Is Rwanda Exportable?

For a period of about 100 days in 1994, the people of Rwanda were embroiled in a murderous rampage that left an estimated 800,000 dead—the chilling memories of which are enshrined in the Kigali Memorial Center built at a site where 250,000 victims of the genocide are buried.

Eight years after the genocide, I visited Rwanda for the first time at the invitation of the government to assist in the establishment of a national public policy think tank—the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR)-Rwanda—now up and running. I was then impressed by the determination of the people of Rwanda to forge ahead as one country notwithstanding the bitter memories of the recent past. Ever since that first visit, I have been visiting Rwanda frequently on official assignments. As I am now in Kigali participating at the 2012 Africa Economic Conference, it is mind boggling that this is the country that less than two decades ago was the shame of Africa and indeed of all humanity. It is hard to imagine that these were the same people that were killing each other in barbaric ways.

Probably most impressive has been the institution of programs and policies for economic development. Today, Rwanda has the best record of economic reforms—topping all African countries in terms of improvements in its business environment. The country has been ranked the second best global reformer in the World Bank Doing Business Report for the past six years and is the third most competitive place to do business in Africa. Whereas it takes weeks and often months to register a business in most African countries, it only requires six hours in Rwanda. Unlike many African countries that initiate reforms and then abandon them, Rwanda has been persistent in implementing reforms that result in policy credibility. In addition, the government of Rwanda has an outstanding record of speedy implementation of policy decisions—a rarity for most of African countries.

But there is more. Rwanda is the most open of all the African countries in terms of investments and labor mobility. The leadership has embraced well thought out strategies to attract both foreign direct investment and human capacity to help build the poor country. No wonder this small, land locked, natural resource-poor country is among the fastest growing economies in Africa. Rwanda is embracing modern information technologies and is investing heavily in human development. It is a poor country but the improvements during the post-genocide period are impressive. Of particular note is the leadership’s uncompromising stance on inclusive development.

At the opening ceremony of the Africa Economic Conference (October 30, 2012), the theme of which appropriately is “Inclusive and Sustainable Development in an Age of Economic Uncertainty,” President Paul Kagame stressed some key factors that have contributed to the impressive performance including: ownership of programs, citizen participation, accountability, collaboration with development partners and the establishment of strong institutions. These factors appear to be common sense and yet have not been institutionalized in the policy processes of most African countries.

Rwanda has a long way to go, especially in deepening political reforms to broaden the political space and expand citizen voice. There is still mistrust among the population, and the post-genocide peace process remains a work in progress. By all accounts, however, there is much that other African countries can learn from Rwanda’s approach to policy reforms and implementation for development. Development is a choice, and the people and leadership of Rwanda appear to have made that choice.