Rwanda Rising: A New Model of Economic Development: Part 2

Another bunch of crooks. That was what Clet Niyikiza thought in 1994 as he read about Rwanda's new regime. Half-Hutu and half-Tutsi, he had left in 1983, seeing no future for himself, no matter who was in power.

Another bunch of crooks. That was what Clet Niyikiza thought in 1994 as he read about Rwanda's new regime. Half-Hutu and half-Tutsi, he had left in 1983, seeing no future for himself, no matter who was in power.

Most of his family "thought I was crazy nuts," he recalls, but he immigrated with his wife and children to America, where he built a career as a distinguished drug researcher. (He helped create Aleve.) He became a Hoosiers fan. (His PhD is from Indiana.) He didn't go home.

("Especially after 1994 -- I lost too many people. It was too much pain.")

Then, in 2006, the Rwandan ambassador to the United States introduced him to Kagame.

"He put on the table his belief in self-reliance: If you're not prepared to take it in your own hands and move forward, you don't deserve to make any progress," says Niyikiza, a VP of medicine development at GlaxoSmithKline.

"I thought, This guy could really change the country."

The following year, Niyikiza visited Rwanda for the first time in nearly a quarter-century. At the end of the trip, Kagame, headed to the U.S., offered Niyikiza a ride home in the presidential jet. On board, Kagame handed Niyikiza a proposal for a presidential commission -- and asked him to join.

"He wanted advocates for the country to the rest of the world so Rwanda could effectively bypass the traditional development model," Niyikiza says.

"The idea was to do that through relationships."

Since its launch in September 2007, the Presidential Advisory Council has become a high-level, low-profile dispatch team and brain trust.

All 16 members -- 10 are non-Rwandan -- are stars in their sectors, from life sciences to telecom to economic-development consulting. They meet twice yearly, once in Kigali and once in New York, for strategy sessions.

One member observes wryly that "it's the consultants" -- Monitor Group cofounder Michael Porter, Aslan Global founder Kaia Miller, and OTF Group cofounder Michael Fairbanks -- "who do the most talking."

It isn't just talk; the council has delivered visible results. Tony Blair established a program that sends civil servants from Whitehall to work in Kagame's office.

Arkansas investment banker Dale Dawson created a scholarship for Rwandans to study in the United States.

McGill's Ubalijoro helped broker a multimillion-dollar deal with Canada's Ecosystem Restoration Associates and Germany's Ecolutions to reforest denuded land and develop alternative energy; the plan is to sell credits on the global carbon markets and split the profits with the Rwandan landowners.

Christian Angermayer's Frankfurt-based financial-services company launched an East Africa private-equity fund that has invested in a Kigali bank and a Rwandan banking-IT company.

"Rwanda is a place [where] we can make money and also make a huge difference," says Angermayer, the only council member who has significant investments in Rwanda.

"The best thing we can do is not to give charity, but to treat it as a normal economy."

Like the chain that led from Cooper to Sinegal to Schultz, the council is a network of personal relationships -- the link in several cases being a shared Christian faith.

Rwanda's conservative Anglican bishop John Rucyahana reached out to a supporter, banker Dawson, who brought in former Alltel CEO Scott Ford.

Kagame himself recruited the council's most prominent evangelical, Rick Warren, who claims Jesus and Peter Drucker as major influences (in that order) and calls himself a "spiritual entrepreneur." The two had been introduced a few years earlier by presidential adviser Joe Ritchie.

Kagame's closeness to evangelicals, especially his support of Warren's campaign to turn Rwanda into a "purpose-driven country," has unnerved some observers.

Back in 2005, Alan Wolfe, director of Boston College's Center for Religion and American Public Life, expressed some concern in The Wall Street Journal about Warren's "missionary zeal" in Rwanda. But now Wolfe seems unworried.

Evangelical Christians, he says, are "much more interested today than 10, 15, 20 years ago in Africa and in justice. From the African end, if you're desperate for help and attention, it doesn't matter where it comes from."

Kagame would agree. Pragmatic, even opportunistic, he told Time in 2005 that he's not very religious but has "a good sense of what faith is about and the usefulness of it." What he wants are partners who let him map the mission.

"We do appreciate support from the outside, but it should be support for what we intend to achieve ourselves," he writes in an essay in the book In the River They Swim.

"No one can assume that he or she knows better than we what is good for us."

There was no clearer sign of that than a startling investment Rwanda made last summer. The country plowed an eight-figure sum into a small U.S. biotech company. (Officials declined to name the company, citing its pre-IPO quiet period.)

The money came from the nation's social-security funds, which led the company's CEO to fret that if the FDA doesn't approve the firm's therapies, he won't be losing the money of just another multimillionaire investor but of an entire country -- and one of the poorest at that.

An adviser to Kagame -- who personally gave his approval and even increased the amount of the investment -- responded sharply: "You're going to tell this man about risk?"

This is typical. Rwandan officials often defend decisions not with arguments about merit, but with incredulity. You're going to question this president?

The one who rebuilt a country and created one of Africa's few relatively corruption-free havens? It's a clever silencing tactic at that moment. But later, the memory of it only magnifies the enormous daring -- and risk -- of the venture that is Rwanda Inc.

One of Rwanda's fiercest advocates is a mustachioed Chicagoan with a crushing handshake. Joe Ritchie, who made his fortune building and then selling a company called Chicago Research & Trading and is now Cooper's partner in Fox River, co-chairs the Presidential Advisory Council.

Last summer, after the council suggested that Rwanda needed to streamline its bureaucracy and have just one go-to agency for development, President Kagame created the Rwanda Development Board and named Ritchie CEO.

Ritchie, 68, is a lifelong adventurer. He flew a chase plane for the late Steve Fossett, and before the September 11 attacks, he and his brother sunk millions into fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, where they spent part of their childhood.

(Their father was a civil engineer who taught in Kabul and was buried there.) He first heard about Rwanda from one of his daughters, who did volunteer work in the country.

So far, the biggest payoff of his advocacy may come from a partnership with the U.S. rail titan Burlington Northern -- Santa Fe. Rwanda's poor transport links boost the prices of both its imports and its (few) exports.

After Ritchie spoke with BNSF chairman Matt Rose, the company agreed to advise on design and construction of a rail link between Kigali and Tanzania's Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam.

Rwandan officials say the ability to use the company's name has opened doors with potential rail builders and operators.

Ritchie repeatedly emphasizes his desire to "stay low profile." So why take on such a significant role, and even move to Kigali?

"Who wouldn't jump at the chance to play for the 1985 Bears?" he replies. "And if you tell me I can pick between being second-string left guard or quarterback -- well, yeah, I'm gonna take QB."

If only Rwanda's depth chart were half as strong as the '85 Bears'. Ritchie says that a major part of his job is identifying and training a generation of deal makers and strategists.

"The quality of the leadership here is stunning," he says.

"The government is long on dedication and commitment -- that's not learnable. I'm teaching how to wheel and deal. That is learnable. That is the missing ingredient. Don't change the soup. Just add the ingredient."

Ends

 

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