Inflammation and stories on Rwanda

Global Heatlh EquityThere have been many advances in healthcare from the discovery of germs and the invention of vaccines to high-tech solutions like telesurgery and gene editing. Yet, with all of the advanced healthcare systems in the world, some people still lack access to even basic services. According to a study from the World Health Organization and the World Bank, more than half of the population lacks access to healthcare.

Global Healthcare Access

If a random person were selected on the street, it would be more likely that they wouldn’t have access to essential healthcare services. And for people who have access to healthcare, it can be prohibitively expensive. The study also found that an additional 100 million people spent so much on healthcare that it forced them into extreme poverty.

When the study was released in December 2017, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was disturbed by the fact that so many people still didn’t have access to basic health services. He believes “A solution exists: universal health coverage allows everyone to obtain the health services they need, when and where they need them, without facing financial hardship.” One path to improving healthcare is by increasing the number of qualified healthcare professionals.

University of Global Health Equity

The fight to get everyone in the world access to healthcare is called global health equity. In 2004, a medical journal defined global health equity as an approach to medicine that centers on the issue of the extreme lack of access to healthcare. They wrote, “[r]egardless of their origins, social and economic inequalities are reflected epidemiologically: disparities of outcome in and between countries are now major challenges in medicine and public health.”

One recent initiative aiming to tackle these challenges is the University of Global Health Equity in Kigali, Rwanda. The initiative formally began in 2014. The campus opened last year. The university is a collaboration between the government of Rwanda and the U.S.-based nonprofit Partners in Health (PIH). PIH helped build primary healthcare facilities in 10 different countries, including Rwanda. Additionally, it has also helped establish health equity-focused programs in U.S. medical schools.

The purpose of this university is to bring equity-focused medical education to a place directly affected by health inequity. The founders write that the university “stands alone in both its focus on equity and its proximity to health systems that face the very challenges that students will grapple with in the classroom.” Gary Gottlieb, CEO of PIH says that “[t]he vision of…being able to create that educational pipeline is the foundation of the University of Global Health Equity.”

Making Medical School More Accessible

Another part of the problem that the university is trying to solve is the “brain drain.” This is when medical graduates from impoverished countries cannot find well-paying jobs in their home countries, so they travel to more economically stable countries instead. As a result, impoverished countries frequently do not have enough medical professionals even when they have enough medical schools.

The University of Global Health Equity aims to help its students find job opportunities that focus on health inequity. It also has a blind admissions process, so it can admit all qualified students regardless of their ability to pay. Dr. Abebe Bekele, Dean of Health Sciences at the university believes that neither sex nor economic background should get in the way of someone realizing their dream of becoming a doctor.

On average, students have 91 percent of their tuition funded by scholarships. So far, 37 students have graduated. Furthermore, 88.5 percent of them work in nonprofits or the public sector in accordance with the university’s mission of an equity-based approach to healthcare. This is an important step in global health equity that will help create more jobs in the medical field around the world.

-Sean Ericson
Photo: Mass Design Group


Nearly 63 percent of people living in Africa lack internet access. In contrast, 11 percent of North Americans, 13 percent of Europeans and 48 percent of Asians lack internet access. In response to this issue, Africa50, an infrastructure investment organization, has launched an innovation challenge asking for modern innovators to submit their original ideas on how to provide internet to under-served areas in Africa.

The Africa50 Innovation Challenge began May 14, after it was announced at the Transform Africa Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda the same month.

The submitted solutions will be piloted in Rwanda, which Africa50 CEO Alain Ebobissé said was the ideal place to implement and test the solutions.

Rwanda: A Country Evolving in ICT

Ebobissé described the country as having a thriving Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) sector. Cooperation between the challenge and the co-development of the Kigali Innovation City, a project Africa50 invested $400 million in 2018, is evidence of this ICT boom.

Rwanda has increased its internet access to 29 percent, as of 2019. The increase is a marked improvement compared to the less than 1 percent who had access in 2000. This development can, in part, be accredited to the National Information Communication Infrastructure (NICI) policy the country adopted in 2000.

The policy defines four separate stages of increasing internet and communication in Rwanda. The country has already prepared the ICT groundwork and is currently in the fourth and final stage; enhancing the infrastructure and improving the service delivery.

