From the brink of destruction to one of the world's fastest growing economies
As the Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul came down to land at Kigali International Airport in the very early hours of July 3, sitting next to me, Egyptian Abdel Ismail on a business trip to Uganda, said: "There is a gulf of difference between the Rwanda of 1994, and now."
Referring to the notorious genocide for which Rwanda was known to the world, he said: "This country has been able to miraculously leave it's tragic past behind, to become one of the greatest examples of reconciliation, not only in Africa, but also for the rest of the world."
"Enjoy yourself in this beautiful country," he added as we parted.
In the next three days, I realized just how right my Egyptian friend was.
This was my first visit to Rwanda in Central Africa.
I was in Rwanda to take part in the first ever Kigali Global Dialogue at a leading hotel just opposite the Embassy of China, which has already made significant inroads in the continent of Africa. China has been described by many as the future influential player in the world.
The government of Rwanda, in association with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a leading Indian think tank, organized the event to highlight the potential of Africa, especially Rwanda. Of course, many attending the dialogue were of the opinion that the involvement of the ORF was nothing but a counter to Chinese influence in Rwanda and the rest of Africa, a notion vehemently brushed aside by the President of the think tank.
Anyway, let's forget about the geopolitics for now and focus on the tremendous transformation of Rwanda.
The Rwandan surprise for me began with the journey from the airport to the hotel in the diplomatic enclave. Kigali is a hilly green city, extraordinarily cleanl and disciplined. I never expected so many good things of this African nation.
As a journalist, I did know how Rwanda suffered in the worst genocide since the Second World War. I was also aware how Rwanda clawed back from the devastation of genocide, through reconciliation. However, the extent of Rwandan development was beyond my imagination.
In 1994, the Hutu-led government and it's militia massacred more than a million Tutsis and a third of the Twa people. About 70 per cent of the Tutsi population was wiped out. On July 4, 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Force, led by current President Paul Kagame, a retired General, defeated the Hutu government forces and militia and liberated the country. Since then, July 4 is celebrated as the Liberation Day of Rwanda.
Following the liberation of Rwanda, which is one-fifth the size of Bangladesh with 11 million people, there were international and domestic trials to hold the perpetrators of the genocide accountable and many were punished.
After a while, the Rwandan leadership realized there was no choice other than reconciliation for the nation to move forward. And the leadership, led by Kagame, who himself is a Tutsi, began the process of reconciliation by abolishing identification by ethnicity, that was introduced by colonial Belgium. Now, every person is identified as a Rwandan rather than a Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa.
That was the beginning. Since then, Rwanda has come a long way, overcoming all odds . From the brink of destruction, the East African nation has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world and an example for the globe in many aspects, especially women's empowerment. It might sound astonishing to many that more than half the cabinet members are women. So is it in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament. There is also significant representation of women in the Senate, the upper house of Parliament.
It's worth mentioning another aspect of their turnaround concerning the provisioning of healthcare. In Rwanda, emergency medicines can be reached to any remote place in the country using drones, something not yet done in developed countries.
Whoever comes to visit Rwanda will undoubtedly realize the power of a nation that is united.