Rwanda Leapfrogs on Singapore Highway

With English as Teaching Medium

 By TP Saran  

This is a country where there are no mud huts, no litter of plastic bags, no beggars, no one going barefoot, where the motorcyclists wear helmets and fluorescent jackets, where appointments are kept on time, where policemen ask for nothing other than your documents, where the environment is protected like a national treasure, where smoking is condemned, where there are no open sewers or potholes in the streets, where one can stroll around without any fear at any time of the night, where one sleeps early to get up early, where a working day means actual work done, and where power cuts in the capital are as rare as road accidents. Singapore? No – Rwanda, population 10 million, that barely 15 years ago was the theatre of a bitter ethnic strife that left more than a million dead.

But Paul Kagame, its leader, decided to look to the future, although the scars of the recent past remain. He decided to ban any reference officially to the Hutu or Tutsi community, and is pitiless towards those who are corrupt. The current growth rate of Rwanda is 8% and several big hotel chains have already established themselves there; FDI is flowing in, and the country has impressive airline connectivity. From the energy supply point of view there is huge potential for the use of methane from Lake Kivu, and Rwanda is already positioning itself as a regional technology hub.

Paul Kagame decided that the official, and teaching language of his formerly francophone country would be English, and this is ‘une directive appliquée à la lettre’ – according to the author of the interview – conducted in English – which appeared in the French magazine Le Point of May 7, 2011. The last books Kagame has read are Naked Economics by Charles Wheelam and Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter. His favourite drinks are water and tea, and the following two question-answers reveal the man’s vision for his country:

–         Quel est votre état d’esprit en ce moment?

–         Serein. Déterminé à agir pour construire le futur. Optimiste avec raison pour l’avenir de mon pays, mais pas optimiste béat, car on ne bâtit rien sans effort permanent.

–         Que pensez-vous de ce questionnaire ?

–         Décidément, je n’aime guère parler de moi.

But more telling was his reply to the last question he was asked:

–         Votre actuel et dernier mandat s’achève en 2017. Le Rwanda pourra-t-il vivre sans vous ?

–         Le contraire serait un échec pour moi et pour le pays… Certains disent que ce sera le chaos, d’autres que je m’accrocherai au pouvoir. En réalité, vous le verrez bien, quitte à être surpris : le leadership changera de main, mais le chemin et la direction resteront le même.

 And, in reply to another question, he had said that ‘ici, les gens votent pour la sécurité, le niveau de vie, la justice, la réconciliation. C’est-à-dire pour l’essentiel.

 Talk of visionary leadership…


* Published in print edition on 24 June 2011

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