OPINION | Thriving Rwanda leaves us in the shade

PREMIUM

This week the tiny central African nation of Rwanda is holding memorial events to mark 25 years since the slaughter of almost a million of its people. By their compatriots!
This month SA marks a quarter century since the end of apartheid and the birth of democracy.
Both countries emerged from brutal, tragic pasts. The similarities end about there. The fortunes of SA and Rwanda have since diverged. Leadership is the defining feature.
The people of SA must accept responsibility for the post-1994 chaos. We chose Jacob Zuma, Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane and Julius Malema as our leaders.
Rwandans, on the other hand, did not have much of a choice in who their leader would be after the genocide. But, if the past 25 years are anything to go by, Rwandans have won by having Paul Kagame as their leader.
From the ashes of the genocide, a tiny nation has made great strides in human development. Kagame has turned out to be a dictator, but a benevolent one. Today Rwanda is a beacon of stability in a very rough neighbourhood.
From a low base, the economy has raced ahead at 6.1% a year in the past seven years, according to the World Bank. That is lower than the 10-year average 8.4% and 7.3% growth achieved in the years to 2000 and 2010. This year Rwanda is chasing growth of 7.8%. Gross national income (GNI) a person has tripled, from $620 in 2000 to $1,990 two years ago.
While a lot has been achieved over the same period in SA, a lot has also gone wrong. After rising steadily through the 1990s, GDP growth hit a high of just over 5% a year in 2007. At 0.8% last year, SA’s economy is dwarfed by population growth of 1.3%.
GNI per capita has dropped from $6,150 in 2010 to $5,430 in 2017. Of course, those who want to paint a picture of progress will point out, correctly, that GNI stood at $3,020 in the year 2000 and at $3,280 in 1990.
Rwanda’s progress is the result of its government’s determination to ensure the place becomes a magnet for investment. Kagame tolerates no corruption or other crime. His government regularly intervenes in neighbouring states to neutralise threats to stability.
You need 45 days to start a business in SA; in Rwanda it is four days. Rwanda’s birthrate among women aged 15-19 has dropped to 27 births per 1,000 women in 2017, from 63 per 1,000 women in 1990. In SA 44 out of 1,000 women of the same age gave birth in 2017.
Life expectancy has increased to 67 years in Rwanda while a person born in SA in 2017 can expect to live to 63. In Kigali, the Rwandan capital, some years ago I was able to walk alone in the streets at midnight, and came across other pedestrians walking solo. In Joburg, doing so even during the day is rapidly becoming an extreme sport.
Yet in 1994, SA held more promise, considering the natural resources it is blessed with, compared to the nothingness of Rwanda. It turns out that leadership, not resources in the ground, makes all the difference.
Under Kagame’s dictatorship, Rwanda is on course to become a middle-income country in 10 years’ time. SA, on the other hand, will still be looking to the likes of David Mabuza and Ace Magashule to visit more ruin upon the nation...

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