Africa's homegrown development solutions
By Paul Kagame
Africa today has the opportunity to play its rightful role in the global arena. But to do so the continent needs to speak with one voice and be competitive in all aspects. This, in turn, demands radical socio-economic transformation. Of course, none of that can happen until Africa’s people lead dignified lives and can take full charge of their development agenda.
To that end, African countries need a new kind of leadership—one that has vision, passion and commitment for rapid development as well as for the well being of its people. In a word, leadership that is transformational. These leaders—ones focused on securing Africa’s prosperity and ensuring its relevance—must be confident, assertive, innovative and committed to promoting and defending the continent’s interests. Above all, these leaders should be prepared to seek solutions from within the philosophies and practices of their societies, and to develop ideas that propel their countries forward even if it means embracing the unorthodox.
But let me be clear: no individual leader or country acting alone will achieve a continent-wide qualitative change or play a significant global role. These benefits can only come about if leadership seeks and promotes cooperation across Africa on a wide range of issues.
The need for change and for the agents that can bring it about signifies that Africa has not lived up to its full potential. The question, then, is: What do we need to do to correct the situation? In the words of an eminent Nigerian, “we must first find out when the rain started beating us.”
Though Africa is not where it should be, it is certainly not because of a lack of resources or human capital. Indeed I have no doubts about the intellectual and entrepreneurial potential of the continent. Rather than capability, the issue has been that we do not have enough leaders across a variety of fields with the ideas to change our societies, the capacity to mobilize our people, or the vision and drive to spur innovation and competitiveness.
Of course, Africa has had leaders—some of them great—over the last fifty years of independence. But despite the liberation and post-independence ideals, visions were only partially realized. Africa lost decades in terms of its much-needed development. To be fair, Africa’s shortcomings cannot be entirely attributed to its leaders. Other factors contributed to the lack of development, such as the mostly-deficient colonial structures that we inherited and external control of the development processes.
Nonetheless, in the last two decades, Africa has started to move again. It has entered a new phase. Its leaders are no longer looking externally for solutions to internal issues because homegrown ideas are providing answers. Answers not only for development but also for the restoration of our dignity.
All of this, of course, means change. Now, change of any sort is a journey into the unknown, and unacceptable conditions alone cannot provide sufficient drive to venture ahead. Transformational leaders—agents of change—should bring everyone along with them. To do so, they must use practices and beliefs that people identify with, which can help remove fear and help them embrace change, own it and even build on it. The collective wisdom that results from both the use of culture, as well as participation, makes people shareholders in the enterprise that is their country. And shareholders want and expect good dividends.
Looking ahead, Africa’s transformational leadership will face adversity. Those who have historically treated Africa as a continent of followers rather than leaders will want to halt the development of such homegrown ideas. Some will do so out of sheer ignorance; however, more often than not they will disrupt progress with subversive intent. But this cannot deter us because success built on internally generated ideas breeds confidence and fosters dignity.
Let me offer an illustration from Rwanda. In Rwanda we have consciously drawn from our history and culture to drive our social, political and economic development for the simple reason that it works.
In the aftermath of the genocide in 1994, Rwanda was faced with a huge problem. Considering the large number of perpetrators and the need to give victims justice as well as restore social harmony, conventional political and justice systems were totally inadequate for the task. So we opted for Gacaca, a traditional conflict resolution mechanism. In a decade, Gacaca tried close to two million cases at a cost of less than $1 billion USD compared to the 60 cases tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that cost about $2 billion dollars.
But the significance of Gacaca goes beyond the number of cases and their cost. Because it was the first homegrown policy solution successfully applied to a seemingly intractable problem, it inspired and empowered Rwandans to seek and use similar initiatives for broader national development. In fact, Gacaca’s success catalyzed a generation of ideas and values crucial to national development: resilience, self-reliance, confidence and social cohesion. Most importantly, the initiative restored Rwandans’ pride in their cultural values as a source of remedies to current challenges, innovation and approaches to development.
Similarly, the Government of Rwanda initiated the Girinka (one cow per poor household) program adapted from the traditional Rwandan solidarity practice of giving each other a cow as a pact of friendship and support in the event of misfortune or dire need. In its modern application, Girinka addresses several issues at once: improved nutrition, income generation and increased agricultural productivity. This initiative, together with other efforts, has contributed to a 12% reduction in poverty from 56.9% to 44.9% between 2005 and 2010. Furthermore, it raised one million people or 10% of the population out of poverty.
What works internally may have applications across the continent as well. This is especially important to keep in mind as we focus on greater cooperation and integration. Our shared trade and investment efforts can help us keep up with the emerging and strong economies and will guarantee the individual and collective strength of our countries ultimately contributing to our relevance.
Looking at an example from East Africa is instructive. As a result of the economic integration of the five member states of the East African Community, the region’s total trade with the rest of the world more than doubled between 2005 and 2010, rising from $17.5 billion to $37 billion dollars. Foreign Direct Investments also rose from $683 million in 2005 to $1.7 billion in 2011.
Greater cooperation also extends to peace and stability. Today, African leaders are investing in continent-generated solutions to issues of political stability and conflict resolution. The results so far are encouraging: Somalia is re-emerging as a viable country. Sudan and South Sudan are on the road to peaceful co-existence. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, regional efforts hold the greatest promise of an enduring resolution to the conflict there.
In conclusion, I submit that Africa’s position and relevance in an increasingly competitive global environment will be ensured by leaders and people that refuse to be second best and that stand up for their shared interests. Looking ahead, leaders across Africa must focus on dignity - individually and collectively - and on our culture and history as a source of solutions for our development needs.
As a final word, for Africa to have a bigger voice in world affairs, it is imperative that the momentum the continent has gained is maintained and even fast-tracked. That duty falls on those in charge of our countries today, but more so to those who will pick up the baton from them. We have no other option.
This article was adapted from President Kagame’s remarks to Oxford University’s Said Business School on May 18, 2013.
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