Building a New Nation: Rwanda's Progress and Potential
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations , U.S. Mission to the United Nations
I have come to Rwanda to bear witness to the remarkable progress you have made against all odds.
Rwanda holds its own tragic place in the 20th century's grim litany of mass violence. As you know so well, the evil of genocide came swiftly, home by home, in the form of men with machetes, calls to murder hissed out over transistor radios, lists of innocents for slaughter. Deliberate, direct cruelties that still leave us shocked and shaken.
Rwanda did not suffer from so-called "ancient hatreds." It suffered from modern demagogues: from the ex-FAR, the Interahamwe, Radio Mille Collines. It suffered from those who were willing to kill in the name of difference, from those who saw division and death as the path to power. And it suffered from the indifference of neighbors, international institutions, and individual governments - including my own - that failed to act in the face of a vast, unfolding evil.
Tomorrow, I will take my husband and two children to the genocide memorial here in Kigali, so they can experience what I have learned in my prior visits. We will pay our respects both to those forever lost and to the brave survivors, who challenge us all even to comprehend their enduring sacrifices and extraordinary strength.
Today, I am here as an American ambassador. But I also will speak for myself, from my heart. I visited Rwanda for the very first time in December 1994, six months after the genocide ended. I was a young Director on the National Security Council staff at the White House, accompanying the then-National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake. I was responsible then for issues relating to the United Nations and peacekeeping. And needless to say, we saw first-hand the spectacular consequences of the poor decisions taken by those countries, including my own and yours, that were then serving on the United Nations Security Council.
I will never forget the horror of walking through a church and an adjacent schoolyard where one of the massacres had occurred. Six months later, the decomposing bodies of those who had been so cruelly murdered still lay strewn around what should have been a place of peace. For me, the memory of stepping around and over those corpses will remain the most searing reminder imaginable of what humans can do to one another. Those images stay with me in the work I do today, ensuring that I can never forget how important it is for all of us to prevent genocide from recurring.
Here, after three long months, the genocide finally ended. But the destruction was hardly over. Up to a million dead. Another million refugees scattered across borders, including thousands of genocidaire eager to resume battle. Zaire was their rear base, and the refugees in UN-supported camps were their hostages. Rwanda, according to the World Bank, in just a few months had become the poorest country on earth. And within a few short years, it sent forces into neighboring Congo. “Africa’s first world war,” as it was called, claimed millions more lives from battle and disease.
Yet, even as war still raged, another story was beginning to play itself out. The people and the new government envisioned a different Rwanda, one where reconciliation replaced division, where healing helped salve deep wounds, where self-sufficiency could eventually defeat despair.
Having endured the worst, you nonetheless aspired for the best.
First, you worked to address the past, so your future could come sooner. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is finally winding down. Gacaca courts, adapting traditional justice practices to the overwhelming task of separating the innocent from the small fish, and the small fish from the most guilty planners and perpetrators, brought a measure of justice and reconciliation. Many former ex-FAR-Interahamwe militants have been reintegrated into society. Though much more remains to be done, the processing of cases, the commuting of sentences to community service, and the building of new jails have combined to reduce the number of prisoners by half over the past decade.
Gradually, deliberately, Rwanda has been trying to make itself whole.
Over time, you have implemented enlightened gender policies, advanced new development models, insisted on clean government, and made forward-looking investments.
You are living in the midst of astonishing change. I know that perhaps in the stress of daily life, it might not seem like much. Undoubtedly, you want more and faster change – more development, more opportunity, more freedom. And you deserve it. Your progress, of course, has been uneven, with economic development far outpacing political development. But, as you naturally strive for a brighter future, don’t lose sight of how far you have come. To many Americans and other foreigners, what you have achieved in seventeen short years is truly impressive. It gives us hope and new models. It shows other developing countries emerging from conflict what can be accomplished with effective policies and committed citizens. South Sudan, Liberia, the Central African Republic, Haiti, Guinea, Nepal and many others would do well to take a couple pages from the book you have begun to write for Rwanda.
