Building Rwanda: Past Reflections and Hope for the Future

By Kagame, Paul | Harvard International Review, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Building Rwanda: Past Reflections and Hope for the Future


Kagame, Paul, Harvard International Review


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. …

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