The goal of the final stage is to increase technological skills, develop the community and private sector and enhance the government’s use of the internet and cyber-security. The policy is planned to end in 2020.

The ideas will be implemented more broadly across the continent once the pilot phase in Rwanda is complete.

Winning Criteria and Perks

The judges will be looking for six main criteria in the proposals submitted to the Africa50 Innovation Challenge:

  • Innovation and originality
  • Ability to be implemented on a large scale
  • Affordability for both implementors and consumers
  • Sustainability for the environment
  • Readiness to be piloted in Rwanda
  • Adaptability of the solution for a variety of circumstances

The finalists will be announced mid-October and they will present their solutions at AfricaCom the following month.  Those selected will be announced at the 2020 Transform Africa Summit, but the organization does not specify how many winners will be chosen.

The winners will be awarded a cash prize or project development funding, connections to investors and exposure as an innovator.

If these solutions are implemented, economic growth and job creation are a few of the newfound benefits that may come to these countries. Companies can grow and have an improved role in the competitive market if they have access to the internet.  As a result, these solutions allow them to reach more consumers, labor pools and raw materials, according to a 2012 report by the International Telecommunication Union.

ICT Progress in Other African Countries

There will certainly be interesting proposals from this year’s Africa50 Innovation Challenge entries,  but there are already solutions that have worked in other African countries.

For example, Kenya has had a considerable jump in their internet speed and bandwidth — which increased 43 percent from 2016 to 2017. This increase can be attributed to the National Broadband Strategy for Kenya. Additionally, Nigeria has increased its number of internet users from 72 million in 2017, to 92 million in 2018.

Nigeria’s fiber network, 21st Century, is partnering with Google Station and anticipates the installation of 200 Wi-Fi hotspots by the end of 2019, according to Fortune.

Africa50 aims to spread high-speed internet and improve opportunities for those living in under-served communities, whatever the solution.

– Makenna Hall
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Rwanda
As of early 2019, estimates determine that Rwanda is host to approximately 150,000 refugees. To support this number, Rwanda maintains six refugee camps and four transit/reception centers, in addition to supporting refugee integration into urban areas. Rwanda is remarkable for its inclusive approach to refugees, most of whom are from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The national government, UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Government of Japan and other international, national and local organizations are all working to improve opportunities and livelihoods for refugees in Rwanda.

Approximately 79 percent of refugees in Rwanda live in the refugee camps, with the remainder — about 13,000 — living in urban centers. Rwanda gives refugees the right to do business and access health services, insurance, banking and education to promote integration. As of 2017, Rwanda had integrated more than 19,000 refugee students from Burundi into its national school system.

According to UNHCR, enabling the self-reliance of refugees is an essential part of its mission. UNHCR creates and supports initiatives that allow refugees to contribute to the economic development of their host country.

Ali Abdi has lived in Rwanda for 20 years after fleeing Somalia. After applying for a business card, he now runs a small convenience store and lives with his Rwandan wife. Ali described Rwanda as “a peaceful country” where “people do not discriminate.” He is thankful for his ability to be independent.

Supporting Refugee Entrepreneurs

In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, many refugees like Ali are finding success in entrepreneurship. UNHCR labels Kigali as a “City of Light” for its accepting and supportive attitude toward refugees. The Government of Rwanda is actively working to promote the integration of refugees into the city with targeted assistance.

For refugees aspiring to own their own business, Inkomoko is a local business consulting firm that trains and supports refugees with UNHCR’s support. Beginning in 2016, Inkomoko’s refugee program has worked with 3,300 refugees, resulting in the creation of 2,600 new jobs across the country, a significant boost to the economy. The director of Inkomoko’s refugee program, Lydia Irambona, stated, “Our main goal is to help them increase their revenue, get more customers and understand how to do business here.”

Annick Iriwacu, a Burundian refugee, went to Inkomoko after a referral from her cousin. She has since opened a successful business selling liquid petroleum gas. The business has grown enough for her to now have five employees. She stated, “They gave me the strength and hope to continue, because I was giving up.”

