeches, documents, and other acts aiming at exterminating or inciting others to exterminate people based on their ethnic group, origin, nationality, region, color, physical appearance, sex, language, religion, or political opinion committed and propagated either in normal periods or during the war. Further, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), as well as the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), were established to help in fighting this scourge as well as for reconciling and building unity among Rwandans.
Motivated by the desire to raise national consciousness and more effectively build and consolidate unity among Rwandans, Cabinet on 14th July 2021 created a Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement to be dedicated to national unity, historical memory, and citizenship education. With the new Ministry in place, Both the NURC and CNLG have since ceased to exist as their functions have also been appropriated by the new Ministry. Rwandans chose a Decentralization Governance system to ensure essential services are closer to the people. This is also aimed at ensuring their participation in decisions that impact them.
To ensure consensus building, two dialogue forums were created: the National Political Party Forum and the National Council for Dialogue (Umushyikirano). The National Political Party Forum’s membership is voluntary, observes a principle of alternate leadership, and offers all political parties a platform for dialoguing on all issues of national interest for the common good of the citizenry. On the other hand, the National Council for Dialogue (Umushyikirano) is held annually, chaired by H.E The President of the Republic, and brings together leadership and the citizenry into a frank conversation and topical issues that matter to the citizens. To ensure broadness, participation in this dialogue is both virtual and physical. Implementation of decisions of this dialogue is annually reported on to the same audience with implementation monitored and evaluated throughout the year at the level of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Prioritizing implementation of Government Policies and Programs
In real life, it is one thing to initiate valuable policies and excellent strategic plans. Rwanda is however a very strong believer in the paramount importance of ensuring full implementation of these strategic plans and policies without which the planning function is rendered stale and void.
Worth noting also is that with the devastation that Rwanda suffered under the more than three decades of poor governance as well as the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, the post-July 1994 leadership had a very limited margin of error. It has thus been very relentless in her pursuit of a united, secure, just, democratic, and prosperous nation, without an iota of discrimination.
In confronting the many political, social, judicial, and economic related challenges, multitudes of homegrown solutions were initiated. These were informed by the nature of the challenges, internal national context, and many were sourced from Rwandan culture. These include but are not limited to Umushyikirano (the Annual National Dialogue Council) detailed above; Umuganda (Community work of national interest); Gir’inka (one cow per poor family); Ubudehe (projects for fighting poverty involving community participation); Umwiherero (the Annual National Leadership Retreat); Urugerero (National Service); Gacaca Courts elaborated on above; and Imihigo (annual performance-based contracts).
The economic development blueprint unveiled in the year 2000 known as Vision2020 has enabled the building of a solid foundation that has turned around the fortunes of Rwandans. Vision2020 aimed at transforming Rwanda into a middle-income, private sector-led, knowledge-based and diversified economy by the year 2020. This transformation required Rwanda to upturn its GDP per capita to $1,240 by 2020 from $220 of 2000. Nurturing entrepreneurship and the creation of a dynamic and competitive private sector was a strategic choice for realizing Vision2020. The government through Rwanda Development Board (RDB) created the desired infrastructure and friendly business/investment climate for the private sector to thrive and catapult the overall growth of the economy. With its vast innovations in creating a more business-friendly environment, Rwanda was in 2021 rated 4th top best African country to invest in by the South Africa Rand Merchant Bank (RMB).
Realizing that traditional exports of coffee and tea would not generate sufficient revenue for the desired level of economic growth, efforts were invested in diversifying the economy to increase export earnings and improve the Balance of Payments (BoP). Industrialization, the Service Sector, ICTs as well as Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVETs), were also chosen as key drivers for propelling the economy forward. The Made-in Rwanda Strategy which was adopted in 2016 had within four years reduced the trade deficit by 36% and increased the value of total exports by 69%. Rwanda’s Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) initiative has made the country one of the top Conference destinations in Africa. Further, financial institutions were expanded and trade and construction emerged as a part of the main drivers of growth including the light industries. Led by the Kigali International Financial Center (KIFC), Rwanda has positioned itself as a financial hub for the Continent. This Pan-African Investment aims at connecting International Investors with opportunities across Africa.
These unflinching interventions have twenty years after the promulgation of Vision 2020 greatly improved the efficiency of public investment management, strengthened dialogue with the private sector, and made it easier for firms to access credit and enjoy a more streamlined tax system.
The 2021 energy progress report listed Rwanda among twenty countries globally that have extensively rolled out electricity to their communities over the last ten (10) years. Relatedly, electrification access has been scaled up from 10% in 2010 to 65% in mid-2021 according to the latest statistics from Rwanda Energy Group (REG) and the target is 100% access in households by 2024. Relatedly, at the closure of Vision2020 and takeover of its succeeding economic development blueprint, Vision2050, we see an impressive overall execution albeit missing the overall target of achieving a lower-middle-income status. Indeed, for a consecutive sixteen-year period until 2019, the Rwandan economy grew by an average of 8%. It grew by 8.6% in 2019 until the COVID19 pandemic in 2020. And with the excellent COVID19 prevention measures and varied remedial policy interventions, Rwanda’s economy expanded by 20.6% in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of 2020. This reflects a strong rebound from the COVID19 triggered slump reflected in 2020. Per Capita income did increase from a meager USD 200 in the year 2000 to USD 830 in 2020. Meanwhile, Vision2050 whose implementation begun in 2021 aims at having Rwanda achieve Middle Income Country (MIC) Status by 2035 and High Income Country (HIC) Status by 2050.