On the Fourth of July, Rwanda celebrated its Liberation Day for the 27th year. Liberation Day marks both the celebration of RPF’s decisive military victory over genocidal forces in a four year-long liberation struggle and the end of a three-month long genocidal campaign directed against the Tutsi since April 1994. But Liberation Day to Rwandans is also, very concretely, the beginning of a new page in our country’s history; a sort of renaissance, if you will. A journey of re-discovery of self and of transformation that has seen Rwanda decisively emerge from the ashes to become the thriving and hopeful nation that it is today.
Twenty-seven years on, this journey has given us valuable insights that, in the spirit of Pan-Africanism and solidarity, we are eager to share with our fellow Africans as we work towards our common development.
We know what is best for us
Barely a year after the genocide, as Rwandans were grappling with burying their loved ones and rebuilding a shattered nation from the ground up, some western “experts” proposed that the only solution to lasting peace in Rwanda was to divide the country into two separate new entities: a Hutuland and a Tutsiland.
That attitude taught us Rwandans, a crucial lesson then; only we could devise lasting solutions to our problems. Time and again in our history, it had been a lack of discernment, power over our own affairs, and a blind abidance with other people’s choices, intentionally harmful or well-meaning but grossly misguided that had led to catastrophe.
As a result, We Rwandans, made three choices that were to become the pillars upon which our nation would be rebuilt. “We chose to be united, to be accountable to ourselves, and to think big”. In this process of introspection, the first step was to deliberately look back to our traditions and culture for the inspiration grounded in our values, conceptions and ideas/beliefs systems. From these we remodelled, innovated and adopted home-grown initiatives that bring the three choices above to life.
Twenty-seven years later, social protection programs such as Ubudehe (collective action against poverty), Girinka (one cow per poor family), and Umuganda (community work) have helped lift over a million Rwandans out of extreme poverty. The annual Umushyikirano (National Dialogue Council), bringing together Rwandans from all walks of life to collectively review the past years achievements and to debate the country’s direction, is a shining example of citizen participation in their governance.
Further, the Imihigo performance contracts have, on one hand, enhanced citizens’ participation in governance and ownership of development processes while, on the other hand, ensuring greater accountability and transparency from leaders at local and central levels, especially in regard to planning, monitoring and evaluation of government programs for citizens’ benefit.
Gacaca Courts stand out as perhaps the most successful and impactful of these home-grown initiatives. A hybrid of classic retributive justice and a form of restorative community justice practiced in pre-colonial Rwanda, the Gacaca courts were able to try, in the space of ten years, cases that would have taken the classic justice system over a century to dispose of, according to scholarly and expert estimates. Crucially, Gacaca’s focus on rehabilitation allowed for the truth about how the genocide was organized and implemented to come to light.
Adapt and adopt
Although choosing to forge our own path through home-grown initiatives has greatly propelled us forward, we also realized that in a fast-developing modern world, our traditions and values could help ground us but would not by themselves provide all the answers. True to our creed to think big, we decided to learn from others; we study the good practices from across the world and adopt only those that we believe would work for us, which we then adapt to our context and reality.
This approach was the basis for creating a Community-Based Health Insurance scheme linked to the Ubudehe program, which has ensured universal health coverage for Rwandans. Moreover, the approach was the basis for creating Irembo, a government e-service portal which has literally put up to 100 government services into the hands of citizens, on their mobile devices, while greatly reducing corruption and saving the country over 25 million working hours in the platform’s eight years of existence. Even more services are planned to be put online resulting in even greater saving, efficiency and effectiveness.
These and many more innovative home-grown initiatives and good practices continue to drive Rwanda’s transformation. We continue to invest efforts into identifying more of them towards the same objective.
A Blueprint for the Africa of Tomorrow
Seven decades after the wave of African consciousness that led to independence in different parts of our continent, it is high time that Africans live up to the Pan-African ideals that the founding fathers of our nations held: that Africans must take our rightful place in the world. We must change the narrative about our continent.
African countries have so much in common, owing to similarities in demographics, cultural values and practices, societal makeup, historical backgrounds, and more. It logically follows that the best way to raise our respective nations is to place our trust in our traditions and adapt them to our current realities in a way that resonates with our citizens and speaks to their experiences and aspirations. It also logically follows that we need to continually learn from one another in order to be better, and to do this by benchmarking on each other’s best policies and practices in order to leverage these strengths that support our respective growth.
We Rwandans have tried and tested this approach and have seen its results. At Rwanda Cooperation, we are documenting Rwanda’s Transformation Journey by highlighting its key stages and drivers of success. We are doing this without forgetting the critical conditions we, as a nation, have gone through, so as to ensure that the next generations have a reference point that links their past, present, and future. Accordingly, Rwanda Cooperation’s Virtual Exhibition Space on Rwanda’s Transformation Journey will provide an opportunity for younger generations to understand where their country has come from, as well as the genesis and rationale for the policies driving its choices.
For Africans, the Exhibition provides an opportunity to transcend borders as we learn from – and inspire – one another.
At Rwanda Cooperation, we are now more than ever committed to sharing Rwandans’ home-grown initiatives and know-how with our fellow Africans through Pan-African and South-South cooperation, as we also continue to learn from them. It is our most fervent wish that you, the reader, will join us on this journey so that, together as Africans, we can expand the horizons of our imagination and our development possibilities. This way we may work to leave a prosperous, sustainable and truly liberated continent for our future generations.
Urujeni Rosine is the Acting CEO of Rwanda Cooperation, Rwanda’s cooperation agency which serves as a hub for learning for partners interested in understanding the innovative development initiatives that have propelled Rwanda’s transformation journey. Visit Rwanda Cooperation to learn more about their work: www.cooperation.rw