From Kigali to Kathmandu: There is plenty to learn from Rwanda

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When you arrive in Kigali and drive through the clean, well-kept tarmac roads, you wonder, just how do they manage to keep this city so clean? I returned to Kigali after fifteen months and the cityscape and traffic is unrecognisable. Kigali is in a hurry implementing its 50-year master plan to the hilt. As we work through assignments, I keep wondering, what makes this country—half the size of Bhutan and with a population of 10 million, equal to nearly one third of Nepal—keep itself going. Rwanda witnessed one of the most horrific events of the late 20th century—the Rwandan genocide in 1994—which left more than a million dead and thousands incapacitated. Today, it has become a model of growth for many other countries in the continent. There are many lessons we can draw from Rwanda.

Think big

In Rwanda, when you discuss projects, it is never small. Its new international airport will cost $6 billion which is equal to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The country wants to take a lead in whatever it does, be it the discourse on climate change or cleanliness campaigns in Africa. The convention centre that is being built in Kigali is to become a regional convention, meeting and event centre. So hotels as well as commercial complexes have to be iconic. Ministry buildings need to have the state-of-the-art technology that we find in any developed country. Its cable car project, when completed, will be the largest in Africa. When Rwanda went to the global market to raise funds, it went for a $400 million Eurobond, which is nearly half of its budgetary allocations.

Sustainability

There is a growing realisation in Rwanda that aid has to be substituted by investment. The Rwandan budget presented last week lays emphasis on internal revenue generation, increasing the net tax and converting the informal economy to formal. This is not just lip service, as in Nepal; it is real. It is amazing to see how the country ambitiously plans to reduce dependency on aid and increase internal revenue to fund its operating and capital expenditures. Aid has made itself dispensable, not looking at strategies to make it indispensable.

Investment destination

In a recent issue of Foreign Policy, Rwanda was named the fifth most attractive investment destination in the world. No wonder, for a $400 million Eurobond, they raised $3.2 billion, an oversubscription of eight times. In Nepal, we get excited about headlines that talk of $1 million investment. They have streamlined rules and regulations, making it one of the easiest places to do business. You can open a company online in less than an hour and a foreign currency bank account takes less than twenty minutes to open. You can exchange foreign exchange quickly, unlike taking trips to five branches of banks to get $5,000 cash in Nepal. The visa regime for investors is also liberal, unlike in Nepal where it is a money spinning business for concerned employees. With electronic banking now a reality, you just need a mobile for many transactions that you can never dream of in Nepal.

Rule of law

When a motorcyclist violated a traffic rule at a turn, the pedestrians got together, caught the person and handed him over to the police. Rwandans take pride in abiding by the law and it is interesting to note that if you are seen throwing trash out of your car while driving, someone can just text your license plate number to the cops. A clean city, a ban on the usage of plastic shopping bags and strict implementation of traffic rules is only possible when people abide by the law. Kigali is also one of the safest cities in the world, especially in Africa. It is a relief  for women to be able to take cabs or walk around anytime without any fear in the capital. For Nepalis, where the red light is just a suggestion to stop and not a law, the key learning is that if citizens follow the law and work together to enforce it, the change it can bring will be much more than a series of constitutions.

Positive attitude

It is always difficult to hear ‘no’ for an answer in Rwanda. They even try to articulate negative reactions in a positive way. When we go around in meetings, they never say ‘this will not work’ or ‘this will not happen’. If you are used to hearing ‘no’ from bureaucrats and politicians in Nepal, it becomes very difficult to understand the ‘can do’ attitude. One person will refer you to another; they will tell you of the things that we need to be careful about, but they want to see the projects built and improvements made. They are in ‘learner’ mode. They want to learn what is happening in different parts of the world and see how they can emulate it in Rwanda, rather than criticising everything and telling you why it will not happen. Ask any bureaucrat or businessperson in Nepal and they will tell you that Nepal is not destination to invest in, though their lives have improved several times due to the businesses they do.

There are many things we can learn from a country that went through far more troubles than we did. Rwanda is a country where poverty is still visible in rural areas and its disparities startling. Nepal, with a population of about thirty million, thrice the GDP and a remittance income of $5 billion, needs to learn a few things from Rwanda to get many things right. But don’t just recommend a junket for politicians or business associations.

Written by By Sujeev Sakya

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