50 AND COUNTING RWANDA REACHES HALF CENTURY OF INDEPENDENCE
This Sunday will see the land of a thousand hills celebrate its Golden Jubilee of Independence from former colonial power Belgium, but it has been a period, except for the past 18 years since the RPF liberated the country from a murderous regime, of much instigated tribal hatred, waves of genocidal killings and suppression of political freedoms.
When the new Rwanda celebrates this Sunday it will be a celebration of this liberation, the reconciliation achieved by forgiving but not forgetting, by integration rather than separation, and by giving equal rights to all Rwandans, no longer based on the tribal affiliations of old.
Here Belgium has to bear a heavy responsibility for playing the tribes against each other at the time to exploit such sentiments to their own advantage but this is to be a reflection on celebrations and not another lecture in historical events, relevant as they still are to understand better the why of it all.
Rwanda, admittedly a darling of mine, has risen like the Phoenix from the ashes since those tragic 100 days in 1994, when a million people were wiped out by frenzied killer mobs, and every visit to the country brings back fresh recognition and added admiration for what has been achieved.
Now taken as an example of a modern post conflict society, not just in Africa but worldwide, the country is committed to the highest standards of environmental protection and conservation of the available resources, amongst other measures on the way to restore a 30 percent forest cover by 2020. The capital Kigali shines at night with street lights working, the absence of the notorious potholes found in my own home patch in ever growing abundance, is safe to walk during day and night Kigali is now considered one of the safest capital cities in Africa and marked by discipline in traffic where an incorruptible police force makes traffic rules stick and where motorists have learned to respect red lights and all.
Investment is welcome and on arrival at the Kanombe International Airport, or rather when leaving it, visitors are reminded through a large signboard that they have entered a corruption free zone, where they are welcome to do business and invest, as long as they respect the laws of the land. Toa Kitu Kidogo, the notorious byword which reflects the way of doing business in much of the region, truly has no place in the new Rwanda and this strict stand has supported economic growth which over the past 18 years has resulted in raising the per capita income from a mere 200 US Dollars to now over 540 US Dollars by the end of 2010. Tourism for instance has over these last years turned into one of the countrys top income earners, alongside it also attracting added and often non related investments in other sectors.
The arrival of Marriott Hotels, set to open a luxurious city hotel and conference centre in a years time, or of DubaiWorld which owns and operated the top of the range Nyungwe Forest Lodge, follows in the footsteps of such regional giants like Serena Hotels, with many more international hospitality groups reportedly now eyeing the country for future expansion on the continent.
Tourism promotion and wildlife conservation, once under OTRPN, is now part of the countrys super agency Rwanda Development Board, where the philosophy of Rwanda Incorporated manifests itself very well. Business registration at RDB for instance has been sped up to be done in less than a working day, all under one roof, and has led to both greater integration as well as coordination of measures taken to promote economic growth and investments.
The countrys national airline RwandAir has spread the wings beyond the region into South and West Africa and the Gulf and with more airlines than ever before connecting the world to Kigali, getting to the land of a thousand hills has never been easier.
Challenges on many fronts remain of course but Rwanda, for this correspondent at least, remains the proverbial land of milk and honey, a shining example what committed and visionary leadership can achieve right here in Africa, where few around the world would think this possible.
A very happy 50th therefore it is and to many more returns in peace and prosperity to my many friends in Rwanda, The Land Of A Thousand Hills.