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By Interview by Peter Guest | Published: 29 December, 2009
“A lot is changing. The voices of Africa are becoming more pronounced. There is insistence on Africa being taken seriously by Africans themselves, and Africans are trying to assert themselves and not only say the right things but also be seen to be doing the right things”
International capital investment will be vital for African development, but governance reform should be indigenously driven and not imposed by external actors, says Rwandan president Paul Kagame.
Mr Kagame, a softly-spoken former soldier, assumed power in 2000 and since then has overseen one of Africa’s – if not the world’s – most compelling stories of economic growth. Since the turn of the millennium, Rwanda’s GDP growth has averaged more than 7 percent per year. In the past five years the rate of that growth had been increasing, hitting a high of 11.2 percent in 2008, until the effects of the global economic downturn began to impact on the country, curtailing growth to 5.3 percent in 2009.
Underpinning this growth have been sustained private sector reforms that have attracted inward investment into agriculture and telecommunications. The World Bank’s 2010 “Doing Business” report, which tracks global business regulation, put Rwanda at the top of the reform table, stating that Kigali had lowered more barriers to investment than anywhere else in the world. It is this success that has elevated Mr Kagame to a platform from which he has been able to broadcast his message of self-determination with confidence and credibility. Aid, he has prescribed, is not working in its current form. It is through investment that the continent will develop, and the reform process that its governments undergo must be pushed by domestic factors, not by conditionality imposed by donors.
He acknowledges that the gulf between the perception of the continent and the reality on the ground is a massive challenge in terms of courting this investment. Rwanda perhaps suffers more than anywhere else in this regard. In 1994 the country was torn apart by a genocide that left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead and whose aftershocks still contribute to ethnic tensions and instability in the region. The tragedy also imprinted on the Western consciousness an image of suffering that still endures 15 years later. Bridging that gap is, to some extent, a domestic issue, he says, “But it’s also the task for those from outside to pick up the right signals and to change their own perceptions about Africa, and also about the kind of relationship that has to exist between Africa and the rest of the world.”
In a Financial Times article in May 2009, Mr Kagame condemned the “sentimentality” of the G20 and other multilaterals in their discussions on Africa, as well as the prevalence of the donor-recipient model in international relations with the continent. However, that relationship is already maturing, he says. “I think a lot is changing. The voices of Africa are becoming more pronounced. There is insistence on Africa being taken seriously by Africans themselves, and Africans are trying to assert themselves and not only say the right things but also be seen to be doing the right things,” he says. “I also see the emergence of a new approach and attitude from outside of Africa from the rest of the world. There are certain realities that people are learning from… people are discovering that on their side there are a lot of things they need to do, for their own benefit and for their own countries, in Europe or America.”