Feted for Rwanda’s economic miracle, President Paul Kagame now faces the far larger task of reforming the country’s economy to make it more inclusive.
President Kagame’s government will need to craft new measures to fight poverty and expand social safety nets targeting vulnerable people living in rural areas.
In what appears to be a move to fast-track implementation of his development agenda, President Kagame appears to be giving more power to young turks in influential government positions.
“Resist attempts to discourage you or slow you down. Fight back. Do what you know is right for your country, what you have been trained to do,” he said, during the recently concluded Leadership Retreat at the Rwanda Defence Combat Training Centre — Gabiro, a military facility in Rwanda’s Eastern Province.
For the past two decades, President Kagame’s government has defied expectations by achieving robust growth averaging around 7 per cent annually, come close to doubling per capita income, reduced poverty from around 60 per cent to under 30 per cent and lowered income inequality, and the Gini coefficient has dropped from 0.52 in 2005 to 0.45 in 2014 according to the International Monetary Fund.
In spite of these advances, the country still has severe malnutrition among children under five, estimated at 38 per cent countrywide according to 2015 Demography Health Survey, well below the national target for the reduction of malnutrition to 18 per cent by 2018.
Rural areas are the most affected, reflecting income inequalities.
The districts with the highest share of food insecure households are predominantly situated in the Western Province — including Rutsiro, Nyamagabe, Nyabihu, Nyaruguru, Rusizi, Karongi and Nyamasheke.
A Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis 2015 report linked food insecurity and stunting among rural people to poverty, illiteracy and insufficient land for farming.
The report also revealed that children of mothers with low education are more vulnerable to stunting.
In addition, Rwanda is tackling rising fertility rates among rural women due lack of modern methods of contraception. This could undermine the country’s overall target of becoming a high-income country by 2050.
The country is also grappling with a sharp rise in teenage pregnancies, particularly in rural areas. Last year, at least 17,444 teenage pregnancies were recorded, according to the Ministry of Health, with most of the girls dropping out of school.
The country’s population is estimated at 12.5 million, with the fertility rate at 4.2 children per woman as reflected in the 2014/2015 Demographic Health Survey.
“The population is set to double, but we can ensure that citizens are productive and empowered to contribute to growth. There is a need for policy that emphasises reducing current fertility rates as well as creating a healthy workforce,” said Yusuf Murangwa, the Director General of the National Institute of Statistics at a recent meeting with members of parliament.
Mr Murangwa underscored the need to lower the fertility rates to 2.3 children per woman by 2035 to mitigate the risk of the population tripling in the next 30 years.