June 15 2006
Operation HOPE Founder John Hope Bryant and Ambassador Andrew Young Meet with Rwandan President and Introduce Financial Literacy
Financial Literacy could play a crucial role in the revitalization of the new Rwanda
(Rwanda, Africa) June 15, 2006 – Operation HOPE founder and CEO John Hope Bryant and HOPE Global Spokesman Ambassador Andrew Young traveled to Africa and met with Rwanda President Paul Kagame, in part with a message and a plan of economic empowerment and “silver rights” for all citizens of Rwanda. While in Rwanda, Bryant witnessed the devastation from one of the world’s worst genocides in history in 1994, when one million Rwandan citizens were killed, but more so President Kagame’s success in rebuilding Rwanda and bringing the country together.
Bryant, who sees Rwanda as a potential role model country for the entire African continent, sees potential in Rwanda incorporating the principles of HOPE’s financial literacy programs as a tool to help hard working individuals there achieve financial and personal success and allow growth, empowerment, and ultimately independence. Bryant remarks, “By promoting ‘silver rights’ in Rwanda, we are encouraging each individual to believe in his or her fundamental right to dignity, respect, and access to resources, helping them to make their own decisions in life and to encourage knowledge and celebrate growth.” Bryant continued, “I also see the power of education as the ultimate poverty eradication tool in Rwanda, no different than it is in the low-wealth communities in America. To this end President Kagame has been successful in providing a fair and visionary Constitution where everyone is provided with an education to the 10th grade. Through HOPE Global Initiatives our goal is to help take Rwanda to the next level and bring economic growth through grassroots knowledge.”
The Honorable Andrew Young and Bryant attended the Rwanda Investment Conference, a conference attended by more than 700 delegates from over 120 countries and more than 200 foreign investors. At the conference Bryant discovered a huge opportunity for a traditional mortgage product and credit reporting industry in the growing Rwanda economy. Currently middle class workers purchase a new home with 30% down, pay 12% interest and must pay the entire balance off over a 5 year period. Bryant and Ambassador Young looked at this as a major opportunity to reshape the economic structure and knowledge within Rwanda, as well as creating an entirely new base of well paid skilled labor, and both have committed to advise the government.
Young and Bryant later toured the entire stretch of Rwanda by road, on foot, and by helicopter. They even visited the famed Silver Back Gorillas. More importantly, they met with key community leaders and visited memorials of the genocide victims. “They all seem to be committed to absolutely the same thing -- the future of a united Rwanda. During our entire stay not one Rwandan referred to themselves as Tutsi or Hutu, only proud Rwandans. This is a very encouraging sign,” added Young who was also in the country producing a documentary on “Rwanda’s opportunity.” Toyota Motor Sales, USA, a HOPE Partner, served as a proud sponsor for the Young documentary on Rwanda.
The visit seeks to create avenues to promote and advocate the benefits of economic empowerment principles and the power of the free enterprise system, placing financial literacy as a key element in creating a tool for self sufficiency to all Rwandans no matter their background. HOPE’s goal is to teach basic money and financial management and entrepreneurship skills to the youth and allow them to develop and achieve pathways to their own financial independence.
Financial literacy in Rwanda is part of HOPE Global Initiative, a group of scholars and economic leaders providing knowledge to impoverished countries. Bryant consents, “This is precisely the sort of change, as well as a paradigm shift within the (traditional civil rights) movement that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was calling for in his vision for his final life’s work, the Poor People’s Campaign, within the United States. Some 40 years later, we are seeking to bring this model into the global community.” With the ‘silver rights’ movement in 2006, Bryant adds, “If you do not know better, you cannot do better and with Financial Literacy as the key instrument of knowledge, the community of Rwanda will do better.”
In 1959, three years before independence from Belgium, the majority ethnic group, the Hutus, overthrew the ruling Tutsi king. Over the next several years, thousands of Tutsis were killed, and some 150,000 driven into exile in neighboring countries. The children of these exiles later formed a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and began a civil war in 1990. The war, along with several political and economic upheavals, exacerbated ethnic tensions, culminating in April 1994 in the genocide of roughly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu regime and ended the killing in July 1994, but approximately 2 million Hutu refugees - many fearing Tutsi retribution - fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and the former Zaire. Since then, most of the refugees have returned to Rwanda, but about 10,000 remain in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo and have formed an extremist insurgency bent on retaking Rwanda, much as the RPF tried in 1990. Despite substantial international assistance and political reforms - including Rwanda's first local elections in March 1999 and its first post-genocide presidential and legislative elections in August and September 2003 - the country continues to struggle to boost investment and agricultural output, and ethnic reconciliation is complicated by the real and perceived Tutsi political dominance. Kigali\'s increasing centralization and intolerance of dissent, the nagging Hutu extremist insurgency across the border, and Rwandan involvement in two wars in recent years in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to hinder Rwanda's efforts to escape its bloody legacy.
Rwanda’s current country's population is approximately 8.5 million today. Today, Rwanda's children face extreme challenges:
- Rwanda is home to one of the world's largest proportions of child-headed households, with an estimated 101,000 children living in 42,000 households. These children are on-their-own either because their parents were killed in the genocide, have died from AIDS, or have been imprisoned for genocide-related crimes.
- Two thousand women, many of whom were survivors of rape, were tested for HIV during the five years following the 1994 genocide. Of them 80 percent were found to be HIV positive, and many were not sexually active prior to the genocide.
- By 2001, an estimated 264,000 children had lost one or both parents to AIDS, representing 43 percent of all orphans. This figure is expected to grow to over 350,000 by 2010.
- Rwanda has one of the world's worst child mortality rates - 1 in 5 Rwandan children die before their fifth birthday.
About Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame
President Kagame and his family, along with countless other Rwandans of Tutsi descent were exiled out of Rwanda in 1959 by radical Hutu leaders where they lived in neighboring Uganda. Kagame returned to Rwanda after the genocide of 1994, in where 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were slaughtered over the course of approximately 80 days (10,000 people killed per day in a small country of then 10 million 12% of the Rwandan population). Kagame, ultimately drove out the offending Hutu leaders, many of which have since been brought to justice. Most perpetrators of this heinous crime against humanity are still on the run. Less than 100,000 are currently in prison in Rwanda jails.
Paul Kagame has been credited with bringing stabilization to the Rwanda region. To date some of his contributions include:
- One of the most progressive Constitutions of any nation in the world.
- 49% of all leaders in government are women, as mandated by the Constitution (52% of Rwanda's population is made up of women).
- Created a Constitution that calls for absolute protection of individual property rights.
- Provides and mandates free education for all children to 10th grade.