Hartford, 12 March 2013
Dr Walter Harrison, President of the University of Hartford;
Faculty, Staff and Students;
Distinguished members of the Hartford Community;
Friends of Rwanda;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
I am honoured to be here today at this great university particularly when you are launching a Genocide and Holocaust Education Initiative, and I thank the Maurice Greenberg Center for this wonderful work. Let me also thank Dr Joseph Olzacki and his colleagues for their commendable work in Rwanda in this area.
Rwandans know only too well the horrors of genocide and appreciate and support this initiative because we have a shared interest in educating others about the crime so that it never happens again.
The people of Rwanda have stood up against all forms of injustice and defended human dignity in the past and will continue to do so because our resolve is steadfast. This conviction and our history have made the combat against genocide and ideologies that support it anywhere in the world a moral obligation for us.
The tragedy our country faced revealed a character of the Rwandan people that has been essential in the rebuilding of the nation and in its socio-economic transformation – resilience, vision and ability to reach a consensus.
And speaking about vision, I notice that this is a quality we share with this university and with the wider Hartford community. This university is the product of a vision the community had for its future: to build a higher learning institution that would serve the needs of its members and propel this area forward. It served that purpose and has since grown beyond the confines of Hartford and become a world class learning centre that attracts scholars from across the world.
Rwanda’s story is also one of a vision shaped by our past, local realities and the universal desire for better and dignified lives for our citizens. If we had to move from this past and transform our country into a modern, prosperous state we had to define a vision of the future we wanted for our country within the global community.
This recognition was the genesis of our development roadmap called Vision 2020.
Vision 2020 is a broad consensus document that was arrived at in the year 2000 after a wide national consultative process. Arising out of this and prior experiences, national dialogue and consensus building have become important elements of our national ethic. They inform our policies which rest on the participation of all citizens in all matters that affect their lives, and inspire our relations across the world.
Rwandans envisaged the main objective of the vision to be the transformation of the country into a middle-income country by 2020. This would mean raising the per capita income from US $290 to US $900. This has since been revised upwards to US $1900. It would require reducing the poverty rate from 64% to 30% and increasing life expectancy from 49 to 55 years.
The realisation of Vision 2020 is built on six pillars. First is good governance and a capable state within the framework of social cohesion and political inclusiveness. This is followed by the development of human capital and a knowledge-based economy. Then there is the development of the private sector as the engine of our economic growth. Vision 2020 also focuses on infrastructure development, and a productive, high value and market oriented agriculture. All of these are happening within the context of economic liberalisation and regional economic integration.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen;
In summary this is what Rwanda’s development vision is about. Eight years to the finish line, how far have we come? Quite a distance, although there are still more miles to cover.
The economy has been growing at an average of 8% over the last ten years. Inflation has been kept to a single digit over the same period. The portion of the population living below the poverty line fell by 12 percentage points, from 56.9% to 44.9% between 2005 and 2011. In the same period, over one million Rwandans were lifted out of poverty.
World Bank and World Economic Forum reports on the ease of doing business and competitiveness indicate a continuous improvement. For six years running Rwanda has ranked the second most improved place to do business in the world.
Some of the benchmarks we had set have been surpassed. For instance, due to a combination of better healthcare, wider access to education and improved livelihoods, life expectancy was about 59 years in 2012 (projection for 2020 was 55 years).
But as I have said, there is still some distance to go before we can bridge the gap between us and the developed world. The need to build bridges of cooperation in a variety of areas is therefore all that more important.
And while it is true that the development of any country is primarily the responsibility of its citizens, we in Rwanda recognise that when we work with partners who share our vision we can attain our goals even faster.
Since we are meeting today at an esteemed educational institution and because a key focus of our development is building the knowledge and skills capacity of our human resource, let me start with cooperation in education.
A nation is what it is because of the education it provides its people. A well-educated and skilled population is empowered and generally has a high standard of living and better health, is better informed and can therefore make informed decisions individually or as part of a collective. Above all, an educated population is better placed to make more demands on political leaders and also fulfill its civic obligations.
One of the choices we have consciously made as part of our vision has been investment in education. We have made education up to the completion of high school free and are increasingly putting more effort in technical and vocational training, as well as higher education.
In addition to this, the Government of Rwanda has entered into partnerships with universities here in the United States to train our students especially in the fields of science and technology and engineering. We seek to strengthen existing ties and build new ones because they are extremely valuable to us. Dr Harrison, I look forward to the day when our young people from Rwanda will graduate from the University of Hartford.
In recent times, we have taken cooperation in education a significant step further and invited outside universities to set up campuses in Rwanda. Carnegie Mellon University is already operating a graduate programme in computer science and information technology in Rwanda that benefits students from the East African region. Other American universities are planning a similar move.
There are mutual benefits from this arrangement. Rwandan students gain knowledge and skills on the ground and easily apply it to local conditions, and academics from these universities acquire exposure to different cultures and situations, leading to better appreciation of development challenges and greater understanding between institutions and nations.
Universities are well-known for nurturing the spirit of participation, competition and free exchange of ideas in the search for truth. We applied this to governance in Rwanda to empower citizens to participate in all aspects of national affairs and had their energies and creativity for the development of our country.
Our vision demands that we move fast to catch up with the rest of the world, which in turn requires us to make certain political and economic choices, including development partnerships. And so, it is not only in education that we seek partnerships, but in trade and investment as well. It is for this reason that we liberalised the economy, made important reforms in doing business to make it easier for local and foreign investors to set up businesses and adopted a zero tolerance stance to corruption.
In conclusion, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the realisation of our vision ultimately depends on an empowered people, a knowledgeable and skilled population and a leadership that solves problems, delivers services, helps improve living standards and accords all Rwandans their dignity that they all deserve. It is this that will turn Rwanda into a modern state and enable it to play its rightful role in the global arena.
We can all create it through greater cooperation that bridges the gap between the developed and developing worlds and also creates useful and lasting links between them, their peoples and institutions.
Thank you for your kind attention.