Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda

The Millennium Development Goals from Rwanda's Perspective

September 15, 2005 10:00 AM


by President Paul Kagame

President Paul Kagame: Thank you, Provost Alan Brinkley, and my good friend
Josh, for those kind words of introduction, and thank you for inviting me to
participate in the World Leaders Forum this year. Distinguished ladies and
gentlemen, let me say at the outset that it is my distinct pleasure to address this
august audience of this prestigious University. I am told that Columbia University
is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, and that you
are committed to preserving the quest for knowledge as more than simply a
practical pursuit.

Judging from the number of leading minds that are part of the community of
Columbia University, I am persuaded to concur with one of your alumni who said
that "the best things of all human history and thought are inside the rectangle of
Columbia University." And so, it is indeed a privilege for me to address you on
the them of the Millennium Development Goals from Rwanda's perspective.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, as you know, five years ago the world's
leaders met and launched the Millennium Development Goals.

They made a solemn pledge to work together to end extreme poverty and
hunger, promote human dignity, to achieve peace, democracy, and
environmental sustainability by 2015 or earlier. This was reaffirmed at the
Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development in March 2002, and at the
Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002.
And in 2004 your very own Prof. Jeffrey Sachs led a global team that rolled out a
practical plan to achieve the goals.

At the time of the Millennium Summit, the targets for the Millennium Development
Goals were judged to be attainable, given the amount of wealth and global
abundance, as well as what Prof. Sachs has ably referred to as the greatest
technological and scientific explosion of knowledge. And yet, despite this
unprecedented creation of wealth and knowledge, there are still frightening levels
of poverty for the majority of the world's populations, and many in the developing
world continue to die of deprivation, hunger, malnutrition, preventable diseases,
and endless conflicts.

It is, in my view, unacceptable that today, according to UN statistics, 345 million
Sub-Sahara Africans live in poverty. In some Sub-Sahara African countries, as
many as 70 percent of the region's population live on less than one dollar a day.
228 million Sub-Sahara Africans suffer from undernourishment and 4.7 million
children die each year of hunger and disease.

That is an average of nearly 13,000 every day or 500 children dying every hour.
Similarly, 280 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa have no access to clean and
safe drinking water and 167 million live in slum conditions. Now, these statistics
say it all. We need no further statistics to show us that at this rate, Africa is not
exactly on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals. In fact, in some
targets like poverty, GDP per capita and undernourishment, there will be a
regression in the situation between now and 2015, if left to business as usual.

Some have of course argued that there is no one else to blame, and I agree that
we Africans must take first responsibility for this sorry state of affairs on our
continent. But that is not to deny the fact that in this increasingly shrinking world,
or global village, as it has been referred to, all nations are interdependent,
whether they are big or small, rich or poor.

And also that a world where the majority live in such a sorry state, on less than
one dollar a day, amidst the highest recorded global productivity and
concentration of wealth, is an unsafe world. In fact, such a world is dangerously
prone to manipulations by those whose interest in violence, international
terrorism, and genocide preys on the hopelessness of the deprived.

Equally, we must acknowledge that this interdependence engenders shared
responsibilities and obligations, which undoubtedly include the imperative for
development and attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. We must
collectively agree that development is liberation from want and from fear, so that
all peoples can live dignified lives. All peoples, not some. But judging from the
status of play in Sub-Sahara Africa, as I have just outlined, the picture is not
promising unless we devise, together with our development partners, and agree
to faithfully implement innovative and practicable measures that can reverse the
current trends.

In Rwanda we recognize the importance of the Millennium Development Goals,
and we see them as prerequisites and the roadmap for the realization of our own
Vision 2020, the blueprint for our socio-economic development. Besides, their
targets are imbedded in our Poverty Reduction Strategy, a program of economic
growth, in place since 2000, that aims to generate wealth and increase choices
for the poor.

So, clearly, we are determined to do our bit, and although there are still
bottlenecks, we seem to be making significant progress. For instance, in Goal
Number 2, we have introduced universal primary education, and as a result, we
have attained over 90 percent primary one enrollment, and net enrollment in
primary schools of 82 percent.

We have striven to promote gender equality in all sectors of Rwandan life and we
have attained the 50:50 enrollment of girls and boy children in primary education,
contained in the Millennium Development Goal Number Three. As for gender
equality in decision making organs, we now have a ratio of 49 percent women in
parliament and 35 percent in the Cabinet. We are, I think, to a great extent on
track in the areas of gender parity and universal primary education.

That said, I wish I could be as optimistic for the other goals. We are doing our
best, but like other African countries, there is no way we can achieve the
Millennium Development Goals without a true partnership at the local, national,
and between developed and developing countries, based on our shared
commitment and determination to promote economic and social advancement of
all peoples.

