Unfortunately Africa is often associated with words with negative connotations: corruption, aids, donor fatigue, genocide, bad governance, colonialism, malaria, slavery, famine, poverty, civil wars, blood diamonds, et cetera.
A trillion dollar of aid has not raised the continent out of poverty. A corrupt leader like Mugabe has changed a country from a breadbasket of a region to a basket case. Rwanda experienced a horrific genocide in 1994 where up to one million people were killed in about 100 days. The negative examples above do not fully or fairly reflect Africa as a whole. Many African countries are now experiencing economic growth, peace and reconciliation, and there are increasing foreign investments, and so forth.
But sub-Saharan Africa is still lagging behind in many ways, especially when one compares with Asian countries. Singapore was transformed from a poor swampland to one of the most prosperous countries in the world in about 50 years. Can such a thing happen in Africa?
I visited Rwanda last week and I venture to say that Rwanda is growing to become a beacon of hope for Africa and the world. Today Rwanda is one of the safest, least corrupt and most progressive nations in Africa. Only 17 years ago the country was devastated through the genocide.**
Let me share a few brief observations on what I believe are some essential contributing factors to the transformation of Rwanda. For the Western mindset let me give you a few bullet points first and then a few glimpses to illustrate those:
- God is at work
- Visionary leadership serving with integrity and professionalism
- Unity and reconciliation process rebuilding the social fabric
- The development of a 21st century infrastructure
- The creation of an environment conducive for business development in a globalised world
The genocide was evil beyond human comprehension. One cannot even try to explain it without recognizing the evil forces which are beyond our secular horizons. Likewise we cannot fully appreciate the transformation of the nation, the unity and reconciliation processes, unless we acknowledge God at work.
But we also need to recognize the importance of good leadership; people with vision, integrity and professionalism. No one is perfect but President Kagame has served the nation well.
I met with so many unusually gifted leaders – African and others – who are serving the people of Rwanda. Bishop John Rucyahana was one of them. One may liken him to Desmund Tutu of South Africa. A must read is the book “The Bishop of Rwanda”. I also met his successor Bishop Mbanda who also is a “larger-than-life-kind-of-person”.
Bishop John, some American friends and I talked about how to rebuild the social fabric in a society so devastated by mass killings. Bishop John has led the work of unity and reconciliation, which is a key to the resurrection of the nation. We need to be mindful of the lack of such processes between peoples in other countries and regions, like in the Balkans, where hatred has been passed on from generation to generation for over 600 years.
The leadership of Rwanda is also aware of that you can only build a nation for the future if you set the parameters for a functional market place and link it to today’s global world. I had mobile phone coverage all over the country. Wireless internet is widely available. The government is working on broadband infrastructure to all corners of the nation. Mobile phones help rich and poor alike to improve their lives and further economic activities.
Rwanda is also proactively working on property rights which are essential for business development. One can register a business online one the same day. Business development is more encouraged than aid and NGOs. We also visited a growing bank based on Christian values. Please click here to learn more about our visit, the bank and some other entrepreneurial people involved for Rwanda.
Our hosts in Rwanda were Dale Dawson and Tom Allen of Bridge2Rwanda. Please check their website Bridge2Rwanda. I warmly recommend this very informative and challenging video clip, about 9 minutes long.
** I wrote about the genocide and the complicity of the church in a previous blog: From church planting success to genocide