The State of the Nation Address
Kigali, 21 December 2015
I would like to begin by welcoming everyone to the 13th meeting of the National Umushyikirano Council, including all the Rwandans participating from various sites around the country and beyond.
Let me also thank the distinguished guests and visitors from abroad who have taken the time to join us. This is an opportunity to observe first-hand how important matters are handled in our country: Transparently, inclusively, and respectfully.
It is the Constitutional duty of the President of the Republic of Rwanda to report every year on the state of the Nation.
However, this year, what is even more important is that the people of Rwanda have performed the task themselves, which in any case is their right.
Participation in the recent Referendum was massive. Most voted “Yes”. Tens of thousands voted “No”. I thank each and every one of you.
Our democracy is stronger because we have continued to define ourselves, and refused to be distracted. Frankly, what was at issue has been resolved.
Our purpose here in this Umushyikirano is simple: Make sure our actions are guided by what Rwandans have expressed. These are serious matters, and Rwandans demand that we treat them as such.
Allow me to start the discussion by sharing what I heard our people say.
First, the Rwanda we have today is already more than we dared expect twenty-one short years ago.
We know its value, and We the People, as it says in our Constitution, are prepared to safeguard the unique choices and actions that brought this country back to life.
We will always want to stay together, we will always be accountable to ourselves first, and we are not going to stop thinking big.
We stand up for these propositions without hesitation, and undaunted by reproach. The results are undeniable and the historical context is unforgettable, at least to us Rwandans.
Second, it is a privilege and a duty to serve Rwanda, not an entitlement. No individual is there forever, but there is no term limit on values, institutions, and progress.
When the time comes to transfer responsibility from one public servant to another, Rwandans already have confidence that it will be done in the orderly and harmonious manner which we expect and indeed require.
Finally, and most importantly, Rwandans are telling us that, as much as we have achieved, this is not as good as it gets.
There is an even better Rwanda ahead, and the chance to definitively transform our country must not be squandered through inaction, indecisiveness, or mismanagement.
Rwandans have therefore decided to establish a specific interval in which to fortify our gains, make them irreversible, and fully focus on the politics of prosperity.
We are not afraid of the past, we are full of optimism for the future. Let us not miss our moment.
There are important reasons why the conversation has moved in this future-minded direction.
For one, the overwhelming majority of the people who approved the revised Constitution are young Rwandans.
They belong to a generation that has never had reason to fear a policeman, or bribe a petty bureaucrat for the right to live.
Many have never heard gunfire, much less experienced those moments of cold terror that left so many invisible scars in their parents’ hearts.
We should celebrate this.
This is the future we always wanted for our children. They take the normality of the new Rwanda for granted, and that is okay.
The generation that lived through the worst moments of our history has fully absorbed its lessons. They rebuilt this country by transforming fear into hope.
Let us be thankful for them as well.
These Rwandans have told us that we can do more and better, even faster. And they are right.
We don’t want to be a status quo country or status quo people.
Vision 2020 was about what we had to do in order to survive and regain our dignity. But Vision 2050 has to be about the future we choose, because we can, and because we deserve it.
Rwandans will not be satisfied to live paycheck to paycheck, harvest to harvest, without accumulating wealth and financial security.
They want to live close to the families they love and watch them thrive. They want access to world-class education, right here at home.
They aspire to travel the world in search of new ideas and experiences, unhindered by barriers. And then fly proudly back home to Rwanda, because there is no other place they would rather live.
Rwandans want a good politics that keeps delivering results, and always respects the fundamental principles established in our Constitution.
They also expect a democracy in which public office is routinely transferred from one individual of their choice to another, yet real power and decision-making always remain firmly in the hands of the people themselves.
If this sounds right, then we are together.
That means: Not alone, but all of us.
This is not a vision that can be brought about by any government on its own, or from outside, much less by a President. It requires the full effort and participation of each of us at our various levels and sectors.
Every developed economy, without exception, has been the result of wide collaboration across society to entrench the institutions and ways of thinking required to sustain prosperity and stability.
But we do not have to change who we are as Rwandans. We just have to be our best selves.
A person without a country has no value. A country without values has no future.
Our vision for the future is not technical, it is deeply meaningful to us, reflecting how we feel in our hearts about each other, and our homeland.
There is no problem with advice or criticism from any quarter, because it can benefit us. But statements that acknowledge our good results, while depicting Rwandans as people incapable of either thought or feeling, are not critical, they are deliberately abusive.
To that, we listen, we pay attention, and put all that where it belongs.
Every year, we see states fail, and world affairs become more complex and uncertain. It makes no sense to undermine the legitimate and effective governments that are best able to help tackle the serious global challenges facing all of us in different ways, just to score debating points.
The society of Rwandans is a moral one, a community of shared norms. And the attributes needed to transform Rwanda reside right here in our hearts and minds.
First, agaciro, our dignity as human beings, is fearlessness before truth and courage in the face of uncertainty.
Agaciro is born of the lives of struggle and sacrifice that we have all lived. But it is no less important as our lives get better because the opposite of agaciro is not poverty, but self-doubt.
One day, in the not-too-distant future, we will make this country prosperous, not by riding on the backs of others, but by cooperating on the basis of our own abilities, knowledge, and desire to succeed.
Second, responsibility. In our homes and our neighbourhoods, Rwandans have no trouble taking action when something is not being done properly.
Why should it be any different for the country as a whole? We are individually and collectively responsible for our nation’s development.
Citizens who do not wait to be appointed to find solutions are models for all of us. Successful countries are full of people who refuse to just mind their own business, in pursuit of good purposes.
Productivity and prosperity depend on applying the same sense of responsibility to our own work in the form of diligence, quality, and respect for the value of time.
Third, generosity of spirit, or love, the foundation of which is our families and communities, and most particularly our unshakable commitment to total equality between women and men.
What a joyful and loving people we are. The time we spend in community meetings and social visits is not frivolous, it brings us together to develop common understandings and learn about different points of view.
The care that Rwandans take for vulnerable people around them does not spring from any law or government programme, it comes from our hearts. It shows how we value every individual and expect our leaders to do the same.
This spirit leads to open-mindedness and curiosity, which are the attributes that drive creativity and innovation in a modern economy.
We are free and decent people. We choose to stay together, to be accountable, and to think big. And we do it all with dignity, responsibility, and love.
In other words, we must own our future.