Signs of Hope in Rwanda
Claude Mansell, KF10, Rwanda
Sixteen years after the genocide it is time to reflect on where the country stands in its pursuit to stability and offering new perspectives to the population. Having been a Kiva Fellow in Rwanda for the last 4 months, I would love to share some personal observations with you.
My main observation is that there are signs of hope all over the country. Opposite the office of Vision Finance, Kiva’s first microfinance partner in Rwanda, is this tiny restaurant called Hope 2020. Its 20 square meter (200 square foot) space tends to be crowded with workers stopping for a simple meal or a tea before continuing their day.
I asked the young owner why he gave the place this name. His answer: “By then my son will be 18, and I hope he will then enter University, unlike me”. Education is hot in Rwanda. The first 9 years of education are paid for by the government; the first 6 school years are attended in village schools, after which the pupils go to a secondary school elsewhere in the country for at least three years. Their primary school grades determine to which secondary school they are admitted.
Much effort is put into increasing the number of pupils that go to university after their secondary school. In particular, technical studies are promoted.
Education is regarded and treated as the motor of economic development of the country. Currently, the economy is largely dependent on the productivity of the agriculture sector. In 2009 Rwanda’s GDP increased by 5%, mainly thanks to a 10% increase of that sector. It is, however, risky to put all eggs into the agricultural basket. Hence government’s effort to stimulate other sectors, such as the tourism industry and the ICT services sector. The digital highway is being built in an incredible speed, with thousands of workers digging the ditches for the new fiber-optic cables across the country.
One spin-off is new business opportunities for the growing number of telephone and for the the many electronics shops.
Healthcare is also high on the agenda, with the life expectancy at birth rising spectacularly from 39 years in 2003 to 57 years in the tear 2010 (source CIA World Factbook). Rwandans can get government-subsidized healthcare insurance for $2. When insured, one gets 85% of costs covered, the remaining 15% to be paid by the individual. The system is designed centrally, but executed de-centrally by the regional healthcare centers, most of which are paid by government.
Medical research for the main diseases (malaria, TBC, HIV) is mainly funded by foreign initiatives, such as by American Universities. Treatment for these diseases is free, in order to eliminate all barriers to the poor.
Improved education, higher productivity in agriculture, the emergence of profitable sectors, investments in the digital highway and the diminishment of dependency on imports are gradually increasing the standards of living. Entrepreneurs are quick to offer services to those who have made the step to the growing middle and upper classes.
The price of these developments is that the current government does not like to see its efforts jeopardized by anyone. Hence, it is not open to criticism, and restricts the freedom of press. Although the many office supply shops have friendly names, what is put on paper is generally well controlled.
It is thanks to a clear vision and a very disciplined implementation of the plans that Rwanda is able to further develop the general health, level of education and economic situation of the population in a steady pace. Let’s celebrate at the happy end bar, after sixteen years of hard work.