About twenty years after the tragedy of 1994, about 1,500 elderly genocide survivors from around the country are still either homeless or living in poor, unsatisfactory conditions. The government, through the Genocide survivors fund (FARG), says it is ready to build houses for the homeless and to rehabilitate those which are in critical conditions.
The program groups elders together, in order to facilitate their supervision regarding their living conditions, their health, and their assistance in general for a better, less lonely living style.
In order to make this feasible, Theophile Ruberangeyo, the executive secretary of FARG, says they are thinking of constructing and rehabilitating shared, group.
“These elders suffer from loneliness and lack of care, but if they are somehow together, they will interact each other and it is very easy to be aware of their neighbors’ problems”, he said. Apart from being old aged, some of these widows have other health problems like disabilities, and these should also get special care.
Local leaders, through a video-conference last week, expressed worries that the given budget is not enough to make sure that the houses are sustainable.
For instance, 944 houses slated for rehabilitation were allocated Frw 300 million, a small amount for so many houses. However, Ruberangeyo assured that there is a plan to have the budget increased in the upcoming budget revision.
Some districts, like Gisagara, have already adopted the plan. Leandre Karekezi, the mayor of Gisagara district, says that once the elders were living close to one another, it was easy to protect and care for them.
“There even some activities that they can do if they are together. They feel somehow not alone as they could feel if everyone is in his or her own house”, he said.
Inkeragutabara will build the houses, and most of districts have already signed contracts with them. Districts that have not yet signed contracts are requested to do it as soon as possible in order to have all activities starting in all districts.
James Musoni, the Minister of Local Government, appreciated the initiative, arguing that it will help in making sure that these elders are well assisted. He suggested that there be a social worker hired to supervise these elders, providing services like counseling, among others.
According to suggestions from local leaders, each house will accommodate four or five widows. The Minister requested that the FARG establish an overall design of these houses in order to start the construction.
The United States has praised the government of Rwanda for its tremendous strides in improving the lives of Rwandans by increasing the rate of life expectancy for its citizens and reducing the maternal mortality.
Speaking at the Africa Health Forum in Washington DC on Friday, the US Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns said that the country is on track to meet many of the Millenium Development goals despite challenges the country faced after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
In his key note address, the Deputy Secretary of state said that: “Rwanda, a country devastated by genocide less than two decades ago, is today on track to meet many of the Millennium Development Goals – life expectancy has doubled, maternal mortality and annual child deaths more than halved, and deaths from HIV, TB, and malaria have dropped by 80percent.”
The US diplomat went on to thank the current African leadership for the dramatic transformation of the continent.
“We gather here today amidst a dramatic transformation of the African continent from a region once defined largely by its problems, to a region defined increasingly by its possibilities… from a region afflicted by conflict, crisis, and impoverishment to a region known more and more for its economic growth, expanding democratic governance, and enhanced health and human development,” said William J. Burns.
He emphasized that as the continent evolves, and as governments take on greater leadership and responsibility for their own future, the nature of assistance and cooperation from the international community should evolve as well – from a donor-recipient relationship to more of a partnership.
“This partnership – based on principles of country ownership, shared responsibility, and mutual respect – allows donors and partner countries to better meet the needs of the country’s population. Where transparency, good governance, and accountability are enshrined in law and in practice – our joint investments will yield more effective, more efficient, and ultimately more sustainable outcomes.
This is why sustainability and shared responsibility are two foundational principles of President Obama’s Policy Directive on Global Development and our global health diplomacy strategy.”
The US Deputy secretary of State told delegates that United States commitment to global health is strong, citing President Obama’s budget request for a $1.65 billion contribution to the Global Fund in fiscal year 2014 as US’s historically high level of support.
The Forum was attended by Ministers and representatives of Ministries of Finance and Health over two dozen African countries.
Rwanda is globally hailed for presenting a unique case in development and in the progress towards attaining the MDGs.
Kigali — Today, Microsoft launched its 4Afrika initiative in Rwanda. The continental initiative was set up by Microsoft to actively engage in Africa’s economic development to improve its global competitiveness.
According to Microsoft, the goal of the 4Afrika initiative in Rwanda is to disseminate affordable smart devices built specifically for Africa which will encourage application development by Africans for Africans.
The initiative will also run an education platform aimed to develop technical and entrepreneurship skills as a means to improve employability especially for young people.
According to Patrick Nyirishema, Head of ICT Department in Rwanda Development Board, the Government of Rwanda has identified two lead programs for possible collaboration with Microsoft within the 4Afrika initiative.
There is Viziyo program which is designed to increase citizen-access to smart phones and the Smart Village program built on the concept of replicating digitised model villages across the nation as a means to achieve Rwanda’s goal to become an ICT driven economy.
