Crucial lessons from emergent Rwanda

Over the weekend, I had the memorable experience of visiting Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda the beautiful \’land of a thousand hills\’.

I had gone there in my capacity as a board member of Friends of the Global Fund Africa.  Friends Africa, as it is more popularly known, is a pan African organisation that mobilises strategic, financial and political support for the Global Fund here in Africa, to fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Our board members include high level personalities like Madame Kagame, former President of Nigeria General Gowon, Brian Brink of Anglo American, Ken Offori-Atta, Aig-Imoukhuede of Access Bank Nigeria among other no less important members.

We had in this case, put together a Private Sector Summit meant to mobilise financial resources from the private sector and I must say it was wildly successful.  Due to the unwavering support of the top leadership, both President and Mrs Kagame were there through out, we were able to raise $2 million from the Private Sector while the Government of Rwanda pledged another $ 1 million for in-country programmes.

However, at this point I want to focus largely on my impressions of Kigali which are different compared to the last time I was there three years ago.  As we drove into the city from the airport, we were struck by the beautiful landscape cover purposely designed to keep Kigali looking green. 

Palm trees lined up the divider of the major highway giving the city a distinct exotic feel.  And to top it all there\’s a beautiful and well-manicured garden- cum-park in the city centre that beckons you to rest in it.  It is adorned with a huge fountain in the middle that serves as a reminder that you have arrived in Kigali City.

As we took a tour of the city, we were embraced by the warmth and the kindness of the people.  A feeling of security hung in the air, surprisingly so given their tumultuous past.  It was in no way reminiscent of their troubles and the common theme that dominates war -ravaged countries, with a huge presence of soldiers decked in army gear and guns.

If you do remember accurately, Rwanda was a few years ago rocked by genocide that left thousands of its people massacred along tribal lines.  It was so bad such that people who had sought safe shelter in a church were massacred inside it.  No one was safe. 

Our tour guide informed us that although Rwandans have rallied around rebuilding their city they have chosen not to forget their past.  In fact, there are stark reminders of this history, not only in the genocide memorial but also in bullet-riddled exteriors of public buildings purposely left that way.

We were also struck by the cleanliness of the city which does not seem to have a single piece of litter out of place.  We were told that Rwandans have designated the last Saturday of the month as clean-up day and people take up this civic duty quite seriously hence the spotlessness.  Of particular note is the fact that all buildings under construction are draped with liners to prevent this pollution from seeping into the air.  I wish we could take this practice more seriously here in Kenya.

Later Saturday evening, we had a dinner event that was patronised by many high-level government officials with whom we had the pleasure of interacting.  Ironically, you would not have known this because there were no visible displays of power and trappings of wealth as would be the case in a similar event here in Kenya.  Even their President has a minimal security detail driven in a convoy of three cars. 

Moving on, Rwanda is known as one of the only countries in the world which has a very young Parliament with an average age of about 33 years.  They believe in the potential of their women to excel in leadership and as such about 56 percent of Parliament is composed of women. 

Incidentally, the Mayor of Kigali is a pleasant and hardworking woman who remains humble in spite of her extensive professional qualifications.  My accolades go out to her and her team for a job well done.  In a way, I feel that this gender parity speaks volumes about the character of a people, whose masculinity is not threatened by powerful women, and whose women remain humble in spite of being powerful.  Again, there is a great lesson for other African countries to learn here.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of development that is currently underway.  Like Kenya, there is a high demand for housing and although the city is in some areas interspersed with slums, there is a conscious effort to relocate them to decent housing in the outskirts. 

They have practically constructed a new city in the hills, to cater for middle and upper-income housing demand.  Unfortunately, being a landlocked country, Rwanda has to import construction materials from and through other countries making it very expensive to do such construction. 

However, this has not deterred growth and I am confident that their government has put in place mechanisms to protect their consumer.  They are also very proud of the fact that it is one of the only places that you can establish a business in less than 48 hours. 

With all these good things happening in Rwanda, I have no doubt this country will continue to shine and become a beacon for Africa.  Similarly, I expect that with the requisite leadership and appropriate government support, Kenyan can reach even higher milestones.    Tell me, where do you think we could make greater gains in Kenya?

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