Washington, 13 October 2017
I would like to thank Dr Kim for the invitation to join you here today and indeed I am very happy to do so.
Human capital is without doubt the driver of high-income growth and the foundation of prosperity. This is not an abstraction. We are talking about people in real terms.
We are all born equal in rights and dignity. But the trajectory and velocity of progress are determined by how well we use the capabilities acquired in the earliest stages of our lives.
By investing in health, education, and creativity, we turn our people into individuals who have the ability to think and act, not just for themselves but also for the benefit of their communities.
Unleashing human freedom and ability is a force multiplier that creates limitless potential. For that reason, I would like to challenge us all not to limit our ambitions to “eliminating extreme poverty”. That just doesn’t sound good enough.
Our aim is prosperity and well-being for everyone. That is the essence of what keeps bringing us together here, time after time.
Twenty-three years ago, as you know, Rwanda was utterly devastated. It is no accident that human capital was a low priority in the years before the Genocide.
As we worked to rebuild the nation, we had no choice but to put our people at the centre of our strategy. It was simply a question of security and survival.
Let me give you just one example. In the decades before 1994, access to secondary and higher education was a political favour subject to ethnic quotas. The country produced only about 2,000 university graduates in that period. Today, around 90,000 Rwandans complete tertiary education every year.
Our national health insurance programme covers nearly 90 per cent of Rwandans, and tens of thousands of volunteer Community Health Workers are deployed across the country. This contributed to an 80 per cent reduction in maternal mortality and a 70 per cent reduction in infant and child mortality since the year 2000.
By requiring equality of access and opportunity for girls and women in schools, in the workplace, and in terms of legal rights, we have made our economy demonstrably stronger and more resilient.
Broadband internet is available throughout the country and increasingly affordable, and we are expanding technical and vocational education with direct relevance for the job market.
In recent years, the evidence has grown that early childhood development pays huge dividends throughout the life course, both for individuals and the economy as a whole. That is why Rwanda has decided to bring all key agencies together into a coordinated Early Childhood Development programme focused on nutrition, sanitation, and pre-school education.
Eliminating malnutrition is a particular priority. The rate of stunting fell from over half of children in 2010 to closer to one-third today. But this is still unacceptably high. Our target is to further reduce stunting to 15% by 2020, with annual 6% reductions thereafter.
We are pleased to have the partnership and strong support of the World Bank for these efforts with three new projects focused on social protection, nutrition, and agriculture.
Rwanda still has a long way to go to reach high-income status. Given our starting point, we are accustomed to difficult journeys, so there is no doubt that eventually we will get there. But we cannot derive full benefit from our natural resources or seize the opportunities of globalisation without first making the inherent potential of our people a reality.
Government does not just provide funds, it also creates public goods through an environment of security, stability, policy predictability, and the rule of law.
The optimism about the future that is shared by Rwandans, as well as our partners, is based on continuing to deliver tangible improvements in the well-being of our citizens.
Human capital generates prosperity by enabling mindsets of responsibility, productivity, innovation, and self-reliance. We are very happy to work with the World Bank Group and other partners to ensure that this perspective remains at the top of the sustainable development agenda.
In closing, allow me once again to thank Dr Kim, and other development partners, for outstanding leadership in keeping the value of the human person at the center of decision-making.
Thank you very much for your kind attention