Speaking at the launch of this initiative, the Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana indicated that tremendous opportunities abound in Rwanda’s ICT industry.
“Technology is now becoming a driving force behind numerous aspects of national development and we cannot afford to be left behind. I believe a lot can be achieved through collaboration, consultation, and smart private-public partnership.
We welcome Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative and we know that they are committed to developing innovative ways using the power of technology to help transform social and economic progress in Rwanda,” he concluded.
Several HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns by the government and other stakeholders have recorded significant improvement in the reduction of new HIV infections in the country.
Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Coordinator of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Care and Treatment Department at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, who disclosed this at a meeting in Kigali on Wednesday, said the campaigns have been effective that the rate of new infections has gone down compared to the previous years meaning that more Rwandans are aware of the dangers of HIV/Aids.
“The rate of new infections was at 25,000 people every year in Rwanda five years ago, but now it has gone down. We have laid a number of strategies to increase awareness and other protective measures against new HIV infections so we are positive that this rate will go down further,” Dr Nsanzimana said. Every hour, two people get infected with HIV in Rwanda, according to Dr Nsanzimana. This is equivalent to 15,000 new HIV Infections every year, according to the doctor, who called upon those already infected to adhere to the instructions of their anti-retroviral treatment.
Functional HIV cure:
An infant was reportedly cured of HIV as announced recently at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, while French researchers published in the journal PLOS Pathogens that they had been studying 14 people that have been “functionally cured” of HIV.
But Professor Andrew Zolopa, from Stanford University School of Medicine, said those people who got cured had started on their ARVs at least a month after infection and so they started treatment early enough.
Kigali — The World bank has approved a grant of $50m aimed at bolstering Rwanda’s poverty eradication efforts.
It fund will also see Rwandans cushioned from the full impact of shocks, from unemployment or illness to sudden natural disasters.Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda said that while Rwanda has pushed back poverty dramatically in the past decade, it is still one of the world’s poorest countries.
“We are happy to continue supporting Rwanda’s efforts to manage its social safety net programs more efficiently, so that poor people can withstand economic and climatic shocks better and benefit more from economic growth,” she said
Rwanda has recently seen a record decline in poverty, from 57 percent in 2006 to 45% in 2011. The government has partly attributed this success to its social safety net programs.
Kigali — Rwanda’s exports registered an impressive performance in the first two months of 2013, posting an 18.4% growth in value garnered from an equally improved volume which grew by 24.4%.
The central bank governor, John Rwangombwa remarked that the country’s exports’ performance in the first two months is a sign for a good year ahead. Rwanda’s general exports for the months of January and February generated a total value of $78.6m an improvement from $66.4m posted for the same period in 2012.
Minerals generated the most revenue of $19.9m though it was a slight drop compared to $22.5m earned from the same period last year. Coffee and tea, Rwanda’s main traditional agricultural exports earned $9.1million and $12.0m in the first two months of 2013, indicating an increase for coffee from last year’s earnings of US$3.8m but a slight drop for tea earnings compared to last year’s $12.2m.
Rwanda spent $89.5m on intermediary goods for January and February a slight drop from $89.8m for the same period last year. Governor Rwangombwa revealed that the country’s foreign exchange reserves are well capitalized with enough foreign currency to last at least four and a half months.
Inflation dropped from 5.6% in January 2013 to 4.8% as of end of February. Imported inflation increased from 3.4% in January to 3.7% in February but domestic inflation fell from 6.3% to 5.0%.
Rwangombwa also announced that the banking sector is robust. Between December and February 2013, the banks’ outstanding credit to the private sector increased by 1.6%. The governor announced that the Central Bank Repo rate will be maintained at 7.5% to keep up the current economic activity. On the exchange rate, the Rwanda Franc depreciated by 4.9% as of end of February, on annual basis; having been 4.5% by end of December 2012.
Commenting on the fresh turmoil in the Euro-zone where Cyprus is the latest member to get on the brink of bankruptcy, Rwangombwa said the economy will remain resilient as it has proven to be since the crisis started over two years ago.
“The Euro crisis has been ongoing for the past two years and we don’t expect its new problems to hurt us any further than it has already done, our economy is robust enough to remain resilient,” remarked Rwangombwa.
“Rwanda, our beautiful and dear country / Adorned of hills, lakes and volcanoes / Motherland, would be always filled of happiness…”
Despite being an ideal tourist destination, many Rwandans have continued to ignore the beauty of their country while foreigners remain the best story tellers of the country’s beauty and wonders.
When Joe McDonald and Mary Ann, an American couple landed in Rwanda in 2003 for the first time, their main destination was the home to the rare mountain gorillas, the Volcanoes National Park.
