One can justifiably say that education is one of the key factors cementing Rwanda’s integration in the East African Community (EAC) with the recent opening up in Kigali of some major universities in the region, notably Kenyan universities.
It goes to show the interest Rwanda continues to generate with the many opportunities available for investment in the nascent economy. It also points to an existing gap in what is already on offer in higher education in the country with a ready market to justify it.
There certainly is a market. The establishment of regional institutions is, to a significant extent, being fueled by the EAC professionals (many of them Kenyan) working in Kigali and seeking to beef up their educational portfolios on a part-time basis.
Whether it is for sheer love of knowledge or raise chances of a better pay that they attend classes after work, it may not be emphasised that education is the necessary conduit to enhancing the level of human capital, thereby supporting economic growth in the country and EAC as we continue to integrate.
This is a good thing, but it reflects a broader trend about how East Africans perceive the value of education, compared to other regions on the continent.
Just before the Africa-US Summit earlier this month in Washington, the US polling organisation Gallup conducted a survey in 32 countries on the continent to gauge perceptions and prevailing trends in various sectors informing socio-economic development. Education was one of the sectors.
On average, according to the survey, 51 per cent of residents in English-speaking countries in Africa, including Rwanda, say education is most important to success. Among residents in French-speaking countries, the figure is 28 per cent.
The question they sought to answer had four choices on what respondents considered most valuable to succeed in life. The choices included, education; family and friends; work ethic; and intelligence.
Among the EAC countries polled, Tanzania led with 68 per cent saying education was more valuable. In Kenya it was 58 per cent, Uganda 42 per cent and Rwanda 41 per cent.
In French-speaking countries way more than half of the respondents said family and friends, “that is, who you know rather than what you know,” were the most important to ensure their success.
This may have something to do with cultural influences. According to analysts, some of the French-speaking African countries have large Muslim populations and historical ties to the Middle East region, where reliance on connections to influential family members or friends to facilitate transactions is endemic.
As one review of the survey observes, English-speaking African countries have developed more quickly and more successfully attracted foreign direct investment than their French-speaking counterparts.
In some cases, analysts say, the result has been a virtuous cycle: Rising interest from foreign firms creates a strong economic incentive to establish a stable business environment.
That motivation, in turn, helps bolster the rule of law and reduces the need for personal connections to gain access to opportunities in English-speaking countries.
Analysts made another interesting observation from the survey: In countries that are politically stable and have well-functioning democratic systems residents tend to be more likely to say education is most important to success.
In countries that suffer from the disruptive effects of chronic conflict, residents tend to be more likely to cite personal connections than education as the most important factor for a successful life.
The Gallup survey was in many ways insightful. And we know that with the many local and the regional universities in Rwanda and the EAC, in general, accessibility of education is almost a given.
The challenge is to ensure quality education that is competitive not only locally and regionally, but internationally. Otherwise, the pedigree of our graduates may be questionable thereby tainting the value of the education the EAC citizens so crave to advance.