opinionBy Sam Nda-Isaiah
Rwanda today has been dubbed Africa's biggest success story. The first person to draw my attention to the country and its president Paul Kagame was Dr. Lillian Wong. That was about six years ago. Dr. Wong had served as the British high commissioner to Rwanda in the post-genocide era, and it was during that period that she came to know and admire President Kagame. Kagame was the commander of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was formed principally to unite the whole of Rwanda. His army defeated the regime that encouraged the famous Rwandan genocide that shook the world in 1994.
To appreciate why Rwanda is today such an outstanding story, it will be important to go back a little into the country's recent history. Even though the country of about 11 million people speaks the same language, they are classified and divided into the majority Hutu (those who farmed the land) and the minority Tutsi (those who raised cattle). There is also another very small group who make up just about one per cent of the population called the Twa. Their Belgian colonial masters encouraged these divisions and classifications for their own interests and established the Tutsi as the aristocracy of the country. These divisions were subsequently exacerbated by the colonial church leaders who wanted to reverse the discrimination but ended up actually stocking it. This discrimination was at the root of the animosity that came to define the country's history of hatred and violence.
Kagame, himself a Tutsi who was nearly killed as a little child, grew up in Uganda where his family had fled to. He fought in the rebel army that installed President Yoweri Museveni as president of Uganda and secretly used that as a platform, together with other exiles in Uganda, to plot a takeover of Rwanda for all Rwandans. During a brief truce with the then Hutu-controlled government in Rwanda, the Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was assassinated when the presidential jet he was flying in together with the president of Burundi was hit by assassins' missiles. It was suspected that the assassins belonged to the extremist faction of the Hutu who thought the president was too moderate in his dealings with the Tutsis. The assassination subsequently unleashed 100 days of pure hell in which one million Tutsis were killed. While this was happening, the world watched, kept quiet and did nothing. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) watched with utter confusion, the United Nations did nothing and, in fact, instructed the UN troops not to intervene. While the genocide was going on, the United Nations actually reduced its presence by evacuating 90 per cent of its peacekeeping troops stationed in the country. The US government, still smarting from its humiliation during the intervention in Somalia, kept away. It was during this period that Kagame's RPF seized the initiative, seeing that the world was callously watching and doing nothing, to attack Kigali, the capital. Kagame was able to defeat the government forces because they were already weakened by the ongoing genocide. After Kagame's forces took over the government he put a decisive stop to the genocide.
The first thing Kagame did was to decline the presidency of the country, which at that point, had technically failed as a nation. This was probably the politically correct thing to do at the time. He appointed Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu who had been a civil servant under the previous president but had fled the government and joined Kagame's movement. That was in 1994. Kagame became vice president and doubled as the minister of defence. Bizimungu and his cabinet had some control over domestic affairs, but Kagame was the commander-in-chief and, in essence, the de facto ruler. Six years later, in 2000, Kagame became president after President Bizimungu resigned. It was from that point that Rwanda started its current journey that has earned it the sobriquet of the "Singapore of Africa".
But Rwanda lacks all the advantages of Singapore. Unlike Singapore, Rwanda is thoroughly landlocked: it is situated somewhere in the wilderness of East Africa literally in the middle of nowhere. Singapore has one of the world's best-educated population. Rwanda's middle class was butchered in the 1994 genocide. Singapore is a gateway to China, the world's fastest growing economy, but, as a recent British think-tank report puts it, Rwanda's neighbours are 'less than ideal'. Rwanda is not only landlocked, it is surrounded by scattered and disorganised neighbours. It can't be worse if your neighbours are Congo, Burundi and Uganda.
But Kagame has declared that his country would leave its horrific history behind and pursue a future of development, rapid growth and modernisation based on a united Rwanda. He has openly declared that he intends to make "Rwanda the best in Africa" and he is the only one that understands the material particulars of that ambition apparently. And it should not surprise anyone to see why he is already succeeding. No African country takes the rule of law nearly as seriously as Kagame's Rwanda. There is zero tolerance for corruption as should be expected of any country that desires growth and development. No African country has done more to deal with the demon of corruption. Ministers have been jailed for corruption and unlike Nigeria this is not selective. Foreign businessmen and investors have consistently attested to the fact that they have never had to pay bribes for anything.
