Academic journal article Harvard International Review

Building Rwanda: Past Reflections and Hope for the Future

Academic journal article Harvard International Review

Building Rwanda: Past Reflections and Hope for the Future

Article excerpt

Today, 56 percent of the Parliament of Rwanda is made up of women. Some believe this is a consequence of the women left in the population after many men were killed in the genocide. Others attribute it to a cultural view unique to Rwanda. Still others believe it is due to a conscious leadership commitment you have made. What is responsible for this progressive state of gender equality?

Things begin in one's consciousness and then progress over time to policies. I grew up in the refugee camps of Uganda in the late fifties and early sixties when families survived with nothing but our wits. My mother, and all of the women of the camps, learned to do things they did not know how to do. They guarded our traditions and values. they told us the stories of our country when we were too young to remember it. They never complained.

During the struggle to return to our country and to stop the genocide, women took very responsible positions in collecting information, fundraising, and even fighting. By then, it was not a policy of gender equality; it was born of commitment and pragmatism. The women wanted to contribute, and it. was their right. They were good at it; sometimes they were better than men. One of the songs we used to sing, which we sing even to this day in our national celebrations, says, "Thank you to all the women who (as mothers) carried warriors on their backs." Sometimes the warriors were women.

Today Rwanda is known for what others call our progressive gender policies. And we do consciously reflect on the right thing to do. Our ministers of foreign affairs, health, and agriculture, the speaker of parliament, our former chief of justice, our first post-genocide mayor of Kigali, the founder of our airline--they are all women. But we don't do these things because the world appreciates our gender equality policies. We do them because we could hardly fight for our freedom, and have women fight just as hard, and then deny them the rights to govern. We do it because we are working for development and prosperity, and leaving half our population out of this task just doesn't make sense.

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You have been called "the entrepreneur president" because of your business-oriented solutions to poverty. Rising within the military, from serving in the National Resistance Army and Ugandan military7 to receiving training at Fort Leavenworth, how did you find this entrepreneurial direction?

The essence of both military and business culture is strategy--understanding advantage and taking action. So, we are not that far apart sometimes. We saw early on that competition in the private sector fosters innovation. We seek to build an environment where every child wants to go out into the world and compete, learn, and represent Rwanda. As a consequence, we have grown at an 8 percent average during the last ten years. I am told that puts us in the top ten in the world, with the likes of China and Singapore. Of course we are not them. They have different challenges and opportunities. Our challenges are to invest in our children, to build great products, to find new distribution systems, and to build our national brands. Africa is quickly becoming a place where young people see their future in the private sector, not in government jobs. And that is right.

Increasingly, more of the world's economic grow the and trade is happening between poorer nations, such as Brazil, Russia, China, and countries in Africa. Because of their heightened statuses as places of growth, should African nations be given more representation in intergovernmental organizations like the World Trade Organization and the United Nations?

Yes, of course. We are going to see it. The G8 is giving way to the G20. More trade, foreign investment, and exports are coming from the BRICS and the so-called "pivot" nations like Turkey and Ukraine than the West. And the traditional powers should not mistake the impact of China and Brazil on this dynamic. They have changed the global commodities dynamic. They will also change the global governance systems. I am not one of those who say, "The West had their chance," but I think that we have more choices in Africa with whom to trade, with whom to partner. This is a good thing for everyone.

In the years following the genocide, Rwandan troops have been held responsible for massacres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Rwandan government has repeatedly resisted these accusations, dismissing them as offensive. Who do you believe is responsible for the violence in the Congo?

You know, the violent history of Congo began long before I was born. It is a matter of public record that the royalty of Europe and the colonial powers decimated the people and stole their vast underground wealth for a century.

For our part, we chased those who caused the genocide into the Congo. We did this to ensure the security of our country and to bring back the millions of ordinary Rwandan men, women, and children whom the genocidaires had coerced into running across the border, where they were held hostage in disease-ridden refugee camps. Few of the Hmuard International Review's well-informed readers will know this, but we succeeded in bringing back over three million of our people. 'These are the same Rwandans who are now working hard to rebuild their communities and forge a new Rwanda. Since 2003, we have invited those who want to come home, even perpetrators of the genocide, to return and be a part of rebuilding our nation.

A few thousand armed ex-genocidaires remain in the DRC, causing suffering to the local population. However, we are working closely with the government of DRC to ensure that this threat is removed completely. We have also noticed a fresh spirit of cooperation from the international community to focus on the root cause of conflict in the DRC, and I am confident that soon we will have long-lasting stability in our region. This will allow us to focus on economic development, which is what our people want.

You have distinguished between different types of foreign aid. In particular, you have championed Chinese investments that you say have harbored sustainable independence in Africa instead of Western distributions that led to dependency. From what you have seen, how does a country's own interest play a role in the effectiveness and type of foreign aid it provides?

No nation, even the ones who supported the genocide, owes us a favor. I have said many times to our people, "Why should the taxpayers of another nation put food in our mouths and for how long?" Look, we appreciate the help we receive, but our goal is less aid over time. Permanent aid can make a person become useless. We have cut in half the portion of aid in our national budget over the last ten years. We have developed more productive partnerships with donors, particularly by encouraging them to channel support through our national systems, to allow for better coordination, effectiveness, and accountability. This way of working has produced tangible results: one million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty in the last five years.

This experience has taught us that when foreign aid comes in to support clearly articulated national priorities, as opposed to externally imposed plans, both the recipients and the donors benefit. This goes for all aid, no matter where it comes from.

The Chinese certainly have a different view than the West. They are what they are. They have clear objectives; they do not export their values together with assistance. They make decisions faster. They offer a new choice for African nations. But we are under no illusions. Some in the West think we are being fooled and they claim they are there to look after us, to warn us about the Chinese. 1 think they are more concerned with themselves.

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Ultimately, it is up to African countries to decide what we want from our development partners and to work to get the most out of this collaboration for the benefit of our citizens who need and deserve better than what they have had in the past.

AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL KAGAME

PAUL KAGAME is the president of the Republic of Rwanda. President Kagame is a recipient of the Most Innovative People Award for Economic Innovation by the Global Leadership Team (2009), and has received recognition for his leadership in a number of regional and global issues including peace building, human rights, and development.

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