Editor’s Note
March 2019

Rwanda, the host of the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), would be the perfect destination for someone visiting sub-Saharan Africa for the first time — especially someone who didn’t do well with noise and chaos and small dangers at every turn. Kigali is clean, orderly, and full of fantastic restaurants serving international cuisine. During the five days I spent there — admittedly a very short stay and one that didn’t include any travel outside the capital city — I was only approached for money once, and when I declined offers of taxi rides or invitations to visit people’s shops, one polite response was all it took to conclude the exchange. In November, when the conference took place, the weather was temperate, if a bit rainy, which made walking the safe streets even more enjoyable.

These pleasant surprises caught me off guard because, as I’m sure many do, when I think of Rwanda I think of the 1994 genocide. I was ignorant about the impressive strides that the country has made since then to heal wounds, both physical and emotional, and I was equally ignorant about what a popular foreign investment destination Rwanda has become. In fact, the World Bank ranks Rwanda 29th in its “ease of doing business ranking,” the only low-income economy to make the top 50.

Due to concerted efforts since the mid-1990s to soothe tensions between Hutus and Tutsis, the two ethnic groups that massacred each other,[1] the only obvious evidence of the genocide that I saw was at the museum and memorial dedicated to the atrocity, located on the site of a mass grave where 200,000 bodies lie beneath several planes of cement.

With 12 million people living in a land area smaller than Maryland, which has a population half that size, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in continental Africa. Its population is growing by 2.3 percent a year, at which rate it would double in 30 years. With 60 percent of the population under the age of 25, with the bulk of their childbearing years ahead of them, population growth won’t slow down without continued fertility reduction. When international family planning programs first began in the 1960s, Rwanda’s total fertility rate was 8.2 children per woman. Today, it is 4.2 — still two births above replacement rate,[2] but trending in the right direction. The UN Population Division’s medium fertility variant projects that Rwanda will reach replacement rate in the late 2050s, and continue declining from there.

In order for that projection to become a reality, however, investment in family planning must remain a top priority, along with investments in education, health, and gainful employment. United States foreign assistance plays a big role in that investment strategy, and we cannot let our own country’s fickle policies, imposed by our so-called leaders, derail the progress that countries such as Rwanda have worked so hard to achieve.

[1]   The genocide was committed by extremist Hutus against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Once the genocide was officially over, the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Army slaughtered Hutus — many of them guilty of committing direct acts of genocide — who had been driven to refugee camps in the Congo.

[2]   The UN Population Division estimates Rwanda’s replacement rate fertility to be 2.2. Each country’s replacement rate is dependent on its particular mortality rate.

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