Praia, 5 February 2014
I am pleased to be here in Cape Verde for the first time, and I thank you Mr President for your kind invitation to participate in this forum.
I understand this will be an interactive session and I look forward to a conversation with the audience.
Allow me to share a few thoughts on innovation in Africa and touch on our experience in Rwanda.
The first thing we need to ask ourselves is: do we have the right politics to drive innovation? Where innovation is about knowledge, mindset, use of technology, and doing things differently with the aim of finding solutions to problems of the day. So here I mean politics that is people-centred and focused on service delivery, as well as the conviction that things must change for the better.
This drive to make sure things work, is what enables us to create an environment that nurtures innovation for today and tomorrow.
For people in government, this means connecting with the needs and aspirations of our citizens. They are the agents and medium of innovation, and ultimately socioeconomic transformation.
Our countries face complex and longstanding challenges, and many of the solutions that have been tried have not worked as they should. We have everything to gain by opening up to new ideas. In our quest to empower our people and enable them to fulfill their potential, we simply need to keep adapting. And, as it is often necessary, we need to do things differently.
We can learn from each other in Africa and from other countries, such as successful ones in Asia, but we should also continue to look within our own communities for “home-grown” innovations to solve our development challenges.
Many countries in Africa are already doing so in order to resolve their unique problems.
Rwanda is no different. Twenty years after tragic and extreme circumstances, we are trying to make things work and make them right.
For the last two decades, we have all together sought new ways to reconstruct and restore our social fabric, the bedrock of trust among people. And we have done this in a context of limited means and competing priorities. This is where being innovative in a broad sense, beyond technology, comes in.
We have drawn from Rwandan culture and tradition as well as further afield, for innovations in dealing with numerous important sector problems, including in justice, education, health, agriculture, governance and poverty reduction.
One of the key issues the post-genocide government in Rwanda had to manage was how to deliver justice in a country with a non-existent judicial system. Prosecuting all the hundreds of thousands of suspects in conventional courts, which didn’t even exist at the time, would have taken hundreds of years or been just impossible.
Instead we turned to Gacaca, a Rwandan cultural practice used to solve disputes and maintain national harmony.
We decided to modernise this Gacaca system to deliver justice, and promote truth-telling about the genocide crime that had happened.
Between 2002 and 2012, 52,000 Gacaca courts across the country tried two million cases, at the cost of less than one billion dollars.
To put this into perspective, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, set up in 1995 to prosecute the planners of the genocide, has so far tried 60 cases in the last 19 years, at the cost of two billion dollars.
Gacaca may not be an innovation in the sense we often think of it, but this new approach, this transformative justice, allowed the nation of Rwanda to heal, and continue pursuing socio-economic transformation.
In our efforts to instill good governance and improve service delivery, our government introduced another “home-grown” solution known as Imihigo or performance contracts.
In pre-colonial Rwanda, individuals would set targets or goals and publicly pledge to achieve these within a specific time period.
We decided to adapt Imihigo because following decentralization in 2000, we needed a way for the central government and Rwandans, to ensure accountability, in the implementation of development programs led by the local government.
This is done through annual performance contracts assessed quarterly, which contain targets planned together by communities and authorities. These are then signed by all district Mayors.
So far, this innovation in governance has contributed to accelerating development at all levels, ensuring accountability and transparency of the government.
Some of the innovations that are paying dividends today have been brought on by the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
For example, in working to get every citizen to participate in national development, we have looked to different institutions, including in many cases, the unexpected ones, like our Army and National Police.
Having achieved peace and security throughout the country over the years, Rwandan defence and security forces now provide support to national development programs.
This is not a conventional practice, but there is no reason it shouldn’t be – these national institutions have to reflect the character and aspirations of the nation.
For example, currently the Rwanda Defence Force runs projects in agriculture that contribute to food security. It also provides healthcare during what they have named Army Week activities, which take place around the time we celebrate the liberation of Rwanda. Last year the RDF treated over 45,000 patients, including 15,000 genocide survivors. The engineering corps is active in building infrastructure and is currently constructing, among other things, 42,000 homes for vulnerable Rwandans living in high risk climate zones.
Although we still have a long way to go and have much more work to do, Rwandans have seen these innovations work and are encouraged and empowered to innovate even more.
We are inspired by examples we see on our continent in different fields.
I am sure you have all heard of M-Pesa, the Kenyan innovation that has revolutionalised financial services, and is now being replicated elsewhere on the continent.
There are also solutions like m-Pedigree, an application invented by a young Ghanaian to enable consumers identify counterfeit drugs – a major problem affecting our countries.
I am pleased to learn that this and other innovations are being exhibited here at this summit.
While in Rwanda we are focused on delivering essential services to our citizens, we are also determined to invest in our future.
This is why we place such importance on sciences and technology. For example in the area of ICT, we are providing laptops to primary school children and have laid over 3200Km of fibre optic that reaches every District, intended to connect schools, hospitals and administrative centres. We also have a partnership with KT to build a nation-wide fourth generation LTE network in the next three years.
Our goal is to ensure that Rwandans along with other Africans, are equipped with the education, skills, confidence and opportunities to innovate and be competitive globally.
Admittedly, these are not easy tasks for any country, least of all one starting from a very low base like ours. But they are critical to gaining progress in our countries and our continent.
An important factor that we all agree on but is not always practiced, is creating mutually beneficial, respectful and productive partnerships. Often, these partnerships end up not being as envisioned, but with Africa on the receiving end instead of being a viable partner. However, it is a serious, difficult and important conversation worth having, in order to attain self reliance, prosperity and dignity for our people.
I thank you for your attention and look forward to a lively exchange.