On January 5, they celebrated their 75th visit to the gorillas.
“We decided to come very often and our 75th visit is not the last. We will keep coming until we reach hundred times and more,” Mary Ann disclosed adding that every year they make up to three visits to the country and five rounds in the park.
The couple has spent around US$ 1m in the visits with the friends they brought on board.
“There is no other place in the world where you can be so close to large wild animals and be safe,” McDonald told The New Times shortly after completing their record breaking visit on January 5.
Officials in the tourism department in the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) say they have never registered such a record from any Rwandan. Not even for ‘smaller’ wonderful packages such as the canopy walk in Nyungwe and the game safari in Akagera that are sold by various tour operators.
But although the number of tourists in general increased from 18,865 in 2009 to 27,000 tourists in 2011, according to statistics from RDB, Rwandans always lag behind their foreign counterparts in visiting parks, except in the Akagera National Park where about 10,362 Rwandans were registered to have visited the park, compared to 8,649 foreign tourists, in 2011.
There are also fewer Rwandans visiting the six museums and 80 historical sites in the country.
Statistics from the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (IMNR) indicate that by June 2012, of the 151,000 visitors to the six museums, 100,666 were Rwandans, an insignificant number considering their target is 600,000 local and foreign visitors.
Despite a steady increase in the number of park activities bought by Rwandans – 10,263 and 13,172 in 2010 and 2011- RDB believes they are still very few.
The explanations offered by Rwandans for not visiting the various tourist sites are diverse, including the most common one that prices are very high.
Most people The New Times talked to said they visit some of these sites only when the companies or institutions they work for plan to visit the parks, usually once a year. Otherwise, a family can barely plan a visit to a tourist site.
According to Innocent Bahati, a civil society activist, many costs involved such as transport, entry fees, picnic and sometimes accommodation make visiting tourist sites expensive.
“I feel that Rwandans, like most Africans, would rather visit places outside their own country,” observed Darla Rudakubana who visited Rubavu Beach once, adding that she has only started thinking of Rwanda as a tourist attraction recently.
To visit a park, a Rwandan resident pays about Rwf 5,000 and Rwf 30,000 against US$ 60 and US$750 for foreigners in Nyungwe National Park and Volcano National Park respectively.
In museums, the entry fee for locals is Rwf 1,000 against Rwf 6,000 for foreigners. Unfortunately, there is no fee set for the historical sites, regrets Alphonse B. Umulisa, the Director General of IMNR in charge of cultural tourism. And yet, most Rwandans don’t visit these either.
But Rica Rwigamba, the Director General of tourism and conservation at RDB, says the issue of price is an excuse because someone can spend much more on a night out with friends and family.
“We are conscious to make it accessible for Rwandans when it comes to price so I don’t think it is the impediment. More awareness, education and change of culture that tourism is for foreigners is what is needed. That’s our priority and we trust it will improve further and bring more local tourists.”
Working with schools for study trips and marketing destinations are some of measures that Rwigamba thinks will increase the number of local tourists.
Her views were echoed by Paulline Uwera who works with a telecom company in Kigali.
“The only problem we are facing here is the mindset. People think tourism belongs to the wealthy that have time to waste and money to spend,” she says. This should be the case. Rwandans need to be proud of Rwanda. And what better way than to know the country’s most beautiful and historical sites.
SOME OF RWANDA’S ATTRACTIONS
*Gisozi Genocide Memorial site
*Murambi Genocide Memorial site
*Rukari Kings Palace
*Huye Ethnographic Museum
*Natural History Museum
THE Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) has re-affirmed that the country’s target to connect 50 per cent homes to electricity in the next four years is within reach. EWSA expects to connect 100,000 households to the national electric grid annually to achieve the target.
Electricity is crucial in the manufacturing and small enterprise sectors. It is even more crucial for households, especially in the rural areas where there is over reliance on wood poses a source of energy. Over reliance on wood posses a grave danger for the environment. This is connected to economic poverty and environmental degradation.
Government has invested a lot in the energy sector, including diversification into different sources of energy, to generate more electricity. But more momentum is needed until the country’s energy needs are met. Access to electricity increased from 6 per cent in 2008 to 16 per cent in 2012. This means that in only four years access to electricity by households more than doubled.
If we go by the same trend, by 2016 the current access will also have more than doubled from 16 per cent to over 48 per cent of homes connected to electricity. This will probably put Rwanda among the developing countries with the highest percentage of the population having access to electricity.
For Rwanda to achieve its vision of connecting half of the entire population with electricity within the next five years, current connection activities must be rapidly tripled to keep the target alive. But this will require support from all the stake holders. Government should take more deliberate steps to electrify, especially villages all over the country, to improve households’ livelihoods as well as reduce poverty.