As Rwanda hosts WEF Africa, 10 things you may not have known about this small nation punching above its weight

Punching far above its weight - following through - implementation - Africa's doer

RWANDA this week hosts the World Economic Forum on Africa.

Considering the theme is “Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation”, it couldn’t have been placed in a more suitable country for the transformation that Rwanda has undergone since the 1994 genocide in which nearly one million people were killed. 

In many respects Rwanda, the fourth smallest country on mainland Africa,  punches far above its weight and has become a champion in so many of the categories needed to leapfrog and position itself as an African, and even global, leader.

Champion of women: the first country in the world to have more than 50% female members of Parliament

Gender equality is enshrined in the constitution and Rwanda was the first country in the world to have more than 50% female members of Parliament. Last year, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, Rwandan women even beat American women in both labour force participation and government representation. 88%  of women in Rwanda have jobs, compared to 66% of women in the US. In Africa, Rwanda has the third highest percentage of women entrepreneurs of any country in Africa. 41% percent of businesses are run by women. Only Ghana, with 44%, and Cape Verde, at 43%, have more women active in business. 

Champion in embracing new tech: Rwanda chosen for world’s first ‘drone-port’

Rwanda is set to become home to the world’s very first drone port. The initiative came about as part of a programme where drones and drone routes are being set up to deliver urgent and precious supplies to remote areas on a massive scale. 

The first of these is set to launch in Rwanda in August, Zipline will provide a drone delivery service whereby medicine can be delivered to places that are hard to reach. The “Zips” are small fixed-wing drones with a pop-open compartment on the bottom that releases a small package with a parachute before returning home.

Three “drone-port” buildings are currently due for completion by 2020, enabling the drones to cover almost half of Rwanda’s countryside.

Champion of agriculture and food security: the first country to sign a CAADP compact

Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) is an African-led programme bringing together governments and diverse stakeholders to reduce hunger and poverty and promote economic growth through agricultural development. In 2007, Rwanda was the first country to sign a CAADP compact. Today Rwanda is one of the few African countries to meet the CAADP-recommended target of 10% of agricultural expenditure in the national budget.

The country was the first in Africa to officially launch iron beans developed through conventional breeding.

Environmental champion: the first country in the world to ban plastic bags

Rwanda was the first country in the world to ban plastic bags. It did so in 2006 and today the countryside and cities are remarkably plastic bag-free. By banning plastic bags Rwanda drastically lowers the serious environmental damage that plastic waste causes. Rwanda was also the first country to commit to nationwide landscape restoration through forest planting, terracing, and soil restoration and the Ministry of Natural Resources has been accredited for direct access to funding from the international Green Climate Fund.

It’s initiatives like this that earned Rwanda 3rd place in a listing for the “top 20 world greenest places for 2015” according to World Travel Guide, an international travel guide for adventurous travellers. 

Champion of business: the first African country to head the World Bank’s Doing Business reforms

Rwanda was the first African country to head the World Bank’s Doing Business reforms and continues to be the best African performer in improving the ease of doing business - a key factor in attracting investment. It has been amongst the world’s best two reformers over the past two years and this has contributed to an anticipated rise - its development board predicts that foreign direct investment in Rwanda will grow 36% this year to $1.5 billion. 

Champion of health: first country in Africa to introduce the human papillomavirus vaccine

Rwanda was the first country in Africa to introduce the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The reason this is so important? HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus found in virtually all cases of cervical cancer and which kills 275,000 women every year. It is the biggest contributor to years of life lost from cancer among women in the developing world. Rwanda rolled out the programme in 2011 and free vaccines were administered through multi-year school-based campaigns. Since then the HPV vaccine has been well integrated into the immunisation programme and health system.

Another health bonus is that Rwanda is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa in which 85% of the population participates in mutual insurance programmes for their health coverage. Mandatory participation in these schemes for the poor have led to considerable improvement in public health and health care. 

Champion of wildlife: Rwanda is the only country whose mountain gorilla population is growing

Rwanda has been at the forefront of gorilla conservation efforts for years and is the only country whose mountain gorilla population is growing. Poaching, disease, and habitat loss had reduced their numbers to around 250 in 1985 across their range in central Africa. Today there are approximately 900 left and nearly half of them live in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

This is thanks to the renewed efforts of national conservation authorities, the local populations and the support they have received from the international community. An event that keeps this support going is the gorilla baby naming ceremony, now in its 12th year. This event receives thousands of international, regional and local visitors, generating more funding for community projects and awareness of the importance of conservation.

Key player in international peace: the first country to send peace troops to Darfur

Rwanda was the first country to intervene in Darfur, deploying its first peacekeepers in 2004 in order to protect ceasefire monitors under the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). This decision was influenced by the way the mission was framed as an effort to prevent genocide. Today it maintains three infantry battalions of servicemen and women including 59 military observers, staff and liaison officers. Since then, Rwanda has emerged as one of the largest peacekeepers in the world, contributing the highest percentage of troops per national capita to UN peacekeeping missions. 

First country to subject herself to the evaluation of the African PeerReview Mechanism

Rwanda was the first country to subject herself to the evaluation of the African Peer
Review Mechanism (APRM) in 2005. APRM was designed by the African Union to promote more effective governance across four thematic areas: Democracy and Political Governance, Corporate Governance, Economic Governance and Management and Socio-economic Development. Rwanda successfully undertook all five stages of the APRM process; a self assessment by a team of diverse stakeholders representing different interest groups and this was followed by a peer review by an external team that reviewed the internal assessment undertaken by Rwanda together with independently collected data from other sources. 

The final stage was undertaken during a heads of state convention as a final review of the whole process where Rwanda was endorsed for being on track and for having made several reforms in line with recommendations. 

Champion of regionalism: the first to implement the East African Community’s decision to allow citizens travel using national identity cards

In 2014 Rwandan President Kagame travelled to Uganda using his national ID officially marking the launch of national IDs, voter and student cards as travel documents in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Rwanda was the first to implement the Heads of State’s for the decision to allow citizens travel to using national identity cards. Rwanda was also the first EAC member to abolish working permits for citizens of the EAC to promote the free movement of labour.

Also, together with Seychelles, it was among the first African countries to remove pre-arrival visa requirements for all Africans.

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