The year 2018 will go down as one of the years when Rwanda registered incredible milestones both nationally, in the region, continent and globally. Sunday Times’ James Karuhanga looks back at the biggest stories of the year and how they impacted the country.

Historic African Continental Free Trade Area deal

In March, during the 10th Extraordinary African Union Summit, in Kigali, African Heads of State and Government endorsed the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). The historic agreement – expected to reduce export tariffs which currently average 6.1 per cent, and boost intra-African trade by more than 52 per cent after import duties are eliminated – was initially signed by 44 African countries which has now risen to 49. The deal covers a market of 1.2 billion people in 55 nations with a combined gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion. Fifteen countries have so far ratified the agreement with only seven remaining. The AU targets to have the remaining countries sign before the African Union summit in February.

Ending RSSB monopoly

In June, there was more good news as the monopoly enjoyed by the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) as the sole social security provider came to an end as private pension schemes commenced. A private pension scheme dubbed ‘Ituze’ was registered by the Central Bank and the registrar of companies at the Rwanda Development Board after it was found to be compliant with requirements.

A new era for Rwanda-China relations

Shortly after Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi left Kigali after a three-day state visit, in July, Rwanda-China relationships entered a new era with the first ever visit to Rwanda by a Chinese Head of State. President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan of China arrived in Rwanda to further strengthen diplomatic ties and cooperation between Rwanda and China. Some of the priority areas that President Xi Jinping said the two countries will partner in include; education, culture, health, tourism, aviation and human resources training

Enter Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

After President Xi’s two day state visit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also visited Rwanda for the first time. Modi arrived accompanied by over 100 Indian business people indicative of the growing appetite for the local market by Indian investors. During the visit, the two governments signed seven bilateral pacts to boost cooperation.

Louise Mushikiwabo’s big Francophonie triumph

In October, former Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo was elected Secretary General of theOrganisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) for the next four years. Her win came after months on the campaign trail in countries across the world.

Africa’s first electronic world trade platform

In October, Alibaba’s Jack Malaunched Africa’s first Electronic World Trade platform in Rwanda. The first Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) in Africa, a result of a partnership between the Government of Rwanda and Alibaba Group, opened doors for small businesses in Africa to take part in cross-border electronic trade.

Karate gold

For people who love Karate, 2018 was a golden year. For the very first time, a Rwandan fighter won gold atan international contest. In September, at the end of the 17th African Seniors Karate Championships and the 9th African Juniors Karate Championships held in Kigali, Rwandans had bagged eight medals – including the country’s first ever gold. The World Karate Federation (WKF) now ranks Rwanda sixth on the continent for its one gold, two silver and five bronze medals.

Young, inclusive parliament

A young and dynamic parliament - the Lower House of Parliament – was ushered in September. Experts say that with all political parties having secured seats in the Lower House, more youth joined the House and women continued to dominate the Chamber of Deputies, the country’s Parliament is more inclusive than ever.

New cabinet: blend of age, gender and technocrats

October came with a new cabinet: A skillful blend of age, gender and technocrats. In the new cabinet, things that stood out include the number of women appointed and the entry of youthful first-timers.

Zula Karuhimbi: a heroine departs

Zula Karuhimbi, who saved over 150Tutsi during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, passed away on December 17. For the centenarian’s courage, self-sacrifice and determination to stand against the Genocide, in 2006 President Paul Kagame awarded her with Umurinzi, Rwanda’s Campaign against Genocide Medal.

Tour du Rwanda upgrade

Tour du Rwanda, Rwanda’s biggest sporting event was upgraded to a 2:1 race making it one of the premier cycling competitions on the continent and world.

Volkswagen launched

The country’s automobile industry moved a notch higher when President Kagame launched the Volkswagen MobilitySolutions Rwanda! The Germany owned company also selected a local tech startup,Awesomity Lab to develop a mobility solution platform which will change car ownership and use across the world.

Digital pension scheme for the mass

Ejo Heza! On December 14, Rwanda launched Africa’s first universal digital pension scheme for the mass market. President Kagame launched the Long Term Savings Scheme named Ejo Heza (Kinyarwanda meaning for “Brighter Future”) during the 16th National Umushyikirano Council (the National Dialogue). Ejo Heza offers opportunity and incentives for all Rwandan’s to save a voluntary share of regular or irregular earnings to mitigate against risk of old age poverty.

Mukura Victory Sports going places

Mukura Victory Sports footballclub’s decent display and qualification in the play-off round of the 2018/2019 Total CAF Confederation Cup did not go unnoticed too. Mukura VS sealed the ticket to the play-off round of the CAF Confederation Cup after defeating Sudanese side Al Hilal Obeid 5-4 on penalties in return leg.

Africa’s Cyclist of the Year

2017 Tour du Rwanda champion Joseph Areruya was voted African Cyclist of the Year for 2018, the first time, a Rwandan athlete has achieved such a feat. The 22 year old rides for French side Delko Marseille Provence KTM. Given out every year, by the organisers of the La Tropicale Amissa Bongo race, the trophy is aimed at boosting the development of African cycling, and recognizing the rider who has had the best season on the continent and beyond.

Source: The New Times