Market Made-in-Rwanda, please

"Why do we burden our President with all manner of problems, even those we can solve ourselves?" a friend asked last week. He was referring to President Paul Kagame’s comments about a factory that makes building materials here in Rwanda that many did not know about.

“Why do we burden our President with all manner of problems, even those we can solve ourselves?” a friend asked last week.

He was referring to President Paul Kagame’s comments about a factory that makes building materials here in Rwanda that many did not know about. The President had just visited Straw Tec Factory in the Special Economic Zone. The factory makes such materials as pre-fabricated blocks from locally available straw.

My friend went on to reflect, with a hint of guilt: “He is not just CEO of Rwanda Inc, but its chief marketing officer as well. Of course, he has done a sterling job and has not demanded any bonus pay for what he has done. In fact the only bonus he expects is that we all put in our shift.”

He was, of course, right regarding the President’s leadership and management abilities that have got our country where it is today. Which is why Rwandans asked him to serve them a little longer. He accepted but wants us to do our bit. And he means it.

My friend was also right regarding our attitude–that sometimes we leave all the hard thinking and heavy lifting to the President alone.

To put my friend’s concern in perspective, there is an ongoing campaign to promote locally made products, popularly known as Made-in-Rwanda. It has been going on for some time, and the response from the public has been good. But clearly it has not been enough.

Even before the formal Made-in-Rwanda campaign got underway, President Kagame was championing the consumption of locally made products.

Some in the construction industry and in government must remember the case he made for granite tiles made at a factory in Nyagatare. The only attraction for the Nyagatare granite tiles was not that they were made at home. A more compelling appeal was their durability and overall high quality. There was also the added value of creating jobs and raising revenue. Yet, for some reason, importers of building materials, builders and property developers were still trooping to Dubai and China to import tiles of inferior quality.

Today, most big construction projects use Made-in-Rwanda granite tiles.

With the President making a strong case for Straw Tec building slabs, we are likely to see an increase in their use and sales, more jobs and higher revenues for the manufacturers and the government.

The promotion of Made-in-Rwanda products is part of the philosophy of Agaciro and self-reliance, and overall socio-economic transformation.

Why then have we not taken to it as fast as we should? It cannot be because of lack of products on the market. They are available as are factories making them. There must be other reasons.

One of them must be ignorance of the existence of a product. This is often the result of two things.

The first is inadequate marketing by manufacturers or traders. Marketing as a strategy for business success is still low in this country. We still think that consumers will find a certain product somehow – stumble on it or something. But even if they come across it by chance, they must still be persuaded to buy it. I know business people in the region who will not let you go without buying something from their business. They will convince you to buy even what you don’t need

Lack of marketing cannot be due to lack of trained people. There is an army of marketing graduates from all our universities. So the problem must be with the businesses themselves.

Secondly, the public bear some responsibility in this whole ignorance business. We are generally comfortable with what we are used to and cannot be bothered about new things or where they can be obtained.

Another reason is a question of attitude, both of the business people and consumers.

Some in business think that as long as you produce a quality product, you have a guaranteed market. It has something to do with the Kinyarwanda saying that akeza karigura (a quality product is its own advert). It still has to get to the market.

Among consumers, there is a sense of self-doubt. You hear questions like this: Can anything of quality be produced in Rwanda? This is, of course, the result of many years of conditioning of inferiority.

Again the solution to both questions of mindset is marketing – getting the product to the market and getting it known.

The third one is something government must address. It is about procurement procedures that for some reason keep some products away from the biggest market in the country – government.

Making us buy Made-in-Rwanda products ultimately rests on two factors: making quality, competitively priced goods and getting them to the market, and making us aware that they are available. We cannot expect the President to do everyone’s marketing for them.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.