Life after War
By Sheen Msusa
Published: 01-FEB-04

A decade down the line, Rwanda's post-genocide economy is still trying to pick itself up and to identify its true abode in the economically challenging world.

In 1994, the central African country of Rwanda witnessed slaughter on a grand scale. About a million lives were lost to an apparent ethnic cleansing staged by the majority Hutus against the minority Tutsis. More than two million people including intellectuals fled from the country whilst others were displaced internally, hence crippling the already rickety economy.

In the first week of April in 1994, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien IMtaryamira, were killed in a plane crash. Their plane had been missiled by the majority Hutus who were on a campaign of flushing out the Tutsis, an ethnic group that accounts for only 14% of Rwanda's population.

Hours after the assassinations a massacre ensued. More than 100 000 people - mainly Hutus - picked up their machetes and began witch-hunting, not only the Tutsis, but also the moderate Hutus. At least 10 000 people were butchered every day for a space of 100 days. At the end of the bloodbath the agro-based landlocked economy had seen 12% of its population slaughtered and the departure of another 25%, in search of a safe haven in the neighbouring countries of Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.

Economic life in Rwanda was reduced by almost 50% and the socio-economic infrastructure was ruined as the genocidal forces looted both public and private property. All crucial business entities like banks put shutters on their doors. Rwanda also risked the loss of international confidence. In what was branded as an 'ultimate betrayal' aid agencies and all other foreign missions except China had abandoned Rwandans by the second week of the killings.

In the former Belgian colony a vacuum of skilled people was created when specialists like lawyers, accountants, doctors and engineers had either been slaughtered by the cruel machetes or had fled for their safety.

The social fabric ripped. Families got separated and chronic poverty set in as it became almost impossible for people to work in their fields.

Today, Rwandans who are still learning to live together are joining en masse trying to turn their fractured economy into an El Dorado. About 1.3 million Rwandans have now returned home. The socio-economic infrastructure is getting a much needed facelift, though improvements are happening slowly. An economic miracle has been taking place of late in the country, which has registered an average growth rate of 9�/o since 1995.

Inflation has been trimmed from 65% in the days that followed the genocide to the prevailing 5% From 1999 to 2002 Rwanda registered a Gross National Product (GNP) growth of 6%.

The Kigali administration, in its bid to rebuild the economy, is working assiduously to create a stable milieu for investment. Steps are being taken to liberalise the economy, which has a lot of business potential, and Rwanda now has at least 10 commercial banks that are operating. To add zing to the bid, the legal framework has also been shaped to woo foreign investors. Under the Commodity Code, investors who are working towards the development of big business are exempted from import and sales taxes.

Munificence has also been extended to enterprises that make a capital investment of not less than US$ 100 000. Such business establishments as per an Investment Code passed in 1998 are automatically entitled to three work permits. To season the investment drive, in mid 2000, Rwanda established an investment promotion agency to facilitate investment in the country. The Rwanda Investment Promotion Agency has proved to be a one-stop shop for investment information.

After being in the commercial realms for 'too' long, the Rwandan government has embarked on an ambitious privatisation programme, reportedly 'to reduce the presence of the public sector in the economy'. Working on the mandate from a 1996 law on Privatisation and Public Investment, over 70 state-owned companies have been earmarked for privatisation to foster efficiency and to relieve the government of its hefty administrative burden. So far, about 20 companies have already been sold out, mostly to foreign buyers.

The rejuvenating economy is also trying to diversify its pursuits, with of course agriculture topping the agenda, taking advantage of the country's two rainy seasons. With about 90% of the

Kigali is grappling with problems of destitution, which are posing great threat to the recovering economy.

population engaged in rain-fed agricultural production, Rwanda is utilising its arable land, which makes up to 32 percent of its 24,948 sq km land area. So far the country is doing well in cassava, banana, pulses and sorghum as food craps and in coffee, tea and pyrethrum as cash crops.

International confidence has also been regained, and Kigali is now boasting about 26 foreign missions. The country still depends on foreign aid to balance its national budget. Foreign donors, who fund up to 75�/o of Kigali's budget, are at least now proving to be friends indeed. Rwanda has just been approved for the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank Heavily Indebted Poar Country (HIPC) initiative debt relief.

The IMF, which reviewed Rwanda's economic performance last June under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) arrangement, has also allowed Kigali to withdraw some money under the fund. In spite of all the songs of praise that are being sung about Rwanda in its post-genocide era, the economy is undoubtedly facing challenges that it cannot defy easily.

Kigali is grappling with problems of destitution, which are posing a great threat to the recovering economy. Although 3.5 million people have been resettled, over 400 000 returnees are yet to be housed, and observers say the homeless are prone to endanger the internal security of this most densely populated country in Africa.

With most adults dead and gone, 120 000 children are orphaned, and about 80 000 households are headed by children. Close to 70% of these child-headed household are run by girls who have been forced to grow up overnight.

There are also 250 000 children who are orphaned. About 6 000 of these children are in the street where they risk being sexually abused or drawn into the world of crime. According to latest figures only 65 000 children have been reunited with their families.

To make matters worse, Rwanda has no adequate schools nor does it have enough teachers to keep the kids off the street. The country has slightly over 2 000 primary schools and about 360 secondary schools with a poor teacher-student ration of 1 to 52. The big question that remains is whether these children and other vulnerable groups will benefit from a victims' fund set up by the 1996 Genocide Law, which promises the susceptible groups food on their table and a roof over their heads.

More than 60% of Rwandans are hovering below the breadline. The country also lacks like doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers and the economic infrastructure is not up to the mark. Many roads are impenetrable and the country's telecommunication infrastructure is appalling. There are only 680 000 telephone line in Rwanda, 90% of which are in the country's capital, Kigali. This means that only 8.5% of the population has access to telephones. Together, infrastructure deficits have been slowing down the economy.

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