Financial Support for Refugee Camps

While refugees in Rwanda’s refugee camps have fewer opportunities for economic independence and contribution, supporting and protecting them is still crucial. In June 2019, the Government of Japan donated $270,000 to UNHCR Rwanda to cover the needs of 58,552 Burundian refugees in Mahama, the largest refugee camp in the country. This is one of many donations, as the Government of Japan has supported Rwanda for six years and provided a total of approximately $7 million to the UNHCR to support Rwandan refugees.

UNHCR intends to use the 2019 money to maintain and improve refugees’ access to legal assistance and protection against violence, as well as health care services. Refugee camps in Rwanda provide primary health care and send refugees to local health facilities if they require secondary or tertiary care, which can be costly.

Supporting Refugee Farmers

Many refugees living in Rwandan camps want to become more economically independent, however. While the refugee camps provide displaced people with access to basic education and health facilities, many refugees have found that working allows them to take further advantage of what Rwanda can offer them and their families.

The IKEA Foundation, UNHCR, the World Food Programme, the Government of Rwanda and the Food and Agriculture Organization have all provided funding. These organizations are working together to improve the livelihoods of both refugees and local Rwandan farmers.

In the Misizi marshland, 1,427 Rwandans and Congolese refugee farmers are working together for agricultural success. The project is also generating social cohesion, as the Rwandan and refugee farmers are learning to work together and recognize the benefits of cooperation. As of early 2019, these farmers had produced more than 101 tonnes of maize, the profits of which enabled them to feed their families.

Rwanda’s Example

Rwanda intends to continue its inclusive approach to refugees them become successful and independent whether they live in camps or cities. Refugees have found success in Rwanda because its government and international partners are working hard on their behalf.

While there is still more work to do to ensure that refugees in camps have access to work opportunities and that refugees in cities receive support in achieving economic independence, the nation serves as an example of how to successfully help refugees begin new lives and contribute to a country’s economy.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

the lingering effects of genocide
The causes of genocide are vast but include dehumanization, national crises and government power. In countries where there are deep grievances between groups, it is probable one group will ultimately be victimized by the other. Moreover, groups may blame each other for tragedies within their country. Plus, some governments constrain their power, limiting the fair representation of its people.

Rwanda and Cambodia offer two case studies of genocide that occurred in the last 50 years. Additionally, both populations combated realities of poverty and inequity even before the atrocities. Halting any development these countries may have experienced, genocide left lingering effects in Rwanda and Cambodia. Currently, both countries face hardship. However, their peoples are busy rebuilding their environments to sustain a neutral state wherein cultural, political and economic growth can flourish.

Rwanda

Rwanda lost 800,00 people during the genocide in 1994. Since the genocide, Rwanda is trying to develop services and opportunities that were lost. The drive behind this redevelopment has come from tea and coffee exports, foreign aid and the tourism industry.

Rwanda has always depended heavily on agricultural production for family consumption and state revenues. But rural poverty and land issues created a dissatisfied climate before the genocide. This is still seen through rising land inequality and decreasing possibilities for income outside of the farm sector. And both are lingering effects of genocide and threaten economic stability. Subsequently, commodity prices have dropped rapidly, especially in 1989. Then, government revenues from coffee exports declined from $144 million in 1985 to $30 million in 1993.

New Growth

However, according to the World Bank, Rwanda is developing its private sector to ensure more economic growth and reduce the lingering effects of genocide. Since 2001, Rwanda’s economic growth was bordering an average of 8 percent. In 2010, the World Bank named the country as the top reformer for business. After two successful Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategies from 2008 to 2018, Rwanda’s per capita gross domestic product annually grew around 5 percent.

The Rwanda Development Organization has ongoing projects that empower the Rwandan people to help improve socio-economic development in their communities. One project includes the Farm to Market Alliance. FtMA provides institutional support to 24,000 farmers among 80 cooperatives. The project has sustained many small farms and created support groups. So far, 20,000 farmers have been trained by other farmers to learn the best farming practices, like post-harvesting and handling.

Cambodia

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge genocide period took place from 1975 to 1979. Now, the country is still grappling with the past. The Cambodian People’s Party took power at the end of the genocide, instilling conservative values. Currently, there is still a generation of political leaders making it difficult for communities to have open discussions about the Khmer Rouge genocide. As such, it is hard to create strategies for growth and healing.

