Germans, rice & Rwanda’s housing jinx

This week I met two Germans; we talked about rice, Rwandan farmers and Kigali’s housing problem. I love Germans. The world should emulate Germans. Rwanda should work with Germans. Just like Gemina, Germany has thrived in spite of her World War-2 reparation burden.

This week I met two Germans; we talked about rice, Rwandan farmers and Kigali’s housing problem. I love Germans. The world should emulate Germans. Rwanda should work with Germans. Just like Gemina, Germany has thrived in spite of her World War-2 reparation burden.

The other day, Ifo-Institute, an economics think-tank reported that Germany’s current-account surplus is likely to hit an unparalleled high of US$310 billion this year.

 

A current account surplus is recorded by countries that enjoy a trade surplus; that only occurs when a country’s earnings from exports exceed payments made for imports.

 

That is a scenario that we can only dream of at the moment…that one day, this, our country Rwanda, shall have a surplus current account, if we continue working hard, like the Germans.

 

Germans should be a great inspiration to developing countries. Hard work has helped take their country passed its haunting political past; Germany is now not only economically stable but also democratically thriving and its leaders are once again influential in European politics.

After the end of the Second World War, Germany had lost. It was taken over by the victors and ordered to pay billions, in war reparations. In warfare, losers’ welfare is at the mercy of winners.

But trust hard work. In 1988, some 43 years after the war, Germany finished paying its reparations to Britain, France and the US; only Euros280m remains unpaid but scheduled to be cleared by 2034.

With such a history, a country learns to be self-reliant and uninterested in group favours. If things moved from hard, to harder and then hardest, relax and prepare to celebrate for it couldn’t get any further. After heating to a boiling point, water can only cool down.

Germany has been there before. The country’s tough past has shaped Germans to be self-reliant and inspired the kind of national maturity that is now the foundation upon which European unity is anchored in the absence of Britain, the former World War 2 victor.

Yesterday, about 250,000 Germans took to the streets across the country to protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a free trade deal currently being negotiated between the European Union and America.

They also protested against a similar deal between the EU and Canada with about 60 percent of Germans opposed to the trade deal compared to the EU average of 34 percent.

On Thursday, an Economist writer wondered why an exporting nation such as Germany is so wary of liberalizing trade. Analysts strongly believe that free trade deals are good for Germany.

But from German bread to cars, Germans love quality and the reason they are protesting the trade agreements is informed by a fear that trade with America will reduce environmental standards and consumer protection, and empower large companies at the expense of workers, consumers and small businesses.

Generally, industrialized countries such as Germany don’t need free trade deals; after all, they can compete on quality and other economies of scale. Only the weak seek incentives to thrive.

Some of the protesters stood with their placards outside a German Convention Center, built over fifty years ago with straw-bale construction technology. It is a practice that has thrived for centuries in Germany.

Rice straws are bundled together and processed into concrete materials used in the construction of permanent houses that last for decades; the walls are not only tough but also fire proof, making them safer compared to houses built with conventional materials.

Eckardt Dauck, one of the Germans I met this week, is the Chairman of Strawtec Construction a company that seeks to respond to Rwanda’s housing needs by developing authentically affordable houses for lower and middle income Rwandans.

The other gentleman was Hansjorg Plaggemars, who is on Strawtec’s board representing Deutsche Balaton, an investment firm back in Germany.

It will be a year next month since unveiling their US$10million plant located in the Economic zone. Their mission is clear; develop authentically affordable dwelling units for lower income Rwandans.

So far, they haven’t done much but the picture one gets after visiting their site in the economic zone is that this is an investment that is committed to thrive the Germany way.

A huge warehouse full of harvested rice straws indicated that this is an investment that is also directly benefiting Rwandan rice farmers. They only sell the straws after harvesting their rice and should they make a loss on the grain, at least they earn on the debris.

The factory is working with over 1000 rice farmers and a host of transporters to collect the straws, in addition to over 80 people directly employed at the plant which processes the straws into solid construction materials which are fitted together to assemble houses.

In addition to local demand, they have orders from Kenya, to supply processed straws for construction; being Germans, we can rely on them to stay committed to their original mission.

However, they will also need deliberate policy support such as land and tax subsidies to bring down operational costs and deliver on their promise of building 2,000 authentically affordable housing units (of 50 square metres) annually.

Strawtec says they can deliver a complete house with 75 percent construction material being locally sourced; a truly made in Rwanda house for Rwandans.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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