I am pleased to take this opportunity that the constitution provides to present to you and all Rwandans the state of our nation. This is the reason we meet here today.
I don’t need to remind you all where we have come as a country. All Rwandans know that bad governance, divisionism, conflict, and extreme poverty characterized this country for a long time, and we all saw the consequences.It would be correct to say that in rebuilding Rwanda after the 1994 genocide we started from scratch. And yet every aspect of reconstruction was a priority.
We had to restore the security and unity of Rwandans. Orphans and widows needed protection. The sick, wounded and traumatized needed special attention. We had to get the economy back on its feet. We had to rebuild schools, hospitals and other infrastructure.
In addition, we had to restore the justice system and end the culture of impunity. In short, we had to start the country afresh. Few foreign countries thought we would ever become a viable country again.
That is where Rwanda has come from. Today, our country has a voice on the international stage and enjoys respect among the nations of the world. All Rwandans, whether they live here or abroad, now have a sense of pride and dignity in being Rwandan. This is mainly because Rwanda is today a country that is based on sound principles.
Among these principles we can single out fighting genocide ideology, promoting national unity, eradicating sectarianism , giving Rwandans equal rights and opportunities, power-sharing, building democracy based on different ideas and opinions and the right of choice, the rule of law, and a firm development vision that must be implemented as quickly as possible.
There can be no doubt that Rwanda has made good progress in all key areas in the last sixteen years. Our country has a vision (Vision 2020) and a programme for creating wealth (EDPRS) that are the catalysts of sustainable development.
We now have security throughout the whole country. Rwandans and foreigners can go about their business without fear. We owe all these developments to good governance that has taken root in our country. Through decentralisation, services have been brought closer to the people. Rwandans have a bigger role in choosing their own leaders and a say in programmes intended for them. Regular, free and peaceful elections are now part of Rwandan culture, as are accountability and transparency.
Leaders must present to citizens their programmes for evaluation, and if found unsatisfactory, leaders are answerable and where grave errors have been committed, they are punished.
Our economy continues to grow. In the last few years, our GDP has been growing at an average rate of 7% annually. Revenue collection has also increased so that that it now stands at more than half of our national budget – this means we can look forward to a near future when we will be self-sufficient. Annual per capita income is now more than US $500. We are now self-sufficient in food production and even have excess for the market. Famine, which had become chronic in some parts of the country, has been eradicated.
Infrastructure has improved significantly, including roads, availability of clean water and electricity. The number of Rwandans with access to clean water has risen from 41% in 2003 to 80% today. 13% of households now have electricity – that figure was just 4% in 2000.
The number of Rwandan and foreign investors also continues to increase, providing jobs, contributing more revenue and building the nation in general. We have adopted strategies to protect our environment, natural resources and tourist attraction sites, which have led to an ever growing number of tourists visiting Rwanda every year. For instance, last year, we received about 666,000 tourists who contributed US $200 million to our economy.
As the number of tourists increases, so will foreign earnings, and the national economy will continue to grow, as will Rwanda’s international profile.Rwandans in the diaspora continue to play an important role in economic development. Their annual remittances to Rwanda stand at about US $200 million.We put a lot of effort in building our economy because it is the foundation of the welfare of Rwandans.
As you all know, there are now more schools for Rwandan children at every stage of their education, all with better materials, books and equipment. Enrolment at all levels has risen. Every child can complete a nine-year basic education that comprises primary and lower secondary school. Technical and vocational schools have also increased and been given the equipment they need. The number of qualified teachers continues to rise.
We now have more universities, both public and private, with 62,734 students, more than 17 times the number we had in 1993. 44% of all university students are women. So, Rwandans now have the opportunity to go to school and fulfill their potential. In return we ask them to create jobs for themselves and others, and not rely on government alone to provide them. We have prioritized technology because it is a key pillar in economic development. Government has invested a lot of money in order to connect people to this technology, so that it can be used in their homes, schools, hospitals – wherever it is needed to deliver different services. We have also encouraged the private sector and made it easier for them to get involved and invest in this area.
There is now a network of optic fiber throughout the country. This will be the basis for how information and communication technology will contribute to the growth of the economy.There have been significant improvements in health. The number of hospitals, health centers, ambulances and other facilities has increased and there are more qualified health workers. More Rwandans have health insurance, in 2003 only 7% of Rwandans were covered by health insurance schemes. Last year the figure had risen to 96%.Common diseases and epidemics have reduced. The incidence of malaria, which used to be one of the top killers of our citizens, has fallen drastically. Deaths due to malaria were 40.6% in 2000, but had come down to 16% in 2009. Only 35% of people who needed it received anti-retroviral treatment in 2005; in 2009 that figure had risen to 77%.
As you all know, after the genocide we had serious issues with justice. We were able to address those problems through conventional forms of justice and recourse to Gacaca that also helped to reconcile Rwandans.Rwandans chose a constitution for our country which governs the conduct of our national affairs. In addition, we enacted new laws and reformed existing ones. Drawing from our culture, we instituted Abunzi to solve disputes of a civil and social nature at the basic levels of administration. Legal aid projects have been established at the same local government levels. In general we now have laws that protect every citizen and in which they have a role.
Rwanda is an open country that welcomes visitors from other parts of the world. We have expanded and enjoy good relations with many foreign countries. For example, our defence forces and national police are involved in international peace keeping operations across the world. Even where our relations with other countries had deteriorated, we have now improved them and their and our embassies have reopened. We have joined regional and international organisations such as the EAC and the Commonwealth that will enhance greater cooperation and trade and benefit our citizens in terms of business, education and other areas.
We were able to make these and many more achievements because we have a common vision, cooperation, the will to find solutions to our challenges and where necessary seek innovative ones from our culture, such as Gacaca, imihigo, abunzi and ubudehe. Rwandans have continued to seek means of solving their development challenges from among themselves and showed greater commitment and collaboration between different institutions.We were able to achieve them because we worked transparently, we refused to tolerate mediocrity, we were not complacent and above all, we insisted on our dignity.
We must redouble our efforts because the journey is still long. These are the elements that will make it possible for us to develop quickly and become a middle income country.
These values will transform rural areas, help us build proper settlements and improve our nutrition and health.
If we are to achieve this transformation, we must invest more in energy, electricity distribution and getting clean water to all citizens. We must continue to build infrastructure, increase agricultural production, process and add value to the produce so that we can earn more from it.
There must be greater collaboration between the public and the private sector to provide better services. It is only then that our economy will be truly based on knowledge and technology.
There is no doubt that we will get to where we want to be. We have already overcome more difficult challenges and, in so doing, gained the confidence and strength to face those that lie ahead. We have the will, we will find a way. We should not slacken; instead we should redouble our efforts, continue to work together to get to all that we desire, and leave a worthy inheritance to future generations.
Let us continue to foster unity, continue to work hard and a build a country we will all be proud of.