Legacies of Poverty

Poverty in Cambodia remains widespread, largely due to the lingering effects of genocide and the unfair distribution of wealth. The genocide led to the death of much of Cambodia’s educated class. Additionally, the majority of surviving Cambodians were farmers, subsequently unable to sustain the services affected by the genocide.

In rural areas, poverty is still a lingering effect of genocide because of ongoing corruption and the lack of government help. Similar to Rwanda, Cambodia faces challenges in jump-starting modern agriculture and irrigation techniques. This has made it difficult for Cambodia to keep up with developed countries.

Nevertheless, the future does appear hopeful according to statistics. General poverty rates in Cambodia have decreased from 50 percent to 35 percent between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. As a result, many provinces have seen improvements. Development strategies and nongovernmental organizations have done a lot to assist Cambodian communities.

Voluntary Service Overseas is one such NGO that has worked to restore developmental growth in Cambodia by improving the education system, quality of teaching and people’s livelihoods. It works alongside government entities to research inclusive education policies. In 2015, VSO supported the training of 540 senior education officials. This creates a sustainable opportunity for more cohesive management of schools and contributes to future economic development.

A Shared Experience

After the genocide in both Rwanda and Cambodia, a majority of the population was comprised of young people. A large part of the healing process has been to educate younger generations about the country’s history and why knowledge is so vital in making sure genocide never happens again.

Both countries have tried tackling the skills gap that could greatly affect the future of the country’s growth in economics, politics and education. Enrolling more children in school proves to be a successful strategy in combating poverty. However, these children must also attain employment opportunities as adults, too. Creating these foundations will reduce the lingering effects of genocide and give future leaders the resources to build better lives not only for themselves but for their country as a whole.

Melina Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

Telemedicine in Rwanda

With a startling low physician density of 0.064 for every 1,000 people, Rwandans seeking care were used to waiting in long lines or traveling long distances for medical attention. However, thanks to near-universal broadband access, now Rwandans need only reach for their phones — such is the status of telemedicine in Rwanda.

In partnership with London based telehealth startup Babylon and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rwandan Ministry of Health launched an app called Babyl Rwanda, which connects users with an artificial intelligence chatbot to triage medical complaints, make recommendations and schedule remote physician appointments. The app is programmed with several languages including Kinyarwanda, English and French. Those without phones need only visit a Babyl Booth to access the necessary technology.

The Bigger Context

Since the devastating genocide in the 1900s, the Rwandan government dramatically increased its investment in healthcare from 4 percent in 2000 to its peak in 2007 at 9.6 percent. As of 2016, government spending on health care in Rwanda was around 7 percent; despite the increases in spending, the physician density remains very low at 0.064. Large changes, such as the implementation of a mandatory health insurance scheme in 2008, accompanied these government investments, and they have led to a 90-percent insured rate among its citizens. The national health insurance scheme and increased government spending on healthcare have both paved the way for the development of sophisticated telemedicine in Rwanda.

Rwanda’s choice to amplify its current physician base through the Babyl Rwanda app has made great strides in overcoming its problems with physician density. A team of 25 physicians staffs the phone/video-based remote consultations through Babyl. Each consultation typically costs the patient 65 cents. Since its inception in 2016, the app has been downloaded two million times and purports to have facilitated over 500,000 remote consultations.

Babyl Rwanda and Telemedicine

Here’s how Babyl Rwanda works: The phone user dials #811 and registers using their National ID number, which is linked to the SIM card in their phone. After the National ID is verified and payment via mobile money has been received, an SMS confirms when a nurse will call. The triage nurse schedules the next steps in treatment— laboratory, specialist visits, or simply a visit with a GP. Babyl seeks “to put an accessible and affordable health care service in the hands of every person on earth.”

Such telemedicine success depends upon broadband connectivity and a public IP address that will allow users to connect with people in other countries. Rwanda has heavily invested in its information and communications technology infrastructure. According to the Rwandan Development Board, the country has a “National Backbone”: an IP/MPLS network with 10 Gbps capacity for each district. A 2,500 km fiber optic network connects all 30 districts and each of the nine major border points. The capital Kigali also boasts its own network, the Kigali Metropolitan Network. As of 2018, 3G signal blanketed 90 percent of the Rwandan population, compared to 75 percent of Senegal in the same year.

