Rwanda: A Conscious Choice of Building a Secure, Peaceful and Stable Developmental State

By : Abd Buhungu

The head of Rwanda diplomatic mission in sudan

Twenty-eight years after the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, Rwanda has like a phoenix rising from the ashes arisen from her notorious turbulent history that was rooted in the Colonialists’ divide and rule policy. From 1959 until the liberation of the country by Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) on 4th July 1994, ethnic discrimination against Tutsi produced over a million stateless refugees lasting for over three decades. Regrettably too, the two post-independence republics from 1962 to 1994 lacked the capacity to grow an economy that would uplift the citizenry out of extreme poverty. They also made a conscious choice of limiting exposure and quality education for Rwandans. This latter policy by the ruling class resulted from a selfish urge to maintain absolute political power within the ambit of the privileged few and their cronies. Meanwhile at the climax of the ethnic discrimination was the 1994 genocide against Tutsi which wiped out over a million within only about a hundred days beginning from 7th April 1994. This was stopped on 4th July 1994 following a military campaign against Genocide by the RPF when the International Community had left Rwandans at their own peril. Overcoming the legacy of decades of ethnic-discrimination and genocide ideology after Rwanda’s liberation was not only a mammoth challenge but a learning curve for Rwandans. The Government of National Unity under the RPF leadership established after the 1994 genocide embarked on a crusade of salvaging/healing the nation after a humiliating loss of the social fabric. Managing a country inhabited by those culpable of the genocide and its survivors was an unfathomable challenge. Rwanda’s economy was meanwhile in a spiral negative growth not only because of the devastation by the genocide but also decades of mismanagement.

These exceptional circumstances required serious soul searching for overcoming destructive divisive politics, rebuild the lost unity and social fabric, ensure holistic security for all and build an economy that serves all citizenry. To deliberate on the gravity of the situation in the country and forge consensus on the post-genocide Governance system, national consultations were held at the President’s Offices (Village Urugwiro) from 1998 to 1999. Stakeholders in these consultations included politicians from the former regime with no known role in the genocide, civil society, Women representatives and officials from the Government of National Unity established after Rwanda’s liberation. The overarching objective of these consultations was recreation of a sense of national belonging as well as making choice of governance system with laws that best responded to the country’s peculiar internal context. These broad consultations gave rise to the 2003 Constitution which was revised in 2015. Relatedly, Consensual Democracy was chosen as opposed to Confrontational Democracy as well as a conscious decision made to ensure balance between economic growth and social development or Developmental State model which is now helping in steering the country forward.

Indeed, confrontational politics in all its myriad guises has occasionally led to violence on the Continent. It is moreover worth noting that the legacy of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi still lives on and its perpetrators still roam the globe and proliferate genocide ideology. Further, the FDLR which is a terrorist group that is comprised of remnants of former soldiers of the pre-July 1994 genocidal regime still operate from Eastern DRC. With this in hindsight, Rwandans chose Consensual Democracy which is a consensus-based decision making model that nourishes diversity and fosters unity. Relatedly, confrontational politics was considered a risky venture that could foster discord in a society hitherto governed by divisive politics for decades.

By definition, Consensual Democracy is reminiscent of the prominent contemporary philosopher Jürgen Habermas’ theory of Communicative Action, in which “actors in society seek to reach common understanding and coordinate their actions by reasoned arguments, consensus and cooperation”. Just like Communicative Action, Consensual democracy underscores information sharing with the public, consensus building through dialogue and consultative decision making by all stakeholders. In this context, the legitimacy of democracy depends not only on constitutional processes of enacting laws, but also on the discursive quality of the holistic processes of debate leading to desired harmony, ownership of the thought processes as well as relevant decisions and outcomes.

