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Heads up – Embassy 27 – July 2010

Rwanda on the rise

The journey of Ernest Rwamucyo from penniless refugee in Uganda, to Rwanda’s first High Commissioner to London is something of a miracle – much like the recovery his country has made from the devastating genocide of 1994.

His parents fled the country during one of Rwanda’s earlier ethnic convulsions and the High Commissioner was part of a wave of exiles who returned to rebuild their shattered homeland in 1994.

“Rebuilding a country that was in tatters was not easy but we have made tremendous progress,” says the High Commissioner, who is keen to stress the role Britain played in the process.

“It was comforting to see the UK coming to our rescue so soon after the world had stood by as innocent people were massacred. Since then the UK’s support has been critical in rebuilding Rwanda.”

Rwanda’s reconciliation has come along in leaps and bounds. With a huge backlog of genocide cases, the Rwandans turned to traditional ‘Gacaca courts’ to help deliver justice, explains the High Commissioner. “The sharing of stories has allowed the truth to be told which is essential for forgiveness and healing in our society.”

But to ensure long-term stability, Rwanda needs to build a more equal society that empowers all groups, adds Rwamucyo: “In our tragic history, sectors of our society were left behind and this sowed the seeds for the 1994 genocide. So under the new constitution, all Rwandans must be able to access the same opportunities based on merit.”

When writing the new constitution, the Rwandans borrowed from around the world, he adds. “We decided on a system of proportional representation because in Africa the winner-takes-all system causes problems. We wanted a system where everybody is a player and decisions are made by dialogue and consensus building.”

All groups are encouraged to participate, including women, who now make up 56 per cent of all the seats in parliament, the highest proportion in the world.

The openness of the new political system will be tested in the August elections. “We have made preparations to ensure a peaceful, transparent election,” assures the High Commissioner. “That will mark yet another milestone in Rwanda’s rehabilitation.”

But political reform is only half the battle. “We need to empower all sectors economically and socially,” says Rwamucyo, a development expert who has travelled the world with the UNDP.

Rwanda’s ambition is to make the leap to a middle-income country within a generation, by 2020, explains the High Commissioner. “It’s a challenge but we can’t afford to walk – we have to run to catch up because we have lost many years in our history.”

And as Rwanda starts its run-up, Rwamucyo will again seek the UK’s support to provide a springboard to launch the country into its next phase of development.

 “Our vision for Rwanda is a knowledge-based economy with solid infrastructure and an efficient and responsive state,” explains Rwamucyo. “The UK provides Rwanda with budget support aligned to these priorities which include, among others, education, health, infrastructure, energy and access to clean water. The UK also provides vital technical support to strengthen the capacity of our institutions. For our part, we promise to use the aid responsibly.”

Indeed, the country was recently recognised by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International for having ‘negligible corruption’ and has the development statistics to show for it: in ten years, school enrolment has jumped from 70 to 95 per cent; infant mortality has halved; the HIV infection rate is down by two thirds; and immunisation is kept above 90 per cent.

A further accolade has been Rwanda’s invitation to join the Commonwealth, making Rwamucyo the country’s first High Commissioner to London.

There is also good news for investors, adds Rwamucyo. The economy has grown at rates of above 7 per cent for the past five years, coupled with low inflation rates and an investor-friendly regulatory framework.

“Rwanda was recently voted as the top global reformer by the World Bank 2010 Doing Business Report, rising up the ranks from 183 to 67,” says the High Commissioner, whose job it is to attract more British foreign direct investment to Rwanda.

But critical to attracting investors is regional stability, especially for a landlocked country such as Rwanda where warring elements on its fringes can be destabilising.  With the ongoing peace process in the Great Lakes region, Rwanda and its neighbours are now working together, says the High Commissioner, who is grateful to the UK for its support in encouraging regional cooperation.

 “There’s a lot of work to do,” admits the High Commissioner. “But Rwandans are full of energy because finally they feel they are masters of their own destiny.”

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HE Mr Ernest Rwamucyo

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