Equipping Physicians

As Rwanda looks to improve its physician density, it must increase its production and retention of physicians. The university system is underprepared for this burden, and doctors working within the government system are poorly compensated; as such, many leave the profession for more financially sustainable pursuits, such as working for health NGOs.

At the Military Hospital in Kigali, telemedicine in Rwanda facilitates remote instruction for medical students, connecting them to leading health professionals around the world. In this context, telemedicine’s goal is “to improve student training and consequently medical service delivery through regular consultation of experts on advanced medical cases.” The idea is that with access to both quality instruction and leaders in the field, physician retention will improve.

Telemedicine in Rwanda seeks to revolutionize both the care of patients now and the training of physicians for the future. Kirsten Meisinger M.D., medical staff president at Cambridge Health Alliance, argues, “Rwanda shows us a perfect example of how to make crisis an opportunity by investing in a technology solution.”

– Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

Rwanda is Growing Its Knowledge-Based EconomyRwanda is growing its knowledge-based economy. The country has produced substantial developmental gains since the genocide and civil war in 1994. It has reduced its poverty by about 12 percent, achieved food security and produced more results towards its goal of becoming a knowledge-based economy. Rwanda’s Government focus has been on developing the economy and reform in the financial and business sectors. Foreign aid focus, from groups such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank, has been in improving trade, productivity and investments in their agriculture sector.

The World Bank Programs

Currently, there is a lot of on-the-ground investment in irrigation in Rwanda. Agriculture accounts for 33 percent for Rwanda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), represents almost 80 percent its labor force and generates almost half of its export revenues. However, according to the World Bank, the population density, hilly terrain and soil erosion have inhibited progress in this pillar of its economy. The Rural Sector Support Project (RSSP) and the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation Project (LWH) have allowed the World Bank to increase the productivity and commercialization of hillside agriculture.

The RSSP project will consist of a 14-year period that will unfold in three phases. The phases mainly consist of strengthening Rwanda’s institutional, technical, local, agricultural research and infrastructure capacities. The LWH uses a reformed watershed approach that works to improve soil health. Rwanda’s uneven rainfall puts limitations on its agricultural productivity, so the project will also develop new water-harvesting infrastructure, such as valley dams and reservoirs among other benefits for more effective crop production.

The World Bank has also been the leading financier for initiatives to expand Rwanda’s electricity and energy sectors. The World Bank has been actively supporting the government with these initiatives through the Rwanda Energy Sector Development Project (ESDP). It has provided Rwanda with $125 million and $95 million for the Rwanda Electricity Sector Strengthening Project (RESSP). A few overarching goals of these projects are containing fiscal impact within the electricity sector and the overall improvement of electricity service.

USAID Programs

USAID works closely with the Government of Rwanda to increase and promote its trade through several programs. Through the East Africa Trade Investment Hub (EATIH) programs, Rwanda has been building its trade capacity, improving the private sector and creating better market access and opportunities for trade facilitation.

In 2016, USAID was able to create the Rwanda African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). The AGOA has emphasized regional and bilateral efforts to strengthen Africa’s economic competitiveness and aid countries to leverage trade opportunities.

All of these benefits support the ways that Rwanda is growing its knowledge-based economy. These program strategies, initiatives and results represent the “small steps” of turning a country around from poverty. The interdependency between Rwanda’s government and foreign aid shows the relentless efforts being made to downsize global poverty. It has also formed a strategic collaboration that is breeding progressive results.

Niya Monè
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality in RwandaThis year marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. In 1994, from April 7 to July 24, approximately 800,000 Rwandans were massacred and up to 500,000 women were raped. However, 24 years later, Rwanda ranks sixth in the world for gender equality, the top non-European country besides Nicaragua.

Women and Politics

Representation of women in politics significantly helped improve gender equality in Rwanda. Since 2003, women have had a constitutionally protected place in the Rwandan government. The Rwandan constitution mandates 30 percent of representatives be female. As a result, the number of women in parliament increased from 18 percent in the 1990s to 64 percent as of 2013. In terms of a male-female ratio in parliament, Rwanda tops international rankings. Furthermore, President Paul Kagame’s current cabinet is the second in Africa to contain an equal ratio of men to women.

