Rwanda: Transformation and stability
In Rwanda as well, renewable energy is playing a key role in transforming a country once devastated by violence. To most Americans, this East African nation is still heavily associated with the 1994 genocide that resulted tragically in the deaths of between 500,000 and 1 million people. In the 18 years since then, however, Rwanda has experienced strong economic growth and steady social gains, prompting the World Bank to describe the country as “among the most stable on the continent” and the African Economic Outlook to highlight improvements in health care, education, poverty reduction, and gender equality. Concerted efforts to improve Rwanda’s business environment resulted in the country being named a “top performer” in the Doing Business Report 2010, one of the 10 most improved economies in 2011, and the third easiest place to do business in Africa in 2012.
Surveying these recent gains, Josh Ruxin, Director of Rwanda Works, is encouraged: “This country has certainly come farther…than even the most optimistic observers would have predicted.” According to Ruxin, the crux of Rwanda’s strategy—not only in fueling economic growth, but also in encouraging social cohesion and reparation—has been to focus on providing affordable, reliable services, including electricity, to its population.
“It has been the government’s express policy,” Ruxin wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “to deliver basic services and economic growth to its people in order to mitigate genocide ideology…. Access to electricity and running water, both inconsistent five years ago even for those who could pay for it, is being constantly improved.”
Although Rwanda’s power-sector infrastructure has improved in recent decades, the country’s national electrification rate remains an abysmally low 7 percent—far lower than both the regional and continental average. The government’s goal is to raise this share to 30 percent by 2020, including by adding 42 megawatts of small hydropower capacity by 2015 and developing additional sources of energy (including geothermal and waste-to-energy) to diversify the power sector. Rwanda is already home to the largest single solar installation in Africa, the Kigali Solair plant, which generates 250 kilowatts of power and feeds into the national electricity grid.
Recognizing new realities
The progress being made in Haiti and Rwanda is important to recognize. For one, it illustrates the degree to which renewable energy sources are already contributing to concrete improvements in health and education, as well as to climate change mitigation. Highlighting these developments is critical, especially during a U.S. presidential election year in which renewable energy has become apolitical punching bag.
Moreover, it is clear that popular conceptions of countries like Haiti and Rwanda need to change to accommodate new realities—stories that go beyond the images of violence, devastation, and poverty that have dominated the Western media. Such a shift will allow government officials, foreign donors, and international organizations—in both developing and developed countries—to move forward as true partners in the effort to expand renewable energy.
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