At the midpoint of our fellowship year for the Acumen East Africa Fellows Program, we get the opportunity to organize an educational visit to a destination of our choice so that we can explore different models of social change and development in the region. This year, my cohort of East Africa Fellows decided to go to Kigali, Rwanda for our Learning Trip.
We chose Rwanda because it has developed the most rapidly out of all of the countries in East Africa. Rwanda is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, due in large part to the leadership of President Paul Kagame. The country has a participatory model of governance, where local people take part in deciding the development goals for their own community, and actually hold their leaders accountable for what they promise to do. Our objective for the trip was to learn how Rwanda was able to succeed where so many other African countries have failed, and to learn how to replicate its example in our own countries.
To discover the secrets to Rwanda’s rapid development, we met with some of the key players involved in bringing about this change. We visited the Rwanda Development Board, the Millennium Village Project, the Ministry of Youth and ICT, Kimisagara Youth Center, KZ Noir Coffee Project, King Faisal Hospital, Ministry of Agriculture, a Health Project, and the Genocide Memorial Centre.
At the Mayange Millennium Village Project, we experienced first-hand what it takes to build a community from scratch. Before the Project, there was no electricity, running water or access to medical services. The infant mortality rate was 200 per 1,000 live births! The Project set up hospitals, schools, and systems that ensured people had access to crucial services. For example, the village set up cooperatives and enterprises around honey production, pig and poultry farming, and basket-weaving and knitting to create jobs for the 20,000+ people displaced by the 1994 genocide.
Visiting the Rwanda Genocide Memorial was a completely life-changing event for me. Over half a million people were killed by the war between the Hutus and Tutsi tribes. The conflict was fueled by hateful ideology and propagated by misguided leaders. Seeing the consequences of poor leadership and the effect it can have on an entire country was a wake-up call to all of us. The visit made us question the kind of systems we build as a society: whether they serve to divide or to unite, whether they are designed to empower or to exploit. It also made us question ourselves: What would I do differently if placed in the same situation? What can I do to prevent similar atrocities from occurring in the future?
The Acumen Fellows Learning Trip to Rwanda gave us insight into how leadership can transform a country ravaged by war and tribalism, and in less than a decade turn it into an economic success and a source of inspiration for other countries. It gave us an appreciation of the power and resilience of the human spirit by showing us how we can pick ourselves up and learn from our mistakes to create a better future.
As Acumen East Africa Fellows, we are bound together by a shared dream to create a more inclusive economy and society in our region. We strive for an East Africa that provides equal opportunity and a life of dignity for its citizens. We dream of building a society where individuals are not limited by circumstances, poverty, disease, child mortality, wars, corruption, tribalism, archaic cultural practices or exploitation.
A new type of leader is required – one who not only has the hard skills to build strong organizations, but also the commitment and tenacity to keep going when change seems impossible. Being an Acumen Fellow has helped me to see how critical it is to cultivate the next generation of leaders for East Africa, and has motivated me to work towards becoming the best leader that I can possibly be for Uganda, my country.
About the Fellows Program
Acumen is now accepting applications for the next cohort of Acumen Fellows not only in East Africa, but also in Pakistan and India as well. Click on the above links to apply. The deadline to submit your application is 23 September 2013 at 5:00pm GMT. For questions, please email fellows@localhost.