But unlike other African countries with similar lofty dreams and visions, Rwanda is backing up its ambition with hard, unpretentious action.
By ’Dare Akinwale
In this month’s Future Cities programme on CNN presented by Richard Quest, the city of focus was the landlocked Rwandan capital of one million inhabitants, Kigali. It is quite surprising that an African city, especially one in the sub-Saharan region would qualify as a future city. But that is exactly the situation here.
For many people, the country Rwanda brings to mind the infamous genocide of 1994 that claimed a million lives, and an impoverished country subsisting on foreign aid. What is not well known is that Rwanda is a nation of dreamers who have mustered courage to make their dreams a present-day reality, and are now set as a shining example of what every African nation can achieve with all sincerity and determination. Its major project is Kigali, the capital city which is being built into the next high-tech hub, ‘silicon valley’ and business district of East Africa. For a city that was ravaged by war and intertribal conflict only seventeen years ago, that is indeed an ambitious project.
But unlike other African countries with similar lofty dreams and visions, Rwanda is backing up its ambition with hard, unpretentious action. The first thing embarked on four years after genocide was a compulsory community-based clean-up campaign, particularly on the last Saturdays of every month. This community work is followed by discussions sometimes with the mayor or President. Richard Quest explained that this collective spirit of participation has its roots in the recovery from the country’s civil war, keeping Kigali clean means the population working together and that means building a community. “We will make Rwanda a paradise”, they sing with enthusiasm. The results of all their labour can be seen in clean, calm and tidy streets of Kigali which the presenter says does not fit the stereotype image of an African city.
Kigali is attempting to position itself at the cutting edge of high tech of East Africa. This is a project that has been pursued with honest zeal by the government and has affected the lives of the people in the rural communities. All IT products have been made tax-free by the government, resulting in the growth of IT businesses. One of such IT innovations used in the market is a mobile application that allows farmers and traders to find local prices without moving away from their location. The application does not require a smart phone, any mobile phone will do, all that is required is a text in a special format to a number and the reply is received immediately. “The plan is to transform the impoverished agricultural society into a high-tech innovator,” says Richard Quest. Also in pursuit of this goal is the “one laptop per child” scheme in which each primary pupil is given a laptop for use in school. This is a giant leap for an African country, a leap which other countries, like the one labeled ‘giant of Africa’ has not even come close to imagining. One of the government officials explained that this is an investment the government is committed to making for the future.
According to the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, $600 million investment has been made in the last four years in Rwanda. This investment is aimed at achieving its Vision 2020 goal. “Kigali’s vision 2020 presents a radical and rapid modernization. Today, it is one of Africa’s stars of development, the capital city is rated among the safest, cleanest and most business friendly on the continent.” Rwanda and Kigali has spent almost $10 million on land use planning. Donna Rubinoff, an American planner is leading this planning project. Not only are the plans on paper, the implementation is in progress, comprising all the hallmarks of a regional business hub, making way for a central business district, industrial areas and a free trade zone. Foreign and homegrown businesses are thriving in this city, and as construction continues, more businesses are expected to come in.
The rapid progress of Kigali bears testimony to what can be achieved in any country where there is a sincere collective commitment to national development. Perhaps the greatest lesson is seen in the tenacious and unyielding quality of the human spirit that can rise up from the depths of the worst tragedies to a height where potentials are turned into possibilities. There is no doubt that the wounds left by the genocide are still present and still cause pain to the people, but one thing is clear, Rwanda is gradually recovering from that horrible experience by building a new future.
The ‘one laptop per child’ scheme is a demonstration of a country’s commitment to educational development, a commitment a country like Nigeria is yet to make. With the dismal statistics of students’ enrolment and performance in Nigerian schools and examinations, it is clear that successive governments have shown very little interest in education. A country that does not invest in the education of its children is not preparing for the future. That is another important lesson.
Rwanda may still have a very long journey ahead of it, but its present situation shows that it has positioned itself on the right course for a planned future, and has the will and determination to see those plans through. This is what makes a people really great, and until Africa’s poor countries learn this lesson, greatness will remain for them, a mere daydream.