While better representation does not end all gender inequality, it improves women’s status in society. With female representation, society sees women as leaders. And more importantly, female representation helps create better legislation for women and encourages gender equality in Rwanda.

Women and Development

Rwanda is a largely rural country and depends on agriculture for economic growth. Rwanda’s Gross Domestic Product per capita ranks 206th in the world. However, Rwanda possesses a remarkable current GDP per capita given its recent history. Rwanda lost much of its traditional workforce to genocide, also resulting in 500,000 orphaned children. Since then, women have pioneered Rwanda’s development. The country possesses the highest rate of female labor force participation in the workforce compared to the rest of the African continent. Additionally, over 70 percent of women are engaged in a sector of the primary economy, and they make up 79 percent of the agricultural workforce, though not all are paid.

Consequently, women in development programs bolster gender equality in Rwanda, as they spearhead the country’s fast growth. Rwanda is currently hosting a wide range of development projects. These projects aim to both modernize the business of agriculture and ensure women are prepared for this modernization. Launched in 2015, the Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems program is being piloted in eight countries worldwide. This program aims to equip communities with the technological and soft skills necessary to navigate modern markets.

Mukamusoni Alexia, a cassava farmer, is one of 106 members in the newly formed ‘Ubumwe Mbuye’ Cooperative. According to Alexia, the cooperative facilitates a dialogue addressing local challenges and enabled her processing plant to acquire loans. Now, Alexia’s cooperative generates over 800 tons of cassava a month and provides 30 tons per week to a processing plant.

Many of these farming cooperatives are female-led or reserved for women, a long-term project to redefine gender roles and allow women to bring home family income.

Women and Education

Educating women is the key to gender equality. However, Rwanda’s education system struggles from a lack of resources. As a result, fewer students continue to secondary education. Moreover, Rwanda ranks low on the United Nations’ Development Programme’s Life Course Gender-Gap index.

Several of the most successful education projects focus on reducing gender-based violence. In doing so, empowered women can succeed at home and will, therefore, stay in school. A troubling statistic reflects 34.4 percent of Rwandan women experience violence from an intimate partner.

CARE International supports a program called Safe School For Girls. This program mentors girls as they transition from lower to upper secondary school. Plus, it provides sexual health education to more than 47,000 students across the Southern Province of Rwanda. Furthermore, this program hopes to engage boys in the dialogue through “round table talks.” These talks discuss the barriers women and girls face and how boys can help end gender-based violence. So far, Safe School For Girls has engaged over 19,000 boys in these talks. Improving the climate around education and identifying where women face barriers is critical for gender equality in Rwanda.

A Model for Gender Equality

While women still face a variety of obstacles, Rwanda acts as a model for gender equality worldwide. Rwanda’s Human Development Rank is still low. Subsequently, many argue gender equality in parliament is a smokescreen for President Kagame’s authoritarian regime, now entering its 19th successive year.

However, in spite of these developmental barriers, Rwanda has demonstrated gender equality is a realistic and attainable goal. The country’s real GDP growth stands at 8.6 percent, the second highest globally, showing full integration of women in society is critical for economic development. Rwandan women helped the country’s remarkable rebirth after a devastating genocide, and they are the main drivers behind its emerging prosperity today.

Holly Barsham
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Representation in RwandaRwanda has a higher percentage of representation of women in government than any country in the world. In 2017, there were 49 women in the lower house of parliament, which is more than half of its 80 seats, and 10 women in the upper house of parliament consisting of 26 seats. The high proportion of women in government came after the devastating Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the country has made significant strides since then.

A Shift in Gender Representation

The genocide in Rwanda marked a change in gender representation because, after the violence had subsided, 70 percent of the surviving population was women. This was a result of the practice of killing men and allowing women to survive as sex slaves during the genocide. However, it was not only the new gender disparity that caused an increase in women’s roles in government, but the country also introduced quotas requiring 30 percent of candidates for public office to be women.

