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Rwanda: Africa’s green experiment

Reading political economy at university in the last decade, one is undoubtedly thrust into a raging debate on green revolution, between developed and developing nations, with the former asking the later to pursue an environment friendly industrialization, and the latter retorting that it is simply a hypocritical demand: ‘You developed on coal, fracking and gasoline; this is our chance to develop, we’ll cross the green bridge when we reach it...’

As a native of a developing country, one is instinctively tempted to side with nations like Indian and China, against - say, Britain, US and Germany.

 

University sadly shaped us in a binary world; one of finger-pointing and zero-sum-game, a hopeless world… With Rwanda’s aspirational and progressive policies, it seems, there is still a chance.

 

Could green business make profit other than agriculture? Can green industry be labor-intensive? Donald Trump argued to the negative while pulling his country out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

 

Apparently one has to pollute to create jobs! That has thus far been the only understanding. As a result, green economy had come to be known as an empty shell, a ‘sexy’ tag, chanted by puritans and academics to sound more concerned than the rest of mankind; or a favorite passe-temps for billionaire philanthropists, keen on laundering their names, after making money in fracking, oil and arm deals.

Rwanda has been implementing green policies for over a decade now, starting with the ban of plastic bags, smoking in public and littering aren’t allowed and once a month the population observe a ‘Car Free Day’ where all citizens are called to leave their motor vehicles at home and attend cycling, walking and public gym-tonic, followed by testing and treatment of hepatitis, diabetes and heart conditions offered to all – free of charge. 

As for sceptics who claim it is all ostentatious. Today they were proven wrong, once again, with the partnership of two German giants; Volkswagen and Siemens, in powering an eco-friendly car to offer taxi services in the city of Kigali.

Now, it isn’t the first time that a country initiates electric cars - that isn’t the point. But given its economic position, Rwanda is the first of its kind - and indeed the first on the African continent.

When plastic bags were banned over a decade ago, many predicted a financial crisis, yet plastic industries were forced to innovate and find alternative manufactory, and they did.

That experience was then built upon to ban single-use plastic too, then second hand clothing and soon, gas-run motorcycles and ultimately gas-powered cars will be history.

This is an important statement to the rest of the world; a disruption of the ‘Africa narrative’: Africa isn’t what the world thinks it is. Africa fully manufactures high end smart phones and ‘moves’ in electric cars and on electric motorcycles. We aren’t hungry and violent upon each other, we are innovative and advanced!

Although on much smaller scale, and perhaps with little or no global impact materially, the launch of e-golfs in Rwanda today offers a strong ideological stand to all activists of Mother Earth - ‘Pacha Mama’ as they call it in South America.

It is also an indictment to zero-sum-game politics that pursue profit at the cost of our environment. The message here is that, if it can be done in smaller economies, it can be replicated in bigger ones too. You can develop in harmony with the environment; If you doubt it: just Visit Rwanda and see for yourself.

This however requires foresighted and aspirational leadership. Today India and China are at the peak of their developmental cycles, rivalling with the western world, but rivers and air are polluted. On some days, people literally move with masks to breathe in.

Although the two countries lead investment and compliance in green initiatives globally, they are swimming against the tide to reverse the consequences of their polluting industrialization in past decades.

The same can be said about the west. I am convinced if they all had to do it again, they would adopt much different policies - sustainable ones.

Alas! There are no frontiers in the sky. The impact of global warming is felt by all humans and much more in poor countries where coping mechanisms are scant. In other words, Africans pollutes less and suffer more, with droughts, floods and erosion.

There are emerging thesis which argue that global warming is also the cause of most conflicts currently ravaging the planet and Africa in particular. So our continent is understandably more concerned with protecting the planet.

Africa has a population of 1.2 billion people. With twelve million people, Rwanda is only the experiment and the gateway to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt and DRC, respectively the four most populated countries on the continent, to move in eco-friendly cars - for a fully green mobility in Africa.

I will end with a postulate, which I had the chance to reaffirm this morning, listening to the young lady who heads the Volkswagen assembly plant in Rwanda. 

Many colleagues with whom I went to university ask how Rwanda does it. And my answer to them is that, perhaps it is the center leadership roles that our government continuously give to women; human beings who tend to pursue other, healthier life goals than money? As the saying goes, if women could rule the world…

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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