Rwanda is well positioned to be the Singapore of Africa


By Abu Bakr Ogle*

LAND LOCKED, tiny in area and regarded as more densely populated than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda has at the same time achieved what a leading British development expert; Paul Collier fittingly calls “the hat-trick” of rapid growth, sharp poverty reduction and reduced inequality, within a comparatively short period of time.

For a country that still harks back to the genocide of 1994, when close to a million people were murdered in the spate of 100 days of sustained mayhem while the world watched, this is no mean achievement.

Even then, I and my colleagues in the East African Legislative Assembly currently conducting our routine rotational Plenary Session in Kigali, continue to marvel at the breathtaking panoramic view of the city, and more specifically, at the cleanliness of every facet of the environment obtaining herein.

Indeed, so much so is the ambiance and orderly life of the city that many of our membership have confided that the Kigali sojourn was a deserved three weeks break from the comparatively unprecedented hazy skies, pollution and traffic snarl-ups that now define a working day in Nairobi, Dar and Kampala.

I will bet that our regional MPs would grudgingly have wished that the sessions ran a little longer, with a tongue-in-cheek suggestion to transfer the planned sittings in other partner states to Kigali, as they rejoice in the morning and evening jogs past carefully cut grass lawns amidst the sweet scent from the fresh flowers, alongside hundreds of locals.

But that alone is not what Rwanda has got to show since its miraculous return from the abyss of history nearly two decades alone. Rwanda’s GDP growth is expected to be in the region of 6.3 per cent this year, while its free health care system already covers about 90 per cent of the population.

The KivuWatt Project, one of Rwanda’s most ambitious projects, is furthermore expected to increase the mountainous country’s power generation by a third. This is a symbol of revival and turning a potential disaster into an engine of growth and reinvigoration.

Coupled with the massive infrastructural developments taking place all across the country and the astute and visionary political leadership that has placed emphasis on the philosophy of “Duharanire Kwigira – Striving for Self-reliance,” Rwanda could be poised as the new Singapore of Africa.

In more than many ways, Rwanda and Singapore share common characteristics. They could variedly be described as economic miracles who have achieved much within a short span of time and in spite of their lack of natural resources. All that the Eastern African state now requires to do is to, like Singapore, exploit further its own strategic entrepot location in the Eastern and Central Africa, as well as the Great Lakes region and orient its local population to embrace the spirit of hard work and unshackle their mindset from the horrendous experience of the yesteryears.

Singapore’s economic leap and massive increase in wealth as one of the four Asian Tigers is premised on sound economic fundamentals, strong regulatory frameworks and an even stronger pro-business environment and diversity. Like the revered Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Rwandan President Paul Kagame presently enjoys singular popularity for his personal charisma, no-nonsense approach and a commitment to pursue what he thinks is right for the common good of the country.

Under his benevolent guidance, Rwanda is further capable of attracting regional and international capital and draw on the biggest banking and financial institutions already operating in the East African Community (EAC), for which he is one of its leading cheerleaders.

Apart from banking, there is of course, need to develop more liberal foreign exchange bureaus underpinned by a strong reputation for trust and integrity – in a way intended to scoop a major share in the expected African economic boom. I am hoping that the decay and obtaining economic malaise in Europe would have been aggravated whilst the current excitement over China and India dissipates in the next few years

Again, Singapore roared on to become the world’s fourth leading financial centre, not because it possessed its own enormous wealth, but largely because of its ability to re-export and refine already imported goods. This concept of adding value to raw materials from the neighbouring countries could possibly be harnessed in Rwanda.

During the latest visit by the EALA MPs, we toured a mining site in Muhanga District in the Southern Province where an excited General Manager of the Pyramid Company, Mr Mahmoud Saleh, informed the group that indeed on the insistence of the President, they planned to be a re-packaging facility for all raw minerals in the region. In Nyagatare District in the Eastern Province, the appropriately named East African Industry produces quality granite materials that are already a delight in the region.

Kigali and the immediate outlying areas could also be marketed as the ideal international venue for meetings, conferences, seminars and as the desirable get-away place to work from, reflect, packaged as the ultimate destination in the Eastern Africa region. The diversity of the Rwandan folks transcends the local Kinyarwanda dialect to encompass a commanding grasp of both English and French languages.

Moreover, Rwanda’s determination to develop its telecommunication infrastructure; and its endeavour to wire up every citizen to the information highway, has since made it one of Africa’s top 10 ICT-savvy nations. It will not, therefore, be difficult to create an e-lifestyle amongst the Rwandan population. This will allow everyone from the village level to chat, take lessons, make business and banking transactions, apply for government services or even simply watch a movie on demand.

An extensive connectivity coupled with a pro-business environment and legal and regulatory framework should make Rwanda the ideal e-commerce hub and thus attract the regional and international venue it ought to be in the next decade.

Above all, Rwanda’s relatively corrupt-free and transparent management of public affairs is perhaps the single largest tempting reason after its environmental management policies that should beckon both investors and tourists in equal measure.

*The writer is a member of the East African Legislative Assembly from Kenya.

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