It is important to note that the Rwandan government decided to increase the representation of women in government through candidate quotas in political parties rather than seat reservations in parliament. According to a study by Mala Htun published in Perspective on Politics, “Women and men belong to all political parties; members of ethnic groups, by contrast, frequently belong to one only.” By using quotas, the Rwandan government is acknowledging the bipartisan nature of women in government.

Therefore, the most efficient way to establish a higher representation of women in government is to promote their representation within political parties because they are a cross-cutting group, meaning that women have an active political presence across the political spectrum. This thoughtful approach to increasing women’s representation in the Rwandan government has resulted in record-breaking numbers of women becoming involved in political life in Rwanda and setting positive examples for young girls throughout the country.

The Difficulties Women in Government Face

The presence of women in such politically powerful positions in Rwanda has not come without difficulties. Many women face backlash from their families or husbands for sacrificing domestic work in order to become political leaders. In fact, Berthilde Muruta, Executive Secretary in the Rubavu District noted that “there are people who think that we come to meet men, or for other business, which makes it hard to be trusted by our husbands.” Additionally, female politicians in Rwanda are oftentimes not seen as equals to the men in similar positions.

According to Claudette Mukamana, a District Vice Mayor, “When people see you holding any of those [elected] positions as women, the very first question asked by everyone is: Will she be able to perform her duties? Is she capable of holding such a position?” Despite these difficulties, the presence of so many women in the Rwandan government has resulted in the passing of several key pieces of legislation to improve the lives of women and girls throughout the country.

These reforms include legislation to alter the Civil Code to allow women to have equal inheritance rights as men, equal pay, consequences for gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace and further prevention and consequences for violence against women and children. In addition, with 7 of the 14 supreme court justices in Rwanda now being women, new laws were passed requiring that both boys and girls must attend primary and secondary school.

Areas to Improve

A lot still needs to change in regards to the perception of women’s roles in society. Furthermore, there is still more progress to be made, especially in terms of violence against women. The Rwandan government performed a study that showed that two out of every five women ages 15 and older had been physically abused at least one time in their lives. As more women are elected to office, hopefully, more people will change their perspective in these areas and these statistics will represent that improvement.

The representation of women in the Rwandan government has led to significant advancements for the rights of women and girls throughout the country. Globally women only hold 21.9 percent of all elected seats in government. Promoting the equality of men and women in political positions in Rwanda and around the world is integral to solving many of the issues governments face. Although the system is not yet perfected, the world could learn a lot about the importance of women in government from Rwanda.

Alina Patrick
Photo: Flickr

Five Resilient Women in RwandaOctober 1990 ushered in a period of war, death and devastation in Rwanda. Civil war ravaged the country and ultimately culminated in the 1994 genocide of 500,000 to 1 million people in a period of a little over three months.

Only 25 years since the Rwandan Genocide, many women in Rwanda are still recovering from loss, hardship and trauma. Militants raped between 250,000 to 500,000 women during the genocide and many who survived lost friends, family and community. Determined to raise up their communities after a period of national devastation, here are five resilient women in Rwanda who inspire and create change for the present and the future of Rwanda.

Five Resilient Women in Rwanda

  1. Christelle Kwizera
    Christelle Kwizera graduated magna cum laude from Oklahoma Christian University, where she researched purifying water via ozone. Now Christelle is the managing director of Water Access Rwanda, whose mission is to provide clean, affordable and reliable water sources to combat water security. Operating since 2014, Water Access Rwanda provided access to clean water to more than 132,000 people, schools, businesses and farms throughout not only Rwanda but also within the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Uganda.
  2. Elise Rida Musomandera
    Elise Rida Musomandera lost both of her parents at an early age. This dramatically shaped her life and fed her determination to combat hunger, empower women and youth and support survivors of genocide and individuals with AIDS. In 2014, Elise founded Isano Women and Youth Empowerment. Elise is the CEO of her nonprofit organization and leads the fight against poverty, promotes peace, protects the environment and empowers others through education.
  3. Safi Umukundwa
    At only 8 years old, Safi Umukundwa became a survivor and orphan of genocide. On account of her resiliency and dedication, she excelled in secondary school. She ultimately received funding for university education and inspired the name of the nonprofit, Safi Life, where she serves as the county director of Rwanda. Safi Life works to promote female advancement in Africa through awarding university scholarships and funding education for women, which additionally combats domestic abuse and poverty. As a result, Safi works to build up and inspire the next generation of strong and resilient women in Rwanda.
  4. Salaama Numukobwa
    Salaama Numukobwa is a mother, activist and inspiration. Since 2011, she served her community through volunteer work. Salaama is now the community facilitator of Mind Leaps in Rwanda. Mind Leaps is a nonprofit organization that works with vulnerable and at-risk youth through dance, increasing cognitive and social-emotional development. Seventy percent of students who completed Mind Leaps’ dance program in Rwanda performed within the top 20 percent of their classes in 2017.
  5. Solange Impanoyimana
    Solange Impanoyimana was only 11 years old when the Rwandan genocide left her to provide for herself. Committed to furthering her education, she achieved her bachelor’s degree and went on to co-found Resonate. Resonate is a nonprofit that provides girls and women leadership workshops to cultivate skills and increase confidence through storytelling, professional development and action leadership programs. In 2017, 36 percent of participants started businesses, 60 percent fill leadership roles and 43 percent have secured employment, promotions or academic opportunities.

