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June 11, 2008

Speech at the National University of Rwanda on June 10, 2008, Butare, Rwanda

The Chairman of the Board of the National University of Rwanda, the honorable Chancellor, members of faculty and students:

It is indeed an extraordinary privilege for me to be conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Law of the National University of Rwanda. I am happy that I traveled all the way from Japan to Butare to bask in this honour. I have had close contact with Rwanda during the last fourteen years, but never had I ever thought I would ever enjoy today’s a pleasure.

In beginning my acceptance speech, I would first like to refer to the extraordinary meeting on African development that was held in Japan just prior to my departure. You might have heard that the fourth International Conference on Africa Development, widely known as TICAD, had just taken place in Yokohama. Forty heads of state and governments from African nations together with representatives from international organizations and non-government bodies assembled to discuss the future of Africa. Your own President Kagame was present, and I had the privilege of holding an important personal meeting.

The noted consensus that emerged from the conference was that Africa was entering a century of strong economic growth. The continent marked a 5.6 percent growth on average with some reaching over 10 percent. The international community at large expressed its readiness to assist, and Japan expressed its desire, in the words of the Prime Minister, to join Africa together in creating this history of growth. There was widespread agreement that aid flows to Africa should grow particularly in two areas: one in the development of infrastructure and the other in agriculture. The experiences of Japan and other Asian countries had proven that improvements particularly in transportation infrastructure - roads, bridges and ports - played a critical part in advancing the movements of peoples and goods.

As to the development of agriculture, the conference expressed alarm by the recent sharp rise in global food prices. While emergency food assistance had to be mobilized in many parts of the world including in Africa, attempts had to be made for Africa to achieve its own Green Revolution. A call for action was put forth that aimed to double the current rice production output over the next ten years. As you might know, Japan used to be an agricultural country, and rice continues to be the mainstay of our diet even today. Japan, together with African and international organizations, announced at the conference, its readiness not only to increase and improve the varieties of crops, but also to develop irrigation systems and to train agriculture workers in a wide range of African countries.

While calling for concentrated efforts to accelerate African economic growth, it is important to note that the conference devoted its attention on the modalities to be taken to realize such prospect. I was asked to organize a symposium that debated the significance of recent economic developments in Africa in light of the experience of Asia. The particular event reflected the increasing African interest in the Asian experience. I was privileged to obtain the agreement of four leading African leaders to join in as panelists - HE Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania and Chairman of the African Union, HE Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, HE Chissano, former President of Mozambique, and Dr. Kaburuka, President of African Development Bank Group, a fellow Rwandan.

In reviewing the Asian experience, one of the central points of debate was to examine the role of the state in addressing economic management, particularly the inputs from the market. The panelists all recognized the primary role of the state in promoting development of infrastructure and technological capacity building. While the role of the private sector as the driving force for economic growth was duly noted, and the importance of promoting the public-private partnership, the panel observed that the benefits of economic growth should be shared across the society at large. In short, if trans-national highways were to be built, it has to be one that benefited the local communities and peoples. A call for a participatory and inclusive process was emphasized if the current African economic growth in Africa were to be sustained.

Now turning these observations to the Rwandan development, it too has recorded remarkable progress. Considering the recent history of genocide and the challenge of post-conflict state-building, the progress achieved by Rwanda merits special recognition. Before analyzing some of the significant measures noted in your country, I would like to recall a few efforts that I personally became engaged in my former capacity as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The crisis in the Great Lakes region of Africa was one of the most challenging humanitarian situations for UNHCR, covering both the mass influx and repatriation of refugees. Rwanda had a complex history of colonialism as well as ethnic and social tensions. After the genocide in l994, many refugees who had been in exile for some thirty years returned. At the same time, there was mass refugee exodus which included those who had taken part in the genocide. From the start, the Rwandan government expressed its readiness to cooperate with UNHCR, as the agency charged with the protection and assistance of refugees, as well as finding solutions to their problems. UNHCR had to work on multiple levels. While helping those who fled the country, we also had to improve the conditions for their return back home. I had many arguments with the government, at times serious disagreements, but looking back, we shared the basic objective understanding on the need to solve the refugee problem. That was why we could work together, and reached a relationship of mutual trust. I recall what President Kagame said at the time: returning refugees constituted one quarter of the entire Rwandan population, so that UNHCR had to participate in the reconstruction work of the country.

