Rebuilding Rwanda from ashes to flashes


Between April and July 1994, Rwanda was burning and blood was flowing.  It remains one of the worst tragedies in Africa in which 1 million people were killed in 100 days. From the ashes, Kigali now flashes. CLIFTON KAWANGA recently visited Rwanda and he writes.

The Kigali International Convention Centre (KICC) is a symbol of Rwanda’s rise from the ashes; the KICC glows at night illuminating the changes that are taking place. During daytime, the KICC displays the different sections symbolising new found solidarity.

Shaped like a basket, its significance is huge. The traditional Rwandan basket (agaseke) is a symbol of gift of friendship; it was incorporated in the Rwandan Coat of Arms in 2001.


“When the genocide ended, Rwandans decided to pick up the pieces of the devastated country. The people came together to overcome past differences and started working together for a brighter future,” says Rosemary Mbabazi who is Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Information, Communication and Technology.

Rwanda’s future was planned before the 1994 genocide. In 1987, Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (Ranu) changed to Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) as a liberation movement. The movement’s philosophy, using its Eight-Point Political Programme (now Nine-Point Political Programme), became the foundation of the new Rwanda.

RPF’s commitment to the principles re-established national unity as a foundation for building peace and development.


“Historically, our people were living alongside one another but outside forces manipulated these communal ties and provoked division, hated and conflict,” says president Paul Kagame in the book Rwanda: Rebuilding of the Nation.

As African leaders gathered at the KICC in July for the AU summit, it was constantly the reference point. As the African Union is now promoting integration as the means of achieving Agenda 2063, the KICC represents the oneness the proponents of the united Africa dreamt of.

Setting the pace

The 1994 genocide was the height of ethnic divisions in Rwanda. Before 1994, Batutsi were also massacred in 1959, 1973 and 1979.

“Rwandans can never forget their tragic past but do not want to be defined by it,” former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in The Guardian in 2014. “[In 1994] the primary concern was to guarantee that the extreme ethnic divisions which caused the genocide would never resurface.”

Pasteur Bizimungu led the transitional government from 1994 to 2000 while Kagame served as vice president and Minister of Defence. He took over from Bizimungu in 2000.

“Rebuilding a nation’s social fabric cannot follow any predetermined guidelines and it will only succeed if it is owned by citizens,” says Kagame.

Every Saturday from May 1998 to March 1999, the government conducted the Urugwiro consultation, in Urugwiro Village, to suggest solutions to the challenges they faced.

The consultations led to the transformational agenda which were to be achieved through Vision 2020. The objective of the vision was to transform Rwanda into a knowledge-based middle income country.

Home-grown solutions

The success of the first Poverty Reduction Strategic Plan, in pursuing the targets set in Vision 2020, has been attributed to the participation of Rwandans in decision making.

“The business of government is to draw up development goals and priorities, and design ways of achieving them in collaboration with the citizens,” says Kagame.

The emphasis on participation realises the fact that real development takes place when citizens become the focus of the initiatives.

“The foundation of all our efforts is good governance which means a relentless focus on delivering the results that citizens want,” he says.

One of the initiatives is the imihigo. It was derived from the traditional approach in which contracts between warriors and the king were signed to bring success. Today, imihigo is a public commitment to achieve particular targets in the public office. The Imihigo Day has become an accountability forum where public officials are held accountable to the public in terms of service delivery.

Another initiative is the Joint Action Development Forum (JADF) which brings together representatives from the public sector, private sector and civil society. The forum exploits positive aspects of cultural heritage in community development. Complementing the JADF is the Agaciro Development Fund (ADF) based on voluntary donations. Agaciro, which means dignity, is a national campaign to galvanise Rwandans to be actively involved in the nation’s development.

Kagame also chairs the umushyikirano (National Dialogue Council), established in 2003 by the Constitution. The annual event brings together representatives from local councils, civil society and members of the community to debate issues relating to the state of the nation and national unity.

Rwanda is also committed to building leaders to advance the development agenda. This is done through the mwiherero (National Leadership Retreat). It is an annual meeting bringing together senior leaders from government and the private sector. It is used to review progress in specific areas in governance and economy and it acts like a performance audit where leaders are held accountable.