Only a quarter-decade after the dark stain of hatred and genocide affected Rwanda, Christelle, Elise, Safi, Salaama and Solange shine their light on the future of their country. These courageous women are the epitome of strength and represent millions of resilient women in Rwanda.

Keeley Griego
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Rwanda Child Soldiers
Rwanda is an African country whose history is marred by colonialism, civil war, political turmoil and genocide. Since the 1994 genocide that killed nearly one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu, the country continues to deal with the aftermath of this suffering.

One of the central issues during the genocide and even today in the post-genocide environment has been the role of child soldiers. Here are the top 10 facts about Rwanda child soldiers.

Top 10 Facts About Rwanda Child Soldiers

  1. Post-genocide, many Rwandan survivors fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, as violence surged in the Congo and a genocide of its own erupted there, Congolese rebels forced Rwandan boys to become soldiers for their cause.
  2. Children are a vulnerable population that are more susceptible to be forced or recruited into child armies. This vulnerability is structural according to Human Rights Watch: “Government officials have done little to protect these children’s rights…traditional societal networks have been severely eroded by poverty, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and, not least, the consequences of the genocide and war.”
  3. According to Michael Wessels, author of Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection, children are more likely to be recruited as soldiers because “They can be psychologically manipulated through a deliberate programme of starvation, thirst, fatigue, voodoo, indoctrination, beatings, the use of drugs and alcohol, and even sexual abuse to render them compliant to the new norms of child soldiering.”
  4. More than 50 percent of Rwanda’s population is 19 years old or younger and orphans account for 10 percent of this demographic. With limited access to money, shelter, education and other necessities, many of these vulnerable children fall prey to child armies.
  5. In the neighboring country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the rebel military group M23 worked with the Rwandan Defense Force to train child soldiers.
  6. With promises of money, education and jobs, children—many of them orphaned or living in extreme poverty—fell prey to the Rwandan Defense Force which falsely claimed children would be trained for the Rwandan army, not for M23.
  7. Romeo Dallaire witnessed the Rwandan genocide firsthand as a U.N. peacekeeper. According to Dallaire, one of the reasons for employing child soldiers is that “they are viewed as expendable, replaceable.”
  8. For the past 20 years, Rwanda has been working to demobilize Rwandan child soldiers and reintegrate them into Rwandan society. As of 2013, the Rwandan government demobilized about 3,000 child soldiers.
  9. Although the Rwandan government made successful moves to reduce the number of child soldiers, some reports suggest that simultaneously, the Rwandan government recruited some of those same children as soldiers. Following these accusations, the United States denied military funding to the Rwandan Army.
  10. In efforts to help reintegrate former child soldiers, the Lake Muhazi Centre is just one of many places that runs a three-month course that offers counseling, recreational activities, and job training to help facilitate assimilation back into Rwandan society.

Although Rwanda made great strides to demobilize the child soldiers that its own army produced, many child soldiers remain in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was not until 2013 that the Rwandan government acknowledged its role in the production of child soldiers and has, since then, made great efforts to combat this atrocity.

– Morgan Everman
Photo: Pixabay