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Rwanda’s Covid-19 response: A great indicator of a strong state

Last week two stories linked to Rwanda’s Covid-19 response made headlines.  The first one featured Rwanda on the list of 14 non-European countries, whose citizens and residents can travel to the European Union with effect from July 1, 2020.  The other three African nations being Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, making Rwanda the only sub-Saharan country to get the green light,  The second story was about a United States of America Congresswoman Donna Shalala, who lamented about the poor response of her country and wondered how Rwanda could perform better than the United States in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.  The two developments are important because they demonstrate the benefits of decisive leadership, honest communication, and the efficacy of the Rwandan Government. Rwanda, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to impose a lockdown on March 22, 2020, and to provide free mass testing to over 160,550 by the date of this article is now ranked a “Very low Covid-19 risk” country.   Important as the above developments are, the real reason to celebrate should be how far we have come as a nation in terms of building a capable state.  Covid-19 has been a stress test for all governments around the world.  Those countries without strong governments have been caught flat-footed. This is because when a pandemic strikes, a country can only rely on existing systems to respond effectively.  In the year 2000, the Government of Rwanda, after 2 years of a nationwide consultative process, adopted Vision 2020, a blueprint that would guide the country’s agenda for the following 20 years. It was anchored on six pillars Good governance and a capable state, Human resource development and a Knowledge-based economy, Private sector development, Infrastructure Development, Productive high value and market-oriented agriculture, and Regional and international integration. The cross-cutting issues of the vision were Gender equality, Natural resources, and the Environment and Science Technology and ICT. As we wound up 2019, Rwandans were satisfied that what we set out to do as a nation in 2020 was largely achieved.  We looked at the future with confidence that although the task ahead remained huge, we were now better placed to tackle it and emerge victorious. After all, the success registered would breed further success. 2020 began with the outbreak of Covid-19 and with it a sense of panic and anxiety about what the future held.  This was the time to test whether what Rwanda had built could be preserved. Would we rise to the occasion? Many wondered!  In normal situations, stress tests are based on simulations and scenarios setting to assess readiness to deal with identified risks.   This time, the test was a real problem  Covid-19 was a risk that is difficult to adequately prepare for. Responding required quick and decisive action. A national lockdown was announced and well enforced.  The public complied. And, assistance to people in need was done with amazing efficiency.  Testing, tracing and treatment for Covid-19 was done extensively.   The public was updated on a daily basis on the status of the pandemic. Those suspected of being a risk to the public were quarantined in isolation facilities at the cost of the state.   Thanks to a reliable ICT infrastructure, it was possible for people to work from home, for children to learn at home and for people to transact without the need for cash.  All in all, the interventions have been instrumental in containing the spread of the virus. The decisive and effective response by the Government of Rwanda is an indicator of a strong state for the following reasons:   First, Good governance and the building of a capable state was identified as the key pillar which would support every other aspect of Rwanda’s development. Therefore, the passing of a stress test presented by Covid-19 is evidence of a very strong and capable state. This is what Rwanda set out to achieve in order to address the failed state inherited by the RPF-led Government.  Second, the compliance by the public is evidence of a society that trusts its Government. Trust has been earned as a result of many years of effective service delivery. The interaction of the state and its citizens is a good indicator of how far Rwanda has come in terms of governance that is transparent and accountable.  Third, the unity of purpose demonstrated throughout this period is evidence that the social fabric of Rwanda which was torn apart by decades of bad governance culminating in the horrendous 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi has been woven back. Unity has been a priority and a precondition for good governance.   Fourth, given that the soft infrastructure such as running a state requires daily effort and attention to detail, it is evident that the Rwandan people and their Government take their commitments seriously. This is therefore a breeding ground for doing even more in terms of institutionalising good governance.  Good governance is always a work in progress. No country can ever claim to have done everything right.  Rwanda has much more to do in this regard. Nonetheless, the achievements over the last 26 years are a cause of celebration. They are also a source of inspiration for all that remains to be done. The Government must be commended for being steadfast. President Paul Kagame in particular is providing the needed leadership during the worst crisis since the Genocide and the nation is grateful. The writer is a lawyer and a fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative and the Aspen Global Leadership Network. The views expressed in this article are of the author.


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