RWANDA is a country blessed with beautiful culture, mountainous terrain, and rare wildlife, but cursed with a tragic past. It is located in eastern central Africa, bordering Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unfortunately many people are only able to associate Rwanda with the horrific genocide that occurred there in 1994, even though the country has a much richer history and has come very far since then. Today Rwanda is a peaceful and stable nation, struggling to conquer its tremendous poverty.
The genocide in 1994 was the result of culminating tensions between the two ethnic groups of the Hutus and the Tutsis. The conflict between these groups had been simmering for centuries and escalated when the Hutus overthrew the Tutsis, who held most of the power in Rwanda for centuries, in 1959. The civil war that began in 1990 further inflamed the hatred and in 1993 the government began the violent media propaganda that fueled the mass killings of Tutsis. The genocide was well planned and organized by the government. Rwandans were forced to wear ID cards indicating whether they were of Tutsi or Hutu descent. The genocide raged on for about 100 days and according to the Human Rights Watch, over 800,000 people were murdered. The rest of the world largely ignored the genocide.
After the genocide came to an end there were approximately 2 million Hutu refugees fleeing retribution into the neighboring countries of Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire. Rwandans were left facing their own personal psychological traumas as well as a devastated economy and poverty-stricken society
Since the genocide Rwanda has made remarkable strides – politically, economically, and socially. It is now a peaceful and safe nation that is a popular destination for tourists. Rwanda’s multi-party democratic government is stable and has a reputation for being uncorrupted. The first presidential and legislative elections after the genocide were held in 2003. There is great wildlife in Rwanda, most notably the rare mountain gorillas that live in the Volcanoes National Park. The Rwandan people have focused on creating a united, national identity, while still having to confront their memories and the past. The trials for the genocide are still going on at the International Tribunal.
The genocide truly destroyed Rwanda’s economy, and despite the progress that has been made, there are still intolerable levels of poverty. About 60% of the population lives in poverty. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa and has few natural resources to exploit. The economy revolves around subsistence agriculture, which almost 90% of the population relies on. Food imports are required, as food production cannot meet the needs of the people. The agricultural sector is mostly comprised of farmers who rely on rainfall and traditional technologies and have limited or no access to irrigation. The leading crops produced in Rwanda are coffee and tea, followed by bananas, beans, and potatoes.
The tourism industry is becoming increasingly important in Rwanda. In 2008 it increased by 54% and brought in $214 million. Rwanda joined the East African Community and accordingly created budget, trade, and immigration policies that are similar to its partners. The Rwanda Vision 2020 is the policy that was formulated in 2000 and outlines the government’s plan to become a middle-income country and reduce aid dependency by 2020. The Rwanda Vision 2020 can be viewed in PDF format here: http://www.gesci.org/assets/files/Rwanda_Vision_2020.pdf
The government has been focusing on improving the education and infrastructure systems as well as sustaining economic growth and reducing poverty. The global recession greatly hurt Rwanda’s economic growth. The GDP in 2009 was 11.02 billion and the GDP per capita was $1,000. The growth rate plummeted from 11.2% in 2008 to just 4.5% in 2009. Despite Rwanda’s perseverance over the past decade poverty still remains a massive problem.
The lack of employment opportunities for the young, even the college-educated, is a huge factor contributing to the poverty in Rwanda. According to the Ministry of Labor, about 400,000 jobs would need to be created every year in match the number of new competitors in the job market. Young Rwandans, many of whom are orphaned from the genocide, are also lacking in practical skills and knowledge that would give them an advantage in finding employment.
In 2007 Rwanda’s youth, those between the ages of 16 and 35, comprised 40% of the population. In January 2009 USAID and the Education Development Center published the Rwanda Youth Employment Assessment Report. This report detailed the causes, challenges, and impacts that youth unemployment has on Rwandan society. The study confirmed that there is a large urban youth population in need of employment assistance and skills training. Many young people in Rwanda who do not wish to work in agriculture move to Kigali, cannot find work, and are forced to focus on day-to-day survival. The National Labor Market Survey found that young women are particularly vulnerable to unemployment, even though women are majority the workforce in Rwanda.
AFRILINK in Rwanda
AFRILINK focuses on providing college-educated youth with entrepreneurial skills and mentors, giving them the ability to take control of their financial security and contribute to their local economy. AFRILINK will expand into Rwanda and establish the YOUTH BUSINESS CLUBS in which youth receive business training and mentor support throughout the process of starting small business. This practical and sustainable approach to economic development puts the power in the hands of the African youth. The participants are able to create their own opportunities, become financially stable, and generate employment for others in their community.
AFRILINK will establish a board of directors to be based in Rwanda, which will allow the program to be directed according to the actual needs of the community in Rwanda. AFRILINK encourages local ownership of the development process and believes it is critical that decisions are made on the ground, where the change is happening. The Rwanda-based board will work in partnership with the US-based board of directors.