April 2014 is the twentieth anniversary of two monumental events on the African continent. In 1994, South Africans began voting in their first-ever multi-party, democratic election. Elsewhere, in the same month, a genocide was taking place in Rwanda, where an estimated 10,000 people would be killed every day over a 100 day period, while the rest of the world stood by. Rwanda was left with no institutions or government and the genocide destroyed trust amongst its people.
South Africa and Rwanda symbolize the evolution of the African continent – for every positive step achieved in one part, we are constantly reminded that there is a ‘long walk’ ahead for many others; for every success story like Botswana, there is a Central African Republic and a Somalia, which are still finding their way towards peace, reconciliation and development.
Rwanda’s emergence from the genocide shows that it can be done. It’s efforts at nation-rebuilding have yielded substantial results: in the last few years, 1 million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty; agricultural exports have grown by 25% each year (2008-12); a 61% decrease in child mortality rates since 2000; and, most importantly, a tenfold increase in government revenue has helped the Rwandans to more than halve its dependence on aid from 85% to 40%.
Some critics suggest that foreign aid has been the primary reason for Rwanda’s success. And they are not wrong – aid has certainly played a big role. However, what one cannot take away from the Rwandans is their ability to deploy this aid effectively, while making difficult trade-offs. Today, Rwanda ranks 32nd on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, boasts an online tax filing system (using mobile phones) and a Special Economic Zone, all of which have been enabled by governance and accountability mechanisms that improve efficiency and decrease corruption. At the same time, Rwandans are criticized for other choices, e.g. using the Gacaca system of community justice to try the genocide perpetrators. However, with an urgent need to try millions of people and heal the nation, the standard court process would have been long and impractical. Rwanda is also making tentative steps towards political and social transformation, especially in the area of media and access to information laws and will hopefully continue to make the difficult, but the right choices for their young country.
As a former advisor to the Rwandan government and a current MBA / Lauder student, I am proud to see Wharton’s and Penn’s active engagement in Africa. From our GMC’s in Kigali and Cape Town, undergrad programs in Ghana and the Medical partnership with the government of Botswana, the university is doing its bit to engage with the continent in a constructive way. We should celebrate Africa’s success, but, at the same time, let us not forget the lives that were lost and continue to be lost on the continent. We must support those African countries that are trying to leave the crossroads and forge ahead and let us collectively ensure that genocide takes place ‘Never Again’.