The Head of State was delivering ‘Majulah Lecture’ to close to 1000 participants in a session moderated by Prof. Subra Suresh, President of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore in the morning of Friday 30th September 2022.
The event followed the signing of a partnership agreement between the Government of Rwanda represented by the Ministry of Education and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) allowing Rwandan students to get opportunities to study at the academic institution starting next year.
President Kagame said that the partnership is a result of a discussion he had with Professor Suresh a few years ago, and an addition to Rwanda’s relationship with Singapore.
“We are enthusiastic about the opportunities that this collaboration will open up for both Rwandan and Singaporean students and researchers, and we intend to make the most of it,” he said.
The Head of State said that he considers the invitation to deliver the ‘Majulah Lecture’ a particular honour, because the title is drawn from Singapore’s national anthem where “Majulah” is a call to progress, to move forward, together and united.
Kagame also reminisced on Rwanda’s journey over the past 28 years.
In 1994, Rwanda had basically ceased to exist as a nation. A million people lay dead, out of a population of around seven million, because of a perverted genocidal ideology. Millions more were refugees. Every public institution had been destroyed, and the national treasury was looted.
The Head of State went on to explain that , to most observers, what Rwandans could aspire to, in the generation which followed that tragedy, was simply to survive where ‘charting a pathway to prosperity seemed like a preposterous dream’.
Even though the country still has a long way to go, the President stated that it has been fundamentally transformed for the better.
He stressed that Rwanda found its way forward through home-grown solutions in three key areas.
Firstly, Kagame pointed out the country’s need to innovate around national unity and social cohesion where it started by creating security, considered as the basis for anything else to happen.
To this end, Rwanda also immediately initiated the process of merging the liberation army with the defeated army of the former government.
“A country without a shared national identity has no future. Rwanda’s historic unity had been progressively corrupted by the previous colonial and post-independence governments,” he said.
The Head of State said that Rwanda restored a traditional practice where a monthly community service brought all citizens together to improve their neighbourhoods.
The country also released genocide suspects back into their communities, where they were judged through Gacaca courts that focused both on punishment and on bringing the truth to light. This initiative was important for survivors and perpetrators to be able to live together again.
Among others, Rwanda focused on equipping young Rwandans with a positive concept of citizenship that emphasizes ‘what we all share, rather than what divides us’.
As a result, today, independent polls find that Rwanda has some of the highest levels of social trust in the world.
Secondly, Kagame pointed out, innovations in techniques of inclusive, citizen-oriented governance unlike the past where public institutions and assets were treated as the property of a few.
He gave an example of such poor governance in the past where studying at secondary school was a privilege afforded to those with political connections.
“But whenever citizens do not enjoy equal rights and treatment, a country’s stability is at risk. This is why we strive to establish a culture of meritocracy, where every young Rwandan knows that hard work and excellence will bring rewards, regardless of background,” Kagame noted.
The President also talked about the signing of performance contracts (Imihigo) by leaders at different levels of government as a practice that has become a habit.
“These are performance contracts that specify what is to be delivered and how to measure it. This is one of the tools we have adopted to encourage citizens to be fully involved in holding government to account. The practice is simple but powerful, and also affordable,” he said.
The Head of State underscored that the third area of innovation that Rwanda prioritized was technology.
“In the late 1990s, the government decided to make internet access and digital skills a keynote of our economic strategy. We even got pushback from some or our partners, the donors, at the time, who thought that technology was a luxury for a poor country. Fortunately, we persisted, and today services are the fastest-growing segment of the Rwandan economy, largely building on those infrastructure and training investments,” he said.
All public services, such as obtaining birth certificates or paying tax, are now done online, via a platform called Irembo, which is largely designed and operated by Rwandan professionals.
Kagame also hinted at Rwanda’s ambitions to become a vaccine and medicines manufacturing hub where the first end-to-end mRNA manufacturing facility in Africa will be launched by the German company BioNTech in Kigali.
He highlighted that what connects these three types of innovation that made a difference on Rwanda’s journey is the importance of mindset change.
Rwanda and Singapore enjoy cordial relations. The country’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong recently visited Rwanda during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in June. He was also hosted at Urugwiro Village by President Kagame.
At the time, the Head of State said that he had a very productive discussions with the Prime Minister of Singapore and thanked the country for being a reliable partner with Rwanda and expressed optimism that both countries will be doing even more together, in the years ahead.
“We value highly the trade and investment links as well as the cooperation between our central banks. Both our countries have created a strong foundation. Singapore’s development model and its commitment to social cohesion and national unity are very impressive,” he said.
Both countries have partnership in the areas of investment, trade, education, rule of law, technology and air transport service among others.
Figures show that Singaporean investment in Rwanda is estimated at US$150 million.