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President Paul Kagame has said much of Rwanda’s socio-economic progress was achieved by taking calculated risks and embracing homegrown and unconventional solutions as the country embarked on the transformation path.
The President made the remarks, yesterday, while giving a public lecture to academics and members of the business community in Maputo, Mozambique, while he was on a two-day state visit.
Giving insights into Rwanda’s recovery from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Kagame said the country defined its priorities based on the needs and interests of Rwandans.
« At each point, we asked ourselves: Will this unite Rwandans, or divide us further? Will it contribute to making Rwanda a dignified and prosperous nation for all? » he said.
Rather than implement decisions and directives made elsewhere, he said the country sought to bring on board partners and work together to improve the lives of citizens.
In this regard, the President said, the Government took a decision to invest public resources into major commercial projects such as Rwanda’s first five-star hotel, Kigali Serena Hotel, and RwandAir, the national carrier.
Some of the decisions were, however, not very popular among donors and bankers who failed to see the business sense and viability of these ambitions.
« We saw it differently and learned important lessons. The naysayers were right in a narrow commercial sense but completely wrong in a broader view of Rwanda’s context and economic future, » he said.
With no private funds coming through largely due to the perceived risks, Kagame said that the country did not give up and took risks confident on the returns.
« For us, these assets are like utilities. We knew that there would be no immediate profit on these enterprises but, ultimately, we’re looking to profit as a country. Now that we have them, I can let you know that, first of all, they have paid off, especially hotels, for which we had acquired loans to set up. We see them serving everyone and businesses are making money from using the services, » he said.
Mobilisation of the masses
The President added that the socio-economic progress required that all Rwandans be mobilised to participate in rebuilding a new society which was different from what they had known before.
This required bringing back home over three million Rwandans who had been forced into exile, by the former government forces and delivering justice for Genocide victims and survivors while fostering reconciliation among all Rwandans.
To address this, the country developed a homegrown solution, Gacaca, a community court system which was able to try two million cases that would have taken hundreds of years to try in conventional courts, in less than 10 years.
« From this experience, we learned the importance of tackling the hardest things first. Once Rwandans saw that we could deal with the legacy of the Genocide and were living side by side again, other goals which had seemed impossible became more realistic, » Kagame said.
Rwanda, he said, had also learnt how to find solutions through dialogue and consensus which involved bringing citizens together regularly and investing in time to answer questions about changes for them to own the process.
« This drive for inclusiveness necessarily meant empowering previously marginalised groups, in particular women. In practice, ensuring the broadest possible participation of Rwandans meant that everyone who subscribed to the agreed constitutional order, which is defined by national unity, had a place in the new Rwanda, » he said.
Progress, he added, has also involved going beyond changing of laws and policies to changing mindsets.
« The choices we faced were absolutely fundamental. For example, on national identity, are we Rwandans first and foremost or something else? On service delivery and accountability, do officials serve the public or will we tolerate it being the other way around? »
« And on the quest for prosperity, is every citizen responsible for our well-being or do the state or foreign donors owe us a living? These choices involved extensive dialogue and consensus-building among citizens, » he noted.
The President said the visit to Maputo was in keeping with Rwanda and Mozambique’s shared commitment to go beyond national interests to continental unity, to bring African countries and people together.
The lecture was also attended by Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi.
President Nyusi commended Rwanda on its economic and social progress in recent years despite the country’s difficult history.
Prior to the session, President Kagame visited the Mozambique Memorial Heroes square dedicated to the heroic figures of the Mozambican Independence War to pay his respects.
While on the state visit, the President, together with his Mozambique counterpart, witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation agreement in the areas of political and economic consultations between the two countries
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