As President Obama said last year at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit, when he launched our Global Development Initiative: we “seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people. Because the days when your development was dictated in foreign capitals must come to an end.”
Rwanda is just such a partner.
Starting with women. The genocide and war reduced the male population disproportionately, leaving a leadership vacuum. The government and international donors – notably the United Nations Development Program and the Inter-Parliamentary Union – turned this into an opportunity. Women were trained in parliamentary leadership, and 30 percent of parliamentary seats were reserved for women. Yet by 2003, women had won 48 percent of the seats in the lower house, more than a third of which were unreserved seats. In 2008, women as you know took an even greater share: 45 out of 80 seats, making Rwanda the only country in the world to this day with a female parliamentary majority. This puts the rest of us to shame.
Economically, you've made an astonishing recovery: per capita gross domestic product has tripled since 1994. The foundation for this growth of course has been agriculture. The government, with external support, has reduced soil erosion through terracing and tree planting. It's promoted effective use of fertilizers and pesticides, which has increased production. Consolidation of landholdings is slowly transforming farm production from subsistence to industrial levels, despite its complexities. Over the last decade, agriculture has grown at 5 percent or more per year. The United States is proud to play a small part in that growth through President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative.
At the same time, you have seen your economy diversify. Eco-tourism is becoming a major success. The services sector is now the largest in the economy, growing at about 10 percent a year.
The driver of Rwanda’s development is, first and foremost, the commitment of its people as well as the government to make development a priority. Combined with determined and able governance, a firm belief in innovation and entrepreneurship, and high-quality foreign aid that comes from meaningful and genuine partnerships; and a deliberate strategy for engaging the free market, this commitment is translating into tangible results.
Balancing all these factors is never easy. And let's be honest, no government today can claim to be getting it exactly right when it comes to economic governance and performance. Still, Rwanda is making striking progress. The World Bank’s “Doing Business in 2012” analysis once again raised Rwanda’s ranking: it is now 45 out of 183 countries. Not so long ago, Rwanda was ranked 141. That is a massive leap.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report now ranks Rwanda the 70th most competitive economy in the world; just two years ago, it was the 80th. The World Economic Forum gave extremely high ratings to Rwanda in three areas: participation of women in the labor force, the ease of starting a business, and the cleanliness of government. Today, I had the opportunity to visit Kigali’s One-Stop Shop, One-Stop Center, the Rwanda Development Board, and saw firsthand that it is easy to start a business here in Rwanda. And Rwanda’s policies aimed at rooting out corruption only make it easier. In its most recent global-corruption report, Transparency International rated Rwanda the least corrupt country in East Africa.
Yet, perhaps the greatest challenge of all, the one that takes generations to accomplish, is building human capital -- raising up the health, education, and skills of a nation.
Rwanda has focused on primary education; thus, you are investing in the future. Roughly 43 percent as you know of your population is under the age of 15. Education spending has risen steadily as a share of Gross Domestic Product and now accounts for about a fifth of your national budget. The bulk of this goes to basic education, through the 9th grade. Literacy rates have risen already from 58 percent in 1999 to 71 percent in 2009. This year, the government proposed increasing free universal education from nine years to twelve and continues to invest heavily in teacher training to raise the quality of instruction.
Healthier children of course make better students, and my country has devoted much of our assistance to improving health care here. Whether you are measuring immunization rates or the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, healthcare practices here are improving. Basic health insurance is accessible to almost all Rwandans, which is more than I can say for the United States. The share of government expenditure devoted to healthcare has more than tripled since 1996. The mortality rate for children under five has, in just five years, been reduced by more than half. Yes. And thanks to agricultural policies, protein and calorie production have reached international standards.
Rwandans are swiftly becoming better educated, better fed, and better cared for.
