Rwanda – Prior to the launch of the highly anticipated final season of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, actor and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, visited Rwanda. This was in the weeks leading up to the 25th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
In March, Coster-Waldau along with colleagues from UNDP traveled to Rwanda to gain insights into the current situation of the country and the achievements made since the tragic events of 1994. He focused particularly on areas in which UNDP partners with the Government of Rwanda and other national stakeholders to address development challenges. UNDP supports programmes that seek to reduce poverty and inequalities, promote good governance, access to justice and human rights, protect the environment and curb climate change, and empower women and youth, among other things.
Contrary to Coster-Waldau’s initial ideas about the country, he left Rwanda utterly surprised by the growth, development and unity that the country has undergone throughout the last two and a half decades. “All I knew of Rwanda was that it was the scene of one of the worst tragedies in modern history: The genocide against the Tutsi people. Almost a million people killed. I expected to find a county in despair, I couldn’t have been more wrong,” stated Coster-Waldau.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau alongside UNDP RR, Mr. Stephen Rodriques, Eng. Colette Ruhamya, REMA director general and Mr. Olivier Mbera, manager of the E-waste facility in Bugesera
“From the moment I arrived in Kigali to the moment I left, I was constantly impressed by what I experienced,” Coster-Waldau continued. “By how rapidly change can happen if there is a connection between the people and the political will of the government. And how the power of forgiveness is much stronger than the power of hate.”
As a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, Coster-Waldau’s main role is to spread awareness and support for the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals sets targets in 17 areas for the global community to act on if we are to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
In an interview conducted at UNDP headquarters in New York, Coster-Waldau mentioned that his main mission as a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador will be “to raise awareness and support for the Global Goals for a better future for all, which cannot be achieved without empowering women and protecting our planet.”
As a parent to two young girls, Coster-Waldau is passionate about ending violence and discrimination against women and girls worldwide. He focuses his attention on raising awareness for gender equality and climate change action. He believes emphatically that advocacy is integral for social change.
During Coster-Waldau’s visit, he met with the Honorable Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in the House of Parliament, members of the Rwanda Women Parliamentary Forum (FFRP in French), and the Minister of Gender and Family Protection, Honorable Solina Nyirahabimana, who explained the efforts that the Government of Rwanda has made to ensure gender equality in all sectors and forms of government. The Hon. Minister noted that the Government of Rwanda has revised its constitution to guarantee equal human rights and opportunities including the rights of women in nation-building. Solid progress has been made towards achieving this, and today Rwanda stands leads the world in terms of female representation in parliament (61%) and the cabinet (50%).
Coster-Waldau along with colleagues from UNDP watching a short induction video at the Kigali Genocide Memorial
Coster-Waldau also had the opportunity to see some of UNDP’s work on promoting sustainable development practices. He visited the Rweru village, which is a model “Green Vilage” located in the Bugesera district. Rweru was among the first set of pilot green villages designed by the government with UNDP support, to demonstrate socially and environmentally sustainable community development. Through the Rweru green village, 144 families were relocated from disaster prone areas of the country and resettled into a safe community. The village boasts infrastructure such as electricity, clean water, schools and hospitals. To make such efforts sustainable, the villagers have been producing biogas to generate energy and have been harvesting rain water for daily consumption.
“Coming from Denmark—one of the world’s wealthiest countries that takes pride in being at the forefront of innovation and a green, sustainable future—it was refreshing for me to see that it’s possible to make the future better without it instantly being qualified by a price tag,” said Coster-Waldau who was surprised to learn that Rwanda is ahead of many Western nations when it comes to climate action, having abandoned the use of plastic bags ten years ago and with plans underway to stop the use of single-use plastics.
Coster-Waldau recognizes that there is still a lot more work to be done in Rwanda and more challenges to overcome, such as the country’s limited natural resources and a high rate of poverty.
“But Rwanda has shown a commitment towards positive change and, on their terms, has been willing to accept help from, among others, UNDP, which has partnered with the government and its people to help them in the transition process.”
UNDP will continue to support the Government of Rwanda, its people and its development. “Rwanda is one of the most impressive stories of transformation not only in Africa, but anywhere in the world,” said Stephen Rodriques, UNDP Rwanda Resident Representative. “We are grateful to Nikolaj for shining a spotlight on Rwanda and showing the world how a lesser developed country can lift itself up largely through its own resources and initiatives,” he concluded.