This will necessitate on the part of our development partners three cardinal
things in development financing: first, improvement in the quality and quantity of
official development assistance (ODA); second, fairer trade; and Third, debt
cancellation, which several countries in Africa, including Rwanda, are now
benefiting from. The quality of official development assistance should be
improved by adopting needs-based approaches, providing more budget support,
supporting and harmonizing with national poverty reduction programs, reducing
waste and overheads, and by channeling aid to sectors that enhance productive
capacities rather than those that perpetuate dependency.

There should also be greater consultation, coordination, harmonization, and
policy coherence among official development assistance recipients and donors.
Effective official development assistance should be untied to procurement of
over-priced equipment and consultants from donor countries. All these proposals
are contained in both the Monterrey Consensus as well as the Paris Declaration
on aid effectiveness, which must be implemented. Distinguished audience, the
global commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in the next ten
years requires massive mobilization of financial resources and their immediate
deployment for immediate employment.

We welcome the decision by some developed countries to substantially increase
their volume of official development assistance over the last few years. We also
congratulate those states that have reached or exceeded the internationally
agreed 0.7 percent of GNI for official development assistance target and
welcome the decision by those states that have set timetables to achieve or
exceed that target by the year of 2015.

These commitments should significantly improve the prospects of many
developing countries to attain the Millennium Development Goals. But for these
resources to be effective in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals,
their disbursement should be accelerated, flexible, and predictably available for
implementation. Fairer trade will entail recommitting ourselves, both in principle
and practice, to an open, rule-based, non-discriminatory, and equitable
multilateral trading system.

Any progress that developing countries like Rwanda might achieve in attaining
the Millennium Development Goals will not be sustainable unless measures are
taken, at the same time, to provide a greater opportunity to access the richer
markets of the developed world and, thereby, increase household and national
incomes. In this regard, we welcome and support the proposal for duty-free and
quota-free market access for all exports from Least Developed Countries to the
markets of developed countries, as well as the proposal to ease supply side
constraints and commodity price shocks in Least Developed Countries to enable
them take the fullest possible advantage of increased market access.

All our eyes are set on the successful completion of the WTO Doha round of
multilateral trade negotiations in 2006 and implementation of the Doha
Development Agenda, paying due regard to agricultural trade issues,
liberalization of trade in services, and the promotion of export competitiveness.
The recent decision to cancel the debt of 18 highly indebted least developed
African countries is a very commendable manifestation of the commitment by
those countries to the development of least developed countries.

Rwanda is one of the 18 countries that qualified for debt cancellation. Our debt
once stood at US dollars 1.2 billion whose annual servicing at the time was 523
percent of exports earnings. Cancellation of our debt means that the
Government can now channel nearly 40 million US dollars, which it previously
spent annually on debt servicing, towards improving or expanding social service
delivery around the country.

The challenge now is to access sufficient grant-based development financing that
will prevent the reversal of our debt sustainability while providing the needed
investment for economic growth and poverty reduction. Ladies and gentlemen, it
is clear to us that attainment of the Millennium Development Goals is also
contingent on good political and economic governance. In Rwanda, we have
implemented several political and economic reforms over the last decade,
including democratization and decentralization of the central and local

We have put in place institutions that promote accountability and transparency,
and we have introduced measures that combat corruption and abuse of public
office. We have also implemented a series of measures to ensure fiscal
discipline, to eliminate waste in the public sector, while also boosting trade and
inward investment. We will continue to do what it takes in this process,
particularly in the area of good political, economic, and corporate governance.

May I add that while we view improvements in governance as a continuum and a
dynamic process rather than a static end goal, we believe that we have made
significant progress, which gives us reason to be optimistic that with enhanced
support of our development partners, we could attain the Millennium
Development Goal targets by 2015. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me
conclude by reiterating that the socio-economic development of our countries
and the emancipation of our people is primarily our responsibility.

But the Millennium Development Goals are a compact between rich and poor,
and rich countries must honor their commitments and fulfill the obligations that
accompany these commitments. I am pleased to assure you that for Rwanda,
the will and enthusiasm for achieving the MDGs is there. What remains to be
seen is the same commitment on the part of our development partners.

We believe that we cannot afford to miss this opportunity that has the potential to
change the welfare of so many in the world. But while we dither and prevaricate,
children continue to die of starvation and preventable diseases. Others go to bed
and fail to sleep because they are hungry. This is not the kind of world we want
to bequeath to generations to come in this new Millennium. I wish to say thank
you for your kind attention and I will appreciate your questions and comments.

Back to Top