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Rwanda — Africa’s mini-Singapore in the making
February 19, 2017, 3:24 pm

Rwanda has the distinction of often being labeled the ‘Singapore of Africa’. With its clean streets, intolerance to corruption and an impressive economic growth that has consistently been around 8 percent annually, land-locked Rwanda is working its way to mimicking some of the successes of the tiny island-nation of Singapore.

In 2008, Singapore and Rwanda signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to provide a framework for public sector collaboration. The same year, the Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA) was formed to empower citizens with practical skills required to build the country’s economy. The WDA was modeled on the highly successful Singapore Workforce Development Agency, which played a significant role in transforming Singapore into an economic powerhouse after the devastations of Second World War.

It was also in 2008 that Singaporean Chong Fook Yen, a vocational and technical education expert, landed in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. He was given charge of Rwanda’s WDA and tasked with transforming the African country’s vocational and educational system with a focus on pre-employment training.

Back then, Rwanda was slowly recovering from its turbulent history — in the genocide of 1994, close to a million Rwandans were killed along racial lines in a little over 100 days. If you look at Singapore when we first started our nation building, we too had sort of just stepped out from the Second World War and were also facing racial riots back then, although not on the scale of what was experienced in Rwanda, notes Mr. Chong.

In 2008, the skill-gap among the Rwandan population was huge and we had to work out a curriculum to the match the needs of the country’s industry, revamp the vocational system and upgrade the skills of the instructors. Students were also sent to Singapore to hone their skills in areas like hospitality and aviation, adds Mr. Chong.

Due to the efforts of WDA, as well as continued support from government policies, today there are 392 vocational training schools across Rwanda offering a wide range of courses for students. “If we don’t invest in education, just one generation would destroy the country,” points out Mr. Chong, “because that generation would grow up without the right education, without the right character-building, and the repercussions would trickle down to the next generation and the next.”

Since those early years, Rwanda has made huge strides in its growth and development, as it slowly transformed into one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. The country’s GDP has more than quadrupled since 1994 to reach US$1,784 in 2015. It has one of the lowest levels of corruption in African and, in 2016, was ranked the second best country to do business on the continent by the Global Entrepreneurship Index. As of January 2017, Rwanda also has the highest percentage of women in parliament at 63.8 percent and is only one of two countries with a female majority in parliament, the other being Bolivia in South America with 53.1 percent female representation.

Rwanda president Paul Kagame is clearly pleased with how his country has emulated Singapore and her successes. “When they say this is the Singapore of Africa, I think maybe it’s a recognition that Rwanda has learnt a thing or two from Singapore and has applied it and seen its transformation,” he recently said.

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