It’s difficult to comprehend the pain and heartache that Rwandans have endured. Their courage and commitment led to a nomination for FORBES AFRICA’s Person of the Year. The article below tells their story, it first appeared in Forbes Africa and is republished with its permission. Subscribe today by contacting Shanna Jacobsen Shanna.Jacobsen@abn360.com
Rwanda’s pursuit for social and economic development has often seen it swimming against the tide.
The country’s progress, and ambition, comes despite the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi – which claimed over a million lives and divided a nation.
The small country isn’t blessed with a plethora of natural resources, but with a population of more than 11 million it is one of the most densely populated nations in Africa.
Despite facing unenviable odds, there is not much that can unravel the country’s resolve to achieve middle income status by 2020, become a regional hub for East Africa and improve the living conditions of its citizens.
Rwanda’s to-do list for the last 22 years has included tasks such as reconciling the country, inviting back the hundreds of thousands who fled as refugees, and building investor confidence.
To do this, the people of Rwanda developed home grown solutions that were tailored to the country’s needs and challenges.
Dispensing justice was the first course of action and it was no small task. With millions of victims and just as many perpetrators, it would have taken an eternity for conventional courts to solve.
The people of Rwanda addressed this challenge through gacaca, a community court system with cultural origins. Despite having not been tried elsewhere in the world before, the gacaca system was able to try about two million cases in less than 10 years. It consequently resulted in a more harmonious society.
Social cohesion, unity and partnership was also fostered through Umuganda, the monthly community work which brings together people of all walks of life together to help solve problems.
The genocide also left a section of the population poor. More tailored solutions were rolled out to alleviate that, ranging from Girinka, the one cow per family project, to Ubudehe, which offers support for rural communities.
For transparency, and to keep leaders accountable to citizens, the people of Rwanda developed Imihigo. This requires leaders to sign annual performance contracts.
By tackling tough challenges in the last 22 years, Rwandans have gained the courage and self-belief to work towards and achieve goals which seemed impossible before.
This pursuit of what has at times been perceived as impossible has seen the country have the world’s largest female representation in parliament, which has driven inclusiveness and empowered previously marginalized groups.
The country that was seen as a failed state has become a hub for international business. In 2016, Rwanda hosted the World Economic Forum on Africa, the African Union Summit, the Africa Nations Championships (CHAN), the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, The Global African Investment Summit, among others.
All of these international events have opened Kigali to the world, while the warmth and hospitality of Rwandans has seen visitors returning for business and leisure. Major investments have followed to keep the momentum of the country’s growth and are likely to eventually see the country rid itself off any donor dependence.
On the eve of the African Union Summit, the Kigali Convention Centre opened its doors after years of construction. The structure, which is East Africa’s largest conference facility, is a sign of resilience, ambition and innovation.
And the convention centre is just one of many infrastructure goals. In September, the government announced the commencement of construction of Bugesera International Airport, which will allow it to handle about 1.7 million passengers a year.
The country’s national carrier, RwandAir, is also expanding, having already acquired its first A330-200 Airbus and awaiting delivery of another A330-300 Airbus. This will see the airline serve African destinations as well as the United States and Britain in 2017.
There are many things to admire about Rwanda, but the resilience and innovation of its people surely tops the list.