It was during the phase of expanding the Pan-Africa e-Network platform, created under a project of the Government of India that, in 2011, I landed up in Rwanda, a beautiful country with a cool climate and scenic, hilly terrain. Rwanda, due to its geographic location on the continent, is called Africa’s heart. There was a flight from Nairobi in Kenya to Kigali, hopping over the small Bujumbura airport in Burundi. It was here that I met Colonel Ben Karenzi, a medical doctor, and Commandant of the Rwandan Army Hospital. He gave me a PowerPoint presentation on the proposed Super Specialty Hospital for Military, with 3D drawings. This was new to me, habituated to seeing the traditional Indian hospitals, which had evolved over several decades, adding layers upon layers of facilities. I was presented a copy of A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It, the story of Paul Kagame, a refugee who, after a generation of exile, found his way home.
Dr. Ben Karenzi and his team paid a return visit to India and saw Hyderabad as a fast-emerging hub for the treatment of international patients, mostly coming in from the African continent, finding it more suitable than the two other great Indian medical hubs – Mumbai, crowded and expensive, and Chennai, a little away. Our focus was using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to provide whatever services were possible in Africa itself and a lengthy follow-up back home after they returned, post-treatment. These visits and people travelling more often provided an impetus for better bilateral relations between India and Rwanda. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Rwanda in July 2018 and soon after, the Indian High Commission in Kigali became operational, on August 15, 2018.
After superannuation from military service, Dr. Ben became a consultant in the management of international projects. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockouts and disruptions of international air travel, he could not visit India earlier, but he finally arrived last month on a week-long trip. It was very kind of him to visit me at my home as his first stop and before returning – what is generally called briefing/ debriefing sessions done at the beginning and conclusion of a visit. Age had affected both of us and there was no ‘pink of health’ anymore. But the spirit was indomitable and the vision about what could be done between India and Rwanda, sharper.
During this visit, Ben Karenzi spent an entire day at Bharat Biotech International Limited to understand the aspects of capacity building for vaccine manufacturing in Africa, totally dependent on UNICEF-sponsored vaccine programmes for their children, which means, vaccines manufactured in the Western countries. The CDC Africa is merely two years old, and a continental strategy is yet to emerge on what African people need and will get without dependence on imports. India offers a shining example of such a pursuit. India is now not only self-sufficient in all essential drugs and pharmaceuticals, including vaccines, but provided desperately needed COVID-19 vaccines to Rwanda and other countries. The Indian “price” is unbeatable and Western powers can only persist by fortifying their current dominance through rules and regulations they have historically created and imposed upon Africa.
Ben Karenzi spent another day at the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) factory in Hyderabad. BHEL had created a small 28 MW hydroelectric project on the Nyabarongo River in Rwanda, with an 80-million-dollar Indian line of credit. The project has eased out Rwanda’s electricity shortage to an extent. Rwanda has abundant methane reserves and can become an energy hub, following the gas turbine route. Besides being an energy partner, BHEL, with its world-class Plant and Machinery (P&M) building capacity, can establish the Kigali centralized water and sewage system. The focus is not merely funding and doing, but making the Rwandan people learn advanced engineering and cater to the needs of the African economy, something India did in the 1960s. Rwanda’s only sugar refinery and its only modern textile mill are both run by Indians, and it is time to upscale and raise the stakes.
Since everything eventually acquires a name, this working together of developing countries has been called “South-South” cooperation. It is a broad framework of collaboration among countries of the global South, with all developed countries in the North. When the developing countries share knowledge, skills, expertise, and resources among themselves through concerted efforts, it is called “South-South” cooperation. There is a trend, led by China, of an increased volume of South-South trade and foreign direct investment. Between African and Asian continents, there is regional integration, technology transfers, and impromptu sharing of solutions and experts. It will take another few decades before becoming a viable alternative to the North-dominated world order, but the baby is born; it will grow with time.
Ben Karenzi presented me a folder on Vision 2050, the Rwandan national development strategy, launched in December 2020 by President Paul Kagame. Rwanda aims to be an upper-middle income country (UMIC) by 2035, and a high-income country (HIC) by 2050. This means realizing a per capita GDP of about 4000 dollars by 2035 and of over 12,000 dollars by 2050. For understanding, India has a per capita GDP of 2000 in 2022. According to Mr. Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), in his February 2022 speech at the Asia Economic Dialogue, “I believe that with our progress, we will reach $10,000 per capita in the next 15-20 years.” Of course, with more than 1.35 billion people, and growing, it will be a humongous task. India must go global, capitalizing on its technology and engineering expertise.
I am yet to deep dive into the document, but what struck me most was the assertion of President Kagame, “Vision 2050 has to be about the future we choose, because we can, and because we deserve it.” It is, indeed, true that we all are as big as our dream. Without aspiration, any individual, or community, or nation, easily gets lost in merry-making, only to be subjugated by a higher power, or to wither away into oblivion. The idea of ‘who I am’ and ‘what do I do with my life’, is fundamental. It was not until Bal Gangadhar Tilak proclaimed, “Swaraj is my birth right, and I shall have it!” that a movement started in India to overthrow the British Rule. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam used to say, “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.” So, President Kagame’s call to choose, because we can, and because we deserve it, is a call of our times, for the entire global South, where more than five billion people live mostly impoverished lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved this much, that South-South cooperation is the only way forward. The urgent need for vaccines has opened a window of opportunity for a South-South cooperation initiative in health and related areas. But if not for Indian and Chinese vaccines, there would been a disaster. While the superficialities of advanced healthcare systems in the Western world surfaced, the vaccination of billions of people throughout the global South was a historic achievement. This has to move on to agriculture supply chains, and finally, education. It will happen, because we deserve it. It will take years, even decades, but like a tree that takes years before giving fruits, it will happen, if started and sustained.
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