SINGING PRAISES OF RWANDA

The Independent (Kampala)

Rwanda: Why I Would Love to Work And Live in Country

Bob Kasango

10 October 2010


opinion

Kampala — If ever a nation seemed destined to fail, it was Rwanda. A little more than 16 years ago, the country suffered the most brutal genocide since the Holocaust. In 100 days, Hutu mobs slaughtered more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, one tenth of the population, a literal decimation. Many thought Rwanda would plunge into a death spiral like other “conflict-ridden” countries, such as Somalia.

But Rwanda confounded us all and has become a model for the African renaissance. It is stable, well ordered, and being rebuilt every day. Average incomes have more doubled from $242 in 1999 to $520 in 2010. The country has Africa’s most enviable national health-care system, burgeoning countrywide education, and much less corruption than is usual in Africa. It is becoming increasingly attractive to corporations and tourists. In 2007, Fortune published an article titled “Why CEOs Love Kagame.” The heads of Starbucks, Google, and Costco are among the country’s supporters and I dare add my name to that star-studded line-up of admirers of Rwanda.

Even the most radical critics of Kagame admit that the post-genocide recovery and reconstruction has been spectacular. Rwanda has managed to build world-class infrastructure, attract foreign aid and investment, and hit and maintain fantastic growth rates. Even though poverty continues to be a problem, Rwanda has made substantial progress and continues to be on the right path in getting its people towards prosperity. They may not be just there yet but you cannot fault the genuine political will of the ruling elite to lift their vast numbers of people out of poverty.

I am particularly impressed by the Rwanda’s development strategy outlined in the document Vision 2020, which embodies the aspiration to become a lower-middle income economy (US$900 per capita) and to operate as a knowledge-based service hub for central and eastern Africa. If Rwanda sustains the current rate of growth in per capita income shown above, it will exceed this target in 2020. Often, we think that such visions are over-ambitious development plans that are common in Africa but rarely implemented with any measure of success. However, Rwanda has a realistic chance of realizing these objectives in only one generation.

The most important plan contained in Vision 2020 is the massive investment in the information and communication technology sector. The objective of the plan is to make Rwanda a technological hub for the region and to build a fibre optic network throughout the country. Fast internet connection is already available in Kigali and many more districts. To me this is an instructive development model. By concentrating on ICT and heavy investment in public service delivery and human resource development, Rwanda is aiming to become a “post-industrial” economy, without going through the traditional stage of being an “industrial” economy.

It is the kind of diversification that looks beyond manufacturing as the only way out of under-development. This is in sharp contrasts to it East African neighbours and partners, notable Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In Uganda, the obsession with industrialisation/manufacturing (which in itself has not been achieved) has blurred the vision of the ruling elite and led to underinvestment in services where the country has a competitive advantage. And now the obsession with oil will most definitely bury all other post-industrialisation development paths.

Major progress has also been made in the Agri-processing, notably the coffee, tea and fruit processing sectors. Rwanda does not have ideal characteristics for intensive agriculture (it is in fact called “the land of one thousand hills”), but strategic investments in quality assurance and efficiency have enabled a boost in production and exports in recent years. The fastest increasing source of foreign currency has become the tourism industry, which earns the country over US$300 million annually.

The government has also invested in the preservation of natural parks (in particular parks with mountain gorillas) and maintaining tourist attractions. Plastic bags are prohibited in the country in order to minimize environmental pollution, and government authorities have “removed” street kids in Kigali in order to improve the “aesthetic appearance” of the capital. Street children are taken to a training centre where they are taught vocational skills before being re-integrated in society. It is absurd that ill-informed human rights groups claim that they are taken to “an island of no return.”

I love green and that makes me love Rwanda. The tough laws on protection of green areas are for me something of great admiration. The drive from Katuna to Kigali is scenic, the plush green and naturally falling trees not felled by human interference always makes me nostalgic and wish my own leadership in Uganda did not for example think a sugar factory is in the long run more important that a forest! The drive to the border town of Gisenyi through Ruhengeri is an experience every visitor to Rwanda needs, if only to dispel the notion that all these good things are just limited to Kigali. The road is excellent and with specially paved pedestrian sidewalks, the towns are clean and Gisenyi is undergoing great transformation with old building being brought down and a new town plan being implemented. The peace and quiet at the Serena Lake Kivu is incomparable to any get-away for a tired mind

Rwanda has certainly succeeded on this front, as most tourists describe Kigali as one of the safest and cleanest cities in Africa. “Kigali,” one aid worker is quoted to have said, “is Africa that Americans can handle.” There’s little crime. There are plenty of small, shabby houses with rusty corrugated-metal roofs, but the neat streets, many fringed with careful landscaping, are remarkably free of honking or traffic jams, at least by the standards of a developing country.

Plastic bags don’t clog the drains — the government banned them for environmental reasons — nor do odours of street food compete with the mingled scents of frangipani and diesel, since hawkers are restricted to specific areas and have standards of behaviour that are enforced. Several cafés offer free Wi-Fi. Downtown, there’s even a new 24-hour supermarket. I would hasten to add that I don’t have to drive like a drunk just because I have to avoid potholes on the roads. The roads are clean and well maintained – and you park your car on the streets and go about your business without worrying about missing car parts on your return.

The police is strict and efficient, sometimes annoyingly so! I once was driving from Gisenyi to Kigali and worried of missing my flight back to Entebbe. Doing 80Kph was considered dangerous and I was stopped four times along the way and warned that I might after all never catch my flight at all if I continued to drive at that “high speed”. With hindsight I appreciate the advice and the vigilance of the police who never asked me for “tea” because I was “over-speeding”

I would live in Rwanda any day but I still love my country!

Bob Kasango is a kampala-based lawyer

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