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Life Reflections

Can “The Singapore of Africa” be a reality?

By November 18, 2013June 6th, 2023No Comments

Friday 27th April 2013

Rwandans who read Hon AbuBakr Ogle’s article in this daily of last Wednesday titled “Rwanda is well positioned to be ‘The Singapore of Africa’” must have felt good. Who wouldn’t, seeing one who acknowledges the efforts they continue to invest in improving their condition?

Hon Ogle’s article boosts the morale of a people used to seeing a small, inflexible group in the international community that only sees evil in whatever comes out of Rwanda. However, more than an inspiration to Rwandans, the article was a huge challenge.

It was a challenge that called upon Rwandans to deliver on the expectations of a bigger constituency, in the same international community, which is convinced that the country can transform into a middle-income economy in the space of a few years and thus earn that title.

But the smaller inflexible constituency includes cynics who must be denied their day in the sun, under all circumstances. While others coined the phrase to articulate the aspirations of Rwanda and her effort at achieving them, these use it as a mockery gimmick, hoping to see a country that failed and gave them the opportunity to have their laughing stock.

To deny them that opportunity is an even more herculean challenge than failing to deliver on the expectations of the bigger constituency. But, above all, the challenge must be surmounted if Rwandans are to see their desired better future. Therefore, there are only two alternatives to conquering the challenge: either Rwanda wins or the cynics lose!

Can Rwanda pull off what Hon Ogle calls “the-hat-trick” of rapid growth, quoting the British development expert, Paul Collier, who observed it of Rwanda?
To look through the crystal ball, you have to go back to the drawing board. The drawing board was in Village Urugwiro, wherein is found the Office of the President, those ‘many’ years ago (just after 1994). Around that board, everyday a scattering of Rwandans from a variety of fields gathered to brainstorm on how to craft a development path.

These were drawn from traditionalists (elders most of who, unfortunately, have passed on), historians, economists, technologists, theologians, security strategists, village-development experts, oral-literature specialists, those knowledgeable in the successes of foreign countries, all.

Together, they developed a skeletal sketch of a development path that leaders sold to all Rwandans and these latter seized upon it with “passion and conviction” and made it their own. Ordinary citizen, intellectual, leader or whatever category, they have all been contributing in putting flesh on that skeletal sketch and we have Rwanda’s now-famous home-grown solutions.

That’s how the Gacaca court system came to be; mutuelles-de-santé (health insurance scheme); Umuganda (community work and its village councils); Imihigo (performance contracts); Girinka; Bye-Bye Nyakatsi; the lot. It is a process of adding flesh involving everyone and is set to continue, as experiments are tried and adopted if fitting or discarded if found wanting.

Therefore, when President Kagame talks about “our common desire to construct a framework for development fully-owned and mainly driven by [us]”, he is talking the language of Rwandans, a language borne of what he and his compatriots have lived these past score-but-one years.

When he talks about “a clear path to development based on domestic realities and home-grown solutions”, he is talking about adding flesh to that skeletal sketch designed by Village Urugwiro meetings and espoused by all. Rwandans together are busy continuously “building institutions that can guarantee efficient performance, stability and continuity of policies”.

The state takes the lead in spurring socio-economic development that will strengthen democracy as the two are “mutually reinforcing – sustainable socio-economic development gives rise to greater democracy and political rights can best be exercised and enjoyed in a climate of growing prosperity and improved quality of life…..Successful governance systems are those that organically grow from local realities and reflect and respond to specific experiences.”

So, Rwandans can shrug off all criticism and single-mindedly focus their sights on their own brand of democracy. It is a path that she cares little if nobody else understands but her people.

Which reminds me of the bush days when the now-ruling Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF and its armed wing, RPA) was in the trenches of a guerrilla war, 1990-4. Journalists used to wonder how every RPA soldier they talked to talked exactly the same language as every other soldier.

Little did they know that these soldiers and their commanders would have discussed and agreed on whatever tact they used, whatever strategy they took, whatever agenda they advanced, et al. This was in matters military, as it was in matters political, socio-economic, developmental, cultural, say it.

However, where in the bush it was taken to be discipline, today it’s taken to be fear of deviating from the government line. About the debates and interactions Rwandans engage in daily, agreeing, disagreeing and coming to a consensus, our foreign journalists are none-the-wiser, twenty years on. And, frankly, who gives a hoot?

That’s why Rwandans are happy when one in the bigger family, the East African Community, lauds the spectacular progress that they continue to register. And that’s why, noting their determination, I see the light of a “Singapore of Africa” at the end of the tunnel.

As a Chinese philosopher said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

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