The Rwanda I envisage in future

How do you measure the physical size of a country? In the land of 1000 Hills, if you flattened all the hills and stuck them together like a patchwork quilt, would we become a very big country?

Countries like The Netherlands, for hundreds of years, have been expanding their landmass by reclaiming land from the oceans and building on it. Freedom Tower, stands in the spot where The Twin Towers, built on reclaimed land, were brought down by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

The Dutch originally owned New York’s Manhattan island and had named it New Amsterdam; having bought it for a trifling from the, Lenape, a community indigenous to the area at that time.

A war in 1664 with the Brits saw the Dutch bloodlessly losing New Amsterdam, regaining it in 1673 but finally giving it up a year later in exchange for Surinam. However, some would argue that the Dutch legacy, “pragmatic tolerance and ... aggressive free-trading sensibility” remained in New York and even remains to date.

Wars have been fought over land and resources for millennia and continues today. But the important historical note is that winning was highly dependent on the other important part of that history; transport. The war between the Dutch and the British was about control over the oceans commercial routes. The ability to travel across the oceans, and thus the skill of ship building, was critical.

Transport today remains critical; perhaps even more so then in days gone by. And even though, in a flight of fancy, we might consider a larger, flatter Rwanda, the beauty of the hills is enough to halt that train of thought in its tracks.

Another flight of fancy might be needed, though. How to navigate the ocean of wave after wave of hills? A comment that travelling 5 kilometres of mountainous Rwanda terrain is equivalent to 30 kilometres in The (flat) Netherlands, gave me pause. Not being able to easily and quickly get from here to there, in all reality, makes Rwanda akin to a very big country.

One of my favourite cartoons growing up was The Jetsons. I liked it mainly for one thing: the idea of having my own, flying car to get me from one spot to the next. Unfortunately, that aerocar technology hasn’t yet made its commercial debut into the mass market world. But there are some other interesting innovations.

My personal fantasy envisions aesthetically stunning bridges strategically criss-crossing the oceans of hills and cutting time and transport costs significantly; after the initial heavy investment costs. The beautiful San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge or the fairy-tale feel of the cable-stayed design bridges, such as “The Swan” in Rotterdam, come to mind.

And for the thrill seeker, a German innovation: the magnetic rail linking Shanghai airport to downtown Shanghai could be translated into trains floating above the hills of Rwanda getting you from point A to B in what seems like the blink of an eye.

Staying in the skies, there are exciting technologies that already exist. In a country where healthcare focuses on equitable access for those in even the remotest of places, the use of drones to scale the many hills and deliver medicines to remote areas is a distinct possibility.

But coming partially back down to earth, how about the idea of driverless trucks? Google unveiled its driverless car about a year ago. Staying with those captains of trade, the Dutch are now experimenting with driverless cars and trucks.

The goal is to have driverless trucks in place in the next 5 years. It is the result of the joined-up thinking of information technology companies and logistics firms. And tied into all this is the Dutch government putting in place an enabling regulatory environment to allow for this innovation to be tested. The overall goal is to improve road safety and reduce traffic jams.

There are all sorts of benefits to this potential change. The recently reported bus accident on the Nairobi–Kigali route was attributed to human error due to driver fatigue. Driverless cars free human beings from such dangers and the resultant wasteful and terrible loss of lives.

As the region seeks to harmonise trade regimes, there are accusations of non-tariff barriers being exercised. Reports of Rwandan truck drivers being stopped for not having a renewed licence, that is recognised by neighbouring countries, could become a thing of the past.

Imagine a day when the highway police stop the truck on its way to the port of Mombasa. Instead of a person, they will be met with a steering wheel. No possibility of discussions or “negotiations” over the fine to be paid for non-compliance. Actually, prototype driverless cars don’t have a steering wheel, or gas or brake paddles. Hmmmm, how very novel!

Currently based in Rwanda, the writer comments about people, organizations and countries whose stories create a chrysalis for ideas.