It is a sunny Saturday afternoon and a convoy of buses is snaking its way past Muhanga, full of excited school pupils from Kamegeri, Southern Province.
It is the last day of their 4-day study visit to Kigali and each one wants to outdo the others in narrating their experience of the city and its marvels.
Amidst this excitement about visiting Kigali International Airport and experiencing the interior of Ubumwe, one of the giant planes of RwandAir; enjoying brochettes one evening on the helipad of the Kigali Convention Centre and its out-of-this world marvels; enjoying lunch atop CHIC Complex in Muhima, where hitherto ordinary traders are now running business in world-class boutiques; moving around the city in immaculate-clean swipe-card PSV buses, and many other experiences; a teacher in one bus waves them to silence.
And he simplifies it all thus: ibintu mwabonaga mu mafirime, noneho byageze mu Rwanda (what you used to see in movies, is now reality in Rwanda).
We return to this shortly.
In the wake of Rwanda marketing her tourism to the world via Arsenal FC, a barrage of expected ‘analyst’ comments and ‘concerns’ are still rife globally including mainstream media.
Even in a purely commercial sense, it would beat understanding if a company like Inyange Industries decided to advertise her products and her choice of media and platform becomes a subject of ‘public concern’.
What Rwanda Development Board is doing is nothing but advertising in the commercial sense. Simple. But since the issue is taking on a different interpretation, let us put the entire developmental-state approach that Rwanda has adopted, into perspective.
The business world is ruled by two goddesses: goddess Rose and goddess Eva. Rose is an acronym for Return-On-Shareholder Equity. It is one of the many accounting tools used to measure and gauge the viability of a business.
The central focus here is pure commercial profitability. The worshipping of goddess Rose therefore has its credo littered with such notions as break-even-point, internal rate of return, profits-before-tax, earnings-before-interest-tax-depreciation-amortisation; earnings per share, share-split, bulls, bears and related jargon.
Normal and innocent. In practal terms, seeks maximum profit at minimum cost in the shortest time possible.
Conversely, goddess Eva, who is an acronym for Economic Value Addition, entails approaching business from a wider perspective in the longer term than the Rose context.
And this is where Rwanda is on the right track. This the case of a developmental State, which plays an active, dirigiste role in the key activities of her economy. And no country has developed by purely worshipping goddess Rose.
The private sector can only be productive and transformative within a defined economic realm, thus goddess Rose is subordinate to goddess Eva. The worship of goddess Eva will entail such factors as employment, technology and skill transfer, import-substitution, export-promotion, and related pillars.
Uchumi Supermarket in Kenya for example, was started by the State to provide a ready market for indigenous Kenya farmers whose products were discriminated against in foreign-owned supermarkets. The same applied to banks notably the Cooperative Bank.
And cardinal among the many anchoring strengths of goddess Eva is mental liberation. The Kamegeri pupils cited in our opening scenario are an empowered generation, confident that Rwanda can do what was hitherto though to be miracles beyond the imagination, let alone the reach of the African.
Perhaps to appreciate the liberating or enslaving impact of the mind, one strange-but-true case in our recent history comes in handy here. Narrating the course of the anti-apartheid struggle, President Nelson Mandela in his work Long Walk to Freedom, tells us of a ‘scaring’ moment in Dar es Salaam, as he prepares to fly to West Africa from Tanzania.
He writes ‘… but there was one problem. The pilot of the plane was Black. A Black man flying an aeroplane..?. There. The impact of the mind. In apartheid South Africa, Africans had been conditioned to believe that they have no mental faculties and competencies to do such ‘sophisticated’ things as flying aeroplanes.
A related living story is of a female industrialist in Uganda. The biggest discouragement she received in the nascent phases of her investment was from friends and relatives: ‘...how can you manage manufacturing, …are you a muhindi?’…
In the realm of global political economy, Rwanda’s approach finds an ally in Cambridge Professor Ha Joon Chang, in his famous work, Kicking Away the Ladder.
Herein he argues that those developed countries who are against State participation in business are kicking away the very ladder they used to reach the top so that emerging economies may not use the same ladder to get where these rich economies are now.
Rwanda is on the right course.
The author works with KPI Healthcare Rwanda Ltd.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.