As a small, densely populated, landlocked and mountainous country, Rwanda has few natural assets that can facilitate economies or fuel trade. So the government is looking to digital technology to build virtual ports and shrink the distance between Rwanda and the global economy. Information and communications technologies are critical to developing both the productive capacity and the human capital that together form the foundation for lasting economic growth. The number of internet users in Rwanda more than doubled in the last few years. It is certain to increase much more as the country’s fiber-optic network – completed just last year -- gets fully up to speed. Cellular and wireless access will help transform Rwandan society.
Advanced technology though does more than just ease communication. Most developing countries have sought to get their energy the cheapest way they can, which is usually the dirtiest: by chopping and burning trees, burning diesel fuel, or burning coal. Rwanda is taking advantage of technology and its own natural gift of water to build a hydro-power industry, which already accounts for half of the country’s electricity generation. You also have projects underway to transform dangerous methane gas into a clean source of electricity.
As a member of the East Africa Community, Rwanda is helping build a larger market that will foster intra-regional trade, spur investment in infrastructure, agriculture and energy, and strengthen all of the Community's members by harmonizing policies and practices. Similarly, the U.S.-Rwanda Bilateral Investment Treaty, which was just ratified by our Senate in September, will solidify business ties between our two countries.
Rwanda’s economic and social progress has also been accompanied by a parallel rise in its international stature – from a collapsed and divided state, to a respected partner in security and development. Relations with your neighbors have improved markedly. Even more, you've taken the terrible materials of the past and transformed them into a mission to bring peace.
Rwanda’s peacekeeping contributions began in 2004 with the deployment of less than a couple hundred military personnel to Darfur as part of the African Union mission. Now, there are 3,500 Rwandans involved in UN missions around the world. While most of Rwanda's peacekeepers serve in Sudan, they have also proved valuable in Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti, the Central African Republic, and Chad.
Rwanda has paid the ultimate price on these missions, losing its sons. And I want to send, extend my personal sympathies and those of my government to the families of Sergeant John Twahirwa and Private Samuel Ntakirutimana, who gave their lives in Darfur just a few weeks ago.
For Rwanda, peacekeeping is practiced not in isolation, but also within the context of development. In Sudan, Rwandan soldiers have spread the Umuganda work tradition. They’ve manufactured bricks to build schools, and introduced rondereza – energy-efficient stoves – so women will not run such a risk of attack while searching for firewood.
Taking its commitments onto the global stage, Rwanda is now the current chair of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission. And it's been my privilege to work closely with your Ambassador to the United Nations Eugene Gasana in advancing that commission’s agenda to help war-torn societies reconcile, rebuild and develop. The Peacebuilding Commission is part of a broad set of reforms adopted at the United Nations in 2005, including a new doctrine known as “the responsibility to protect.”
This doctrine requires that the international community protect civilians even at the expense of a national government’s sovereignty, if and when that government fails to protect its own citizens – or, worse still -- is attacking them itself. This is a concept with special significance for Rwanda. And as you would expect, Rwanda is known globally as a strong and principled proponent of the responsibility to protect.
Every situation is different, and of course each situation calls for a different policy response. Yet many of us heard strong echoes of 1994 when Muammar Qaddafi promised he would root out the people of Benghazi and go house to house killing innocents like “rats” as he called them. Just yesterday, as the Foreign Minister said, I was in Libya. And there, I visited a detention facility that Qaddafi’s forces had torched before retreating from Tripoli. Over 100 people were killed by bullets and grenades in one small warehouse, and then their remains were lit on fire.
I knew from my visit to Rwanda in 1994 that such atrocities were likely in Libya, if Qaddafi went unchecked. I knew we should act, and so did President Obama.
Despite the risks and the costs, President Obama was determined not to sit back and watch another predictable horror unfold before his eyes. He knew that doing nothing would not only again stain our national conscience but also deliver a license to dictators to kill the Arab Spring in its very crib. He knew it would also send a terrible message about the international community’s inability to act – even with a call for help from the Libyan people and the Arab League, even with the capability to stop a massacre that would have left tens, if not hundreds, of thousands dead.
