Background and First Impressions
When you think of Rwanda, what comes to mind? For most who have actually heard of this small landlocked nation in Eastern Africa, it’s usually something to do with the Hôtel des Mille Collines (and the horrific genocide associated with it). Until I heard the Former Minister of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, speak at MANOVA 2019 in Minneapolis, I had the same dated impression.
The most memorable point of Agnes’ speech was that Rwanda had managed to vaccinate 99% of all girls against HPV. Hold on.. that’s weird. How was a war-torn country with a GDP of a few hundred dollars per capita able to do what most wealthy Western nations could not?
So began my intrigue with the “Land of a Thousand Hills”.
As with many things in life, that intrigue faded quickly amidst the busyness of work, and it wasn’t until a friend of mine brought up his investments in Rwanda that I paid attention again. I had the opportunity to be introduced to the High Commissioner of Rwanda to Singapore, Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye, and he kindly spent a couple of hours with me telling me about how they are building a lasting, safe and clean nation, free of corruption, and focusing on enriching and developing its human capital. This sounded like a familiar story, said by many, and executed successfully by few. The place I call home today, Singapore, is one of these rare few.
As I was beginning to wonder whether this was ‘sales talk’, the stories became more tangible — with many references to the blueprints of Singapore, and perhaps even improvements upon them (e.g., giving the Rwandan Development Board [RDB], modelled after the Singapore Economic Development Board, a seat in parliament to remind everyone about the permanent need for innovation). I was finally sold by the slogan ‘Test in Rwanda’.
Challenge Accepted! Test I shall.
I knew I had to visit, but with the pandemic raging, predicting when proved to be a challenge. It wasn’t until I was invited to speak at a conference in Dubai in March, coinciding with the loosening of COVID restrictions globally, that I realised this was my chance to finally visit. By a good stroke of luck, I had in the meanwhile met friends with numerous interests and investments in the country that…