Deliberately and quite remarkably, too, Kagame has never used the labels "Tutsi" and "Hutu"and has never self-identified himself as Tutsi. This is one lesson Nigerian leaders must learn from the Rwandan leader. Kagame has boosted agriculture to the extent that the country is now food self-sufficient. Rwanda does not import food at all and, in fact, now exports food. Kagame knows that unemployment and poverty are the root causes of communal conflicts so he pays attention to those "at the bottom of the pyramid" to the extent that, in the first five years of his government, one million of the country's 11 million people have been creatively raised out of poverty. Unlike what we have in Nigeria he has changed the land use laws to give peasants easy title to land. Because of his overriding desire to create jobs, Kagame is deliberately pro-business. It takes less than three days to register a business of any kind and it is very cheap to do so and there are no red tapes. According to the World Bank's 2010 "Doing Business Survey", Rwanda was the world's best reformer. In 2010, Rwanda registered 6,000 companies, about the same total number registered in the previous five years. Rwanda is also looking to transform itself into a conferences' destination, just like Singapore. It is currently constructing a $300 million (equivalent to N45 billion) conference centre. It is also building a modern airport and encouraging a privately-funded Marriot Hotel to boost the more than $100 million it currently earns every year through business tourism. Rwanda encourages immigration and there are no indigenes and settlers as long as you can contribute to their economy.
Experts have also dubbed Rwanda "the ultimate turnaround". Rwanda is building a knowledge-based economy via emphasis on information technology. The country has almost completed laying a fibre-optic broadband network across the country. Visa Inc has already established a presence there. Early this year, the chairman of Visa Inc explained why they were in Rwanda. "When we looked to emerging economies around the world, Rwanda stood out as a clear choice for doing business," he said.
In Rwanda, education is free and compulsory up to age 15. Up until recently, it was up to age 12. Ninety-two per cent of children up to 12 years are in school. A German firm is speeding up vocational skills training for millions of the people especially women. Universal healthcare is also a matter of course in Rwanda: 90 per cent of all Rwandans have health insurance.
Kagame is a determined, focused and purposeful leader and the cynics, especially in the West, who claim that he was setting his sights too high, are beginning to re-examine their positions. Kagame is probably the first and only national leader in history who has successfully changed his nation's official language from French to English. Apart from the problem he has had with the French, as the French tacitly encouraged and kept past divisive Rwandan governments in power, he believes that the English language is the international language of business. Only a purposeful and determined leader who has the confidence of his people can achieve that in such a very short time.
But Kagame's greatest achievement shall remain the unity and reconciliation of his people after the genocide that led to the slaughter of 1,000,000 people in 100 days. Within this period, 75 per cent of the Tutsis were slaughtered. Lately, it would appear that President Kagame has fallen out of favour with a section of the West. But that is easy to understand. The Rwandan president has boldly been very critical of the West's lack of commitment to Africa and accuses Western countries of keeping African products out of the world marketplace. Obversely, he has praised China's commitment to Africa, saying that the Chinese actually bring what Africa needs, which is investment and money for governments and companies.
Kagame is in his second and final term that ends in 2017. If he behaves like Nelson Mandela, then, he will likely step into the big man's shoes. But if he behaves like Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria or Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, then, he would have rubbished this very beautiful legacy. Meanwhile, it remains heartening that someone has proved that governance is not nuclear science after all. And it is even more annoying that Rwanda doesn't have anything close to all the advantages Nigeria has. God dey!
Obasanjo A Critic?
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo has just declared that he would not cease criticising the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan. For all the mess that President Jonathan's leadership has caused this country, it is only in a country like Nigeria that a person like Obasanjo, who in fact was the harbinger of most that is wrong in this republic, would still be talking. In any other country, Obasanjo would be too afraid or too shamefaced to speak. But that is only in his character. Obasanjo has criticised every government that served after his military government. He criticised the governments led by President Shehu Shagari, Generals Buhari, Babangida and Abacha. As president, he criticised General Abdulsalami's government that, by the way, was his benefactor. He criticised President Umaru Yar'Adua when he was sure that the ailing president had become suitably incapacitated in a Saudi hospital and, lately, he has made criticising the Jonathan government a pastime.
Maybe what Jonathan should do is to pick some tricks from Obasanjo's own playbook. Let President Jonathan re-open the probes into Obasanjo's $16 billion expropriation in the power sector or even the Halliburton bribery scandal. Jonathan needn't worry that he himself has his own N2.6 trillion albatross and other scandalous cases to contend with. After all, is that not what Obasanjo did himself? Only extreme shamelessness can counter the kind of shamelessness that Obasanjo displays.