My President refused to let that happen. Knowing a no-fly zone alone would be too little too late, President Obama ordered me to try to get from the United Nations Security Council a robust mandate to protect civilians, one that allowed the aggressive use of airpower to halt Qaddafi’s advance. This time, the Security Council acted. And acted in time. Having failed in Rwanda, having failed in Darfur, it did not fail again in Libya. Within less than two days, American firepower played a decisive role in stopping Qaddafi’s forces and saving Benghazi, and our coalition continued its efforts to protect the Libyan people.
Because we all acted, countless men, women and children were spared. Because we acted, the Libyan people had the time and the space to end the Qaddafi regime and start a new beginning. Because we acted, the international community gave meaning to the promises that have been made by so many so many times here on Rwandan soil – that we will not stand idly by when we have the capability to stop an atrocity.
That is also why the United States is sending military advisors to support Central African states as they try to put an end to decades of war crimes committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
When it came to Libya, many African nations were silent, skeptical or even harshly critical of the decision to intervene to protect innocents. Not Rwanda. Alone among African nations outside the Security Council, Rwanda readily and publicly agreed. “Our responsibility to protect is unquestionable,” President Kagame said. And I further quote: “This is the right thing to do, and this view is backed with the authority of having witnessed and suffered the terrible consequences of international inaction.” So Rwanda has not just moved beyond its own genocide, it has consistently led by example, from Darfur to Libya, in standing up against those who would commit genocide or mass atrocities.
I have visited Rwanda now several times, and as always, I come here as a friend. This time, for the first time, I will be joined by my family. I want them to see your beautiful country and to learn what can be accomplished when a proud people unite in common cause. I want them also to witness and take inspiration from your achievements.
I believe as well that friends should speak frankly to friends.
Rwanda’s economic vitality has moved the country forward. Social progress has been substantial. Yet, the political culture in Rwanda remains comparatively closed. Press restrictions persist. Civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents of the government often fear organizing peacefully and speaking out. Some have been harassed. Some have been intimidated by late-night callers. Some have simply disappeared.
Yet, the world is moving rapidly in a different direction. Across the globe, including in societies where the common wisdom was that freedom would never arrive, we're seeing people demand the right to chart their own future, to organize peaceful demonstrations, and to criticize their own governments. From an angry young fruit seller in Tunisia, the demand to be heard has spread across North Africa and the Middle East. It has been taken up in Egypt. Then Libyans demanded the end to Qaddafi’s 42 years of tyranny. Today, Syrians and Yemenis are being killed by their governments simply for saying what they think about their leaders and their future. But they will keep speaking out, because they have a universal right to do so. And they know it.
These rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom to organize peacefully, are just as vital, just as inherent in Asia, in Latin America and in Sub-Saharan Africa as they are in Europe, America or the Middle East. As President Kagame said, and I quote, “The uprising in Libya has already sent a powerful—excuse me—has already sent a message to leaders in Africa and beyond. It is that if we lose touch with our people, if we do not serve them as they deserve and address their needs, there will be consequences. Their grievances will accumulate - and no matter how much time passes, they can turn against you.”
The deepening and the broadening of democracy can be the next great achievement of this great country and its remarkable people. In Rwanda, economic development and political openness can reinforce each other. This is Rwanda’s next great developmental challenge. And, with all that you have achieved over the past 17 years, I am confident you will pass this milestone as well.
Already, you are an example to all nations of what can be accomplished. You are an example to all nations of what can be accomplished after disaster strikes. Nothing can bring back what this nation has sacrificed. Grief wanes, but it never ends. Yet, we also know that the living must do credit to the lost, by building the future they should have been here to help build. A nation, just like a people, can overcome. Rwanda is proof.
Nearly half of Rwandans today were born after the genocide ended. The generation that came through the genocide is passing on a country much more rich with possibility, healthier, better educated, and at peace. I am grateful to witness your extraordinary progress. And, I am proud to affirm that the United States will continue to stand with you, in friendship and partnership, as you take Rwanda to the next level of development and democracy. Thank you, very, very much.