Similar to the mwiherero is the itorero which was originally a traditional practice in the pre-colonial period. It was revived in 2007 to train citizens in what means to be Rwandan and to equip them to lead others while the ubudehe is an old Rwandan traditional practice in which communities come together to identify general problems and devise solutions.

Food security

Rwanda has achieved food security by transforming the agriculture sector. The country introduced Crop Intensification Programme in 2007 with three key pillars: land consolidation to deal with fragmentation of the agriculture landscape, input access to increase productivity and reduction of post-harvest losses. Rwanda also intensified irrigation driven by the Irrigation Master Plan Study in 2010.

Rwanda also invested in land husbandry through terracing, agro-forestry, water harvesting, compositing and liming programme to increase land available for cultivation by 47 percent. The terraces have reduced erosion by 70-90 percent while production on terraced slopes has increased from average of $469/ha/year to $2,240/ha/year.

Rwanda has focussed on mechanised agriculture too. Today, 20 percent of land is now under modernised agriculture. To support the mechanisation, a tractor assembly plant (assembling 2,000 units per year) has been completed while farmers have received training in operation, repair and maintenance of equipment.

One of the initiatives in livestock production is the Girinka Munyarwanda (One Cow Per Poor Family Programme). This was adapted from the traditional Rwanda solidarity practice. More than 203,000 families have benefitted and the target is to reach 350,000 families in 2017.

Kigali: The cleanest city in Africa

While addressing the African Editors Forum in Kigali, Chairperson of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Zuma said “Africa does not need foreign aid to keep the cities clean.”

One of the reasons for the cleanliness of Kigali is that Rwanda is a plastic-free country. Although the law was enacted in 2006, Kigali has been described as cleanest and greenest city in Africa since 2003.

Umuganda has also contributed to the cleanliness of the city. Every last Saturday of the month, everyone regardless of social status participates in a five-hour community work programme.  The same initiative has been used to develop infrastructure as hundreds of classrooms, health centres and local government offices have been constructed. The initiative is one of Rwanda’s exports. For instance, soldiers on peace-keeping missions introduce it wherever they serve.

Energy and industrial development

Rwanda targets to increase grid power from 45 MW in 2006 to 563 MW in 2018. The access to electricity was 22 percent in 2014 and will increase to 70 percent by 2018.  The electricity is generated by 28 MW plant on Nyabarongo River; 80 MW Rusumo Hydro Project, funded by World Bank, shared by Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania; Rusizi III to generate 147 MW to be shared with Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. Apart from importing 400 MW from Ethiopia by 2017, the other sources of electricity are hydro (320MW) Methane gas (300MW), peat (200MW) and geothermal (310MW).

The energy sector in Rwanda is supporting the industrial development. Rwanda has developed Special Economic Zones, under the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), which have ready to use factory units. The RDB was established in 2008 and it is responsible for promoting investment and providing a one-stop-centre for both foreign and local investors.

ICT Infrastructure

Rwanda has made remarkable strides in Information Communication and Technology. The Smart Kigali Project has made it possible for free internet via WiFi including in 500 buses.

Apart from free WiFi, Rwanda is also implementing One Laptop per Child Programme which was rolled out in 2007. About 200,000 laptops have been distributed to 140,000 primary schools.

Targets in ICT are met by strategies that promote consumption of home-grown products while exporting the excess. Positivo BGH, a Latin American multinational company with an annual turnover in excess of $2.5 billion, has opened a production plant in Kigali.

Positivo President in Africa, Juan Ignacio Ponelli, said in November 2014 that the company chose Rwanda because the government is committed to develop the country.

Legacy at risk?

The constitutional changes in Rwanda means Kagame is allowed to seek re-election next year. The seven-year term could be followed by two five-year terms.

“You requested me to lead the country again after 2017. Given the importance and consideration you attach to this, I can only accept. But I don’t think that what we need is an eternal leader,” said Kagame after the referendum in 2015.

While donors and partners are concerned with African leaders attempting to extend their rule, calls to observe the presidential limit in Rwanda were muted because of Kagame’s achievements since he became president in 2000.

Unlike other African leaders who have nothing to show for their extended rule, Rwandans believe Kagame’s legacy will not be dented by his re-election bid.


NOTE: The quotes by Paul Kagame are adapted from the book Rwanda: Rebuilding of a Nation.


Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!
Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker