It is only Rwanda that hits global media headlines concerning very few outstanding countries whose economic growth records a rocket speed. President of Rwanda Paul Kagame has been applauded in a memoir published byThe New York Times online magazine also due to be released soon on its hardcopy magazine. It was the result of a long interview between President Kagame and the Paper’s reporter in Kigali.
The New York Times writes:
Kagame has built hundreds of new schools and laid miles of high-speed fiber-optic lines, wisely investing in infrastructure projects, including environmentally sound ones like a coming geothermal energy plant. Rwanda now has one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent, despite the fact that it doesn’t have significant mineral deposits and is landlocked, deep in the green heart of Africa, hundreds of miles from the sea. Granted, Rwanda will never be a Singapore-like industrial hub — it simply costs too much to bring in raw materials, and as Kagame explained, many Rwandan workers lack marketable skills. But Kagame hopes to make more money from coffee, tea and gorillas — Rwanda is home to some of the last remaining mountain gorillas, and each year throngs of Western tourists pay thousands of dollars to see them.
“Rwanda has surpassed everybody’s expectations and continues to amaze,” says Jendayi Frazer, a former assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, who helped steer tens of millions of dollars in American aid to Rwanda.
That aid flows to Rwanda because Kagame is a celebrated manager. He’s a hands-on chief executive who is less interested in ideology than in making things work. He loves new technology — he’s an avid tweeter — and is very good at breaking sprawling, ambitious projects into manageable chunks. Rwanda jumped to 52nd last year, from 158th in 2005, on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business annual rating, precisely because Kagame set up a special unit within his government, which broke down the World Bank’s ratings system, category by category, and figured out exactly what was needed to improve on each criterion.
Corruption, Kagame told me, is “like a weevil.” It eats its way into the flesh of a country and “just kills a nation.”
“Even Kagame’s most strident critics acknowledge that much has improved under his stewardship. Rwandan life expectancy, for instance, has increased to 56 years, from 36 in 1994. Malaria used to be a huge killer, but Kagame’s government has embarked on a wide-scale spraying campaign and has distributed millions of nets to protect people when they are sleeping — malarial mosquitoes tend to feed at night — and malaria-related deaths plummeted 85 percent between 2005 and 2011.
No country in Africa, if not the world, has so thoroughly turned itself around in so short a time, and Kagame has shrewdly directed the transformation. Measured against many of his colleagues, like the megalomaniac Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who ran a beautiful, prosperous nation straight into the ground, or the Democratic Republic of Congo’s amiable but feckless Joseph Kabila, who is said to play video games while his country falls apart, Kagame seems like a godsend. Spartan, stoic, analytical and austere, he routinely stays up to 2 or 3 a.m. to thumb through back issues of The Economist or study progress reports from red-dirt villages across his country, constantly searching for better, more efficient ways to stretch the billion dollars his government gets each year from donor nations that hold him up as a shining example of what aid money can do in Africa. He is a regular at Davos, the world economic forum, and friendly with powerful people, including Bill Gates and Bono. The Clinton Global Initiative honored him with a Global Citizen award, and Bill Clinton said that Kagame “freed the heart and the mind of his people.” This praise comes in part because Kagame has made indisputable progress fighting the single greatest ill in Africa: poverty.
Alfred said that his family’s life had improved under Kagame. “My kids eat more than I did,” he said. Everything’s up — security, education, health.”
Many of the diplomats and analysts I talked to told me that this is exactly what the continent needs: “more Kagames, more highly skilled strongmen who can turn around messy, conflict-prone societies and get medicine in the hospitals and police officers on the street and plastic bags out of the trees”. The argument goes; a premium is put on preserving stability and minimizing physical suffering, saving lives from malaria, from hunger, from preventable, poverty-driven diseases that are endemic across Africa.
One innovative way Kagame tightly monitors the various levels of his government is by demanding that officials sign imihigo, or goals. The imihigo function like corporate performance contracts, multipage documents delineating specific targets, from the number of street signs to be posted in a given year to the tons of pineapples harvested. Kagame’s staff printed out a couple of imihigo for me, each one signed by Kagame himself. I was struck by the obsessive attention to detail, down to the number of adults in a specific rural district who were going to be taught to read (1,500) to the number of cows inseminated (3,000).