What the coming of VW says about Rwanda’s future

If twenty-five years ago you had said one of the world’s leading car makers would set up shop here, you would have been met with wide stares of incredulity. Some would have dismissed you as a lunatic.

If twenty-five years ago you had said one of the world’s leading car makers would set up shop here, you would have been met with wide stares of incredulity. Some would have dismissed you as a lunatic.

Others, a little more charitable, would have simply laughed off the suggestion. Not in a million years, they would say. And it would not be only outsiders with such views, but Rwandans as well.

Their reasons would be diverse, and in a world used to think in a particular way, even reasonable. The country is small and poor, you would hear. The market is too small.

There is no skilled workforce, no financial, industrial and marketing infrastructure to support this sort of venture, and many more.

This sort of unbelief is not new in Rwanda and indeed elsewhere in the world. It has existed throughout history. You