I am intensely proud that the honour bestowed on myself by the National University of Rwanda today is in recognition of the contribution given by my UNHCR colleagues and I shall certainly relay them your appreciation. I am also pleased that Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA, which I presently head, is now following up the efforts of reconstruction and assisting your efforts towards development and growth.

It is my understanding that President Kagame has placed the development of human resources at the top of your national agenda. The fact that you have taken up education with a special emphasis on the teaching and research in the field of science and technology underscores the ICT led national development policy that the President announced in 2002. I had the pleasure of visiting FAWE Girls High School of Science in Kigali and was deeply impressed by the curriculum and enthusiastic atmosphere among the students. They all expressed their desire to become engineers and doctors some day. The government has formulated the National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI) Plan and adopted plans for systematically enhancing ICT. In 2007, the government established the Tumba College of Technology. JICA has decided to support the College through assisting in the building of facilities, as well as providing equipment and teachers. I look forward to attending the opening of Tumba College tomorrow.

In fact the opening of Tumba College has a special meaning. In l990, the College had been established by Japanese grant aid, but suffered demolition of the buildings and equipment in the course of the civil conflict. Its reopening also serves as the reminder that while efforts should not be spared to advance economic growth backed up by scientific and technical advancement, the benefits should be widely shared across the society at large. A call for a participatory and inclusive progress was emphasized by all African leaders at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development which I referred to at the beginning of my speech.

In the case of post-genocide Rwanda, I recall two initiatives that UNHCR adopted which had strong impact on Rwandan society. One is the women’s initiative and the other is the justice and reconciliation program. As in many post-conflict situations, these societies are usually dominated by the presence of women who survived the war. In Rwanda too, there were many households headed by women, in fact by young girls. UNHCR decided to take steps to help the government reform the basic legal rights of women, and to empower women through education and training. JICA has sent volunteers to help strengthen various women’s training programs. It is my understanding that Rwanda today claims the highest representation of women in parliament with over 50 percent.

The justice and reconciliation initiative also faced a considerable challenge. In the early days after the conflict when memories of genocide were ripe, it was extremely difficult for the people to learn to live together again. The cry for justice was extremely strong. Little by little, the government introduced measures to review the happenings that led to the killings. The Commission on Human Rights and eventually the Commission on National Unity and Reconciliation were set up by l998. UNHCR assisted the work of these commissions through help organizing town meetings and seminars. Little by little, people held forums and began to engage in forums that led people to discuss events of the past. I learned that these grass roots forums were eventually incorporated into the Gacaca courts, the traditional village courts and became linked to the formal justice system.

You may wonder why I would refer to some of the painful events of the past, when Rwanda today is moving rapidly and successfully on a course of growth. With clear policies of development led by science and technology, ambitious agricultural programs involving land-husbandry, water harvesting and hill-side irrigation and large infrastructure projects of roads and railways to link Rwanda with East African neighbors, I have all the reasons to believe that the future will be bright. However, the relevance of the social measures, to ensure equity and inclusiveness, will be more important than ever.

It is my great pleasure to receive the honorary degree from the prestigious National University of Rwanda. It is my privilege to address the faculty and students who will undoubtedly form the leadership of future Rwanda. Already Rwanda has proven its readiness to overcome all the trials of the past and move on a successful course of progress. Some of the experiences of Japan might be relevant, a small country in Asia with limited resources except human, advancing rapidly, in spite of the defeat in a major war.

I trust and believe that Japanese experience and readiness to work closely with Rwanda and the people will be useful, not only for the government and the leaders of today, but especially for you, those who will mold and lead the future. I might also add, that how Rwanda develops will be vital for all the neighboring countries of Africa.


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