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How Rwanda went from genocide to achieve staggering economic growth

Mohamed Rehan
08 February 2022, MVT 13:59
Bisate Lodge near Volcanoes National Park - a visible sign of economic growth -- Andrea Frazzetta/Bloomberg
Mohamed Rehan
08 February 2022, MVT 13:59

A country in the African continent that has seen more wars and conflicts than most could count on the fingers of one hand. A dreaded and terrifying past of genocide and wars with deadly consequences from which the nation has been attempting to move on from and rebuild anew.

The country that was once heavily mired in both internal and external conflicts, ranging corruption to wars, recently was labeled as the sixth safest country in the world and the safest country in Africa for solo travelers. But how did such an embittered state with a history of bloodshed tied to it, successfully brave through a journey of healing and growth?

It should be noted that in twenty years, perhaps no other country has shown such a significant and promising growth anywhere in the world than Rwanda. One major area that had been of primary importance for the Rwandan countryfolk was to get rid of the age-old image of the country. Another, corruption.

It has been more than twenty years since the Rwandan genocide that saw en-masse killing of Tutsis by military and militia groups, with the genocide spreading from Kigali to all corners of the country. It had been reported that by April 6, 1994 to July of the same year, an approximate between 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda were killed at the hands of organized bands of militia – Interahamwe.

Since then, Rwanda’s fight against impunity for its alleged perpetrators remain stronger than ever. And through the ashes, the country’s strong resolve for rebuilding took shape.

Since the late 1990s, top government officials of Rwanda were accustomed to the fight against corruption in order to stop the “cycle of violence” that had culminated in the 1994 genocide. This perception is what had underpinned the government’s zero tolerance for corruption policy and lead towards the eventual creation of the Office of Ombudsman to lead the country’s first noted anti-corruption movement.

Rwanda’s government efforts shifted cultural views on the morality of corrupt practices that strongly altered the social views on acceptable and non-acceptable behavior. Government made strong efforts to communicate messages of wealth and resource sharing as well as community empowerment. These were achieved through ubiquitous public information campaigns that have continued across communities for years. Another critical and clever move was to shift the expectations of the state by raising public awareness over citizens’ rights as well as on the proper functionality of a state.

The African nation built their anti-corruption movement on changing norms and standards that had formed the social foundation required for it. Thus, by inducing the change mechanism, Rwanda was able to thwart corruption and sanctioning misbehavior, which saw the early reform movements in the early 2000s.

Opportunities for corrupt conduct have been deeply curtailed by improvements in the applications of business regulations and the elimination of unnecessary rules and processes. One of the major steps towards quashing corruption was a sizeable and noticeable reform and revision in the country’s public procurement rules as well as the creation of a National Tender Board (now known as Rwanda’s Public Procurement Authority). This move helped Rwanda to gain further transparency, and standardization in contracting the private sector.

By 2018, it was reported that Rwanda had ranked 48 out of 180 global countries in control of corruption on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which placed the country fourth in the continent right after Seychelles, Botswana and Cabo Verde. A recent study that dates back to 2018 had gone further ahead to describe the elimination of corruption in Rwanda as such; “the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that petty corruption as a normalized practice has been eliminated” in the country.

What helped the country to ideally set foot towards a more mature direction in growth was the government’s policy of marrying anti-corruption efforts with sustainable growth and poverty reduction. As such, Rwanda noted a growth in the country’s GDP at a rate of 5.5 percent a year on average since 2006. Poverty rates fell from 77 percent in 2001 to 55.5 percent by 2017, according to data collected by the World Bank.

The Rwandan government had adopted a growth model that heavily relies on the public sector, both in terms of public investments and resource allocation against the background of weak private sector and market development. Meanwhile a study by World Bank had also found that Rwanda has one of the highest public sector investment-to-GDP ratios in the world.

A lot of the growth and progressive strides Rwanda has been riding strong on can be attributed to Paul Kagame, who first assumed the presidential office back in 2000 and remains as the country’s executive force till date.

Following the 1994 Rwandan genocide’s ignition that led to the deaths of nearly a million people, Kagame had sprung into action calling resuming the civil war which ended the genocide with a military victory. Though Kagame’s authoritarian rule as president has drawn stern criticism from several, he had maintained generally good relations with the East African Community as well as the United States while the country’s relations with France had improved over the years.

Back in the 1990s, Kagame is perhaps the most noticeable Rwandan political figure to have vocally opposed the infestation of corruption among top brass of the then government lead by Bizimungu. By 2000 following Bizimungu’s resignation, Kagame had sought presidency himself. This is where the national development led by Kagame began, which he achieved by initially launching a national consultation process by seeking advice of experts from emerging nations which had included China, Singapore and Thailand.

Following this Kagame launched a national development program, dubbed Vision 2020 under which some of the major aspects had included reunification of the Rwandan people and transform the country from an impoverished state to a middle-income country.

By 2011, the country’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning indicated that from the program’s collective goals (which were 44), 66 percent were on track and 11 percent of the goals were monitored and 22 percent were off-course.

Through strong impetus by the Rwandan government, the country’s economy over the past years have observed staggering growth and by 2020 the country’s per-capita gross domestic product was estimated at $2,214 compared to just $631 in 2000.

The economic policy of liberalizing the economy whilst reducing red tape for businesses helped greatly in the overall transformation and progress of Rwanda. Since then, the country’s economy has observed a dynamic shift from heavily dependent on agriculture towards adopting a knowledge-based economy; which is a form of economy where production of goods and services are based on knowledge-intensive activities, which contribute towards the advancement in technical and scientific innovation.

Meanwhile, since 2005 the Rwandan government have vastly strengthened contract enforcement by way of establishing more commercial courts and with the creation of a Business Law Reform Cell. The Cell’s approval of 14 commercial laws had played an instrumental role in legal reforms as well.

Government had also taken the extra mile by enhancing the country’s court system to ensure all anti-social cogs are ideally dealt and brought forth towards legal recognition and acknowledgement, which was achieved by the creation of lower commercial courts.

Another significant move that accentuated the efforts of achieving sustainable economic growth included strong market reforms accompanied by “prudent macroeconomic management” while the country’s inflation has been kept in control while the exchange rates have been generally stable which was achieved through meticulous management of foreign exchange reserves coupled with sheltering the public expenditure from the impact of electoral cycles.

It is not easy for a country to rise from the ashes while the embers of the fire that set a nation ablaze remained fresh in the memories of millions. However, what Rwanda has managed to achieve in terms of economic growth and sustainability through sheer dedication and a zero tolerant approach towards corruption has taken the country towards a situation where it is bearing sweet fruits of arduous labors of overall state reform.

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