In implementing this leadership philosophy of choice, the Rwandan Constitution of 2003 revised in 2015 has legislated power-sharing. Accordingly, the Head of State and the Speaker of Parliament cannot belong to the same political organisation. Likewise, no political organisation can exceed fifty percent (50%) membership of Cabinet nor the Parliament. Relatedly, a National Consultative Forum of Political Organisations (NFPO) has been established and its leadership is rotated among members. This permanent platform facilitates political dialogue, consensus building and national cohesion. The NFPO currently has membership of eleven (11) registered political parties. Power-sharing among political parties has enabled broad participation in governance, enabled an atmosphere of consensus-based decision making, inclusivity, equitable provision of essential services and most importantly, helped transcend ethnic discrimination practices that hitherto characterised post-independence Rwanda.
Meanwhile, Rwanda’s economy has had huge transformation since promulgation of Vision 2020 in the year 2000 and recent crossover to Vision 2050 in 2021. These Development Blueprints and related earlier Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) as well as ongoing 7Year National Strategy for Transformation (NST1) for period 2017-2024 have helped uplift millions out of poverty. On Governance, law against genocide ideology was promulgated and there is zero tolerance to corruption. A Ministry for National Unity and Civic Engagement has also been established for this high purpose.
Fast-forward twenty-eight years after the genocide, Rwanda has been rebuilt beyond all expectations. It is politically and socially stable, peaceful and more prosperous than it has ever been. The social fabric has been rebuilt; laws against genocide ideology promulgated; the most vulnerable in society rehabilitated to live meaningful lives; factories and industries built to increase export revenues and improve on balance of payments; strategic infrastructure built to facilitate efficient service delivery; investing in education prioritised including establishing of world class universities/Institutions such as Carnegie Mellon, the African Leadership University (ALU), the Institute for Conservation and Agriculture (RICA), and the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS); economy transformed with an average growth of 15% for 16 years until the COVID19 pandemic in 2020 when it suffered contraction of 3.4%. Owing to an internationally well-reputed conducive business environment, the economy has benefited from sustained increase in Foreign Direct Investment inflows that has positively impacted the manufacturing sector. Moreover, buoyed by sizeable fiscal and monetary policy support and easing of COVID19 containment measures, the economy rebound with a 10.9% growth in 2021. According to African Development Bank (AfDB), Rwanda’s GDP is projected to grow by 6.9% in 2022 and 7.9% in 2023. The investment and business climate is very conducive buttressed by zero tolerance to corruption and an excellent service delivery that is supported by a reliable IT infrastructure. Agriculture has been diversified and is gradually undergoing some modernisation. Consequent to the various interventions, Rwanda recorded a 45% increase in revenues from Agriculture exports in 2021-2022 fiscal year compared to the previous year, fetching in $ 640.9 million up from $448million. Other impressive milestones include access to universal health care (now at over 90% of the population); women empowerment (61% in Parliament, 50% Cabinet, over 50% Rwandan CEOs); and Rwandan youth sustainably empowered through various capacity building interventions as well as transformative leadership and civic engagements. Rwanda is meanwhile also giving her modest contribution in tackling global challenges including on: International Migration; environmental conservation; as well as Security through UN Peacekeeping and other Regional/Bilateral peace related interventions (e.g. in Mozambique, Central African Republic, South Sudan and until last year, here in the Sudan).
Government has meanwhile invested in some of the most strategic infrastructural projects with maximum catalytic impact on the tourism ecosystem. This infrastructure includes: electricity now at 70% access for all Rwandan residents and 100% access target by 2024; water; health facilities; road networks (ranked 3rd in Africa for best quality roads by the WB’s Global Competitive Index Report); world class Conference and Sports Facilities, Airports (the newly transformed Kanombe International Airport and ongoing construction of Bugesera International Airport); world class Hotels and diversification of tourist attractions. Consequent to this strategic investment and prioritisation of wildlife conservation as well as reinforcing of capacity for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE), Rwanda’s tourism sector has emerged as the single largest foreign exchange earner. As example, the sector fetched $ 498 million before the COVID19 pandemic in 2019 and it is expected to generate three hundred sixty million dollars ($ 360 million) in 2022.
In conclusion, Rwanda’s political evolution is founded on a conscious decision by Rwandans to steer the country away from confrontational politics owing to the country’s peculiar context involving decades of politics of hate, ethnic discrimination, genocide ideology and violence spanning over three decades until July 1994. It was the consideration of Rwandans that a contrary policy direction would have risked inhibit innovation, rejuvenate past turbulent divisions and take acutely needed resources down the drain. All energies, innovation and focus have since commendably been invested in building a resilient economy; strengthening national unity; lifting millions out of extreme poverty and working hard at achieving holistic security for all. For posterity and to ensure sustainability of good value out of hard lessons from Rwanda’s liberation journey whose current phase is National development, the Rwanda Cooperation Initiative (RCI) was founded as a public company in 2018. This organisation acts as a global gateway for knowledge exchange on Rwanda’s innovative development initiatives through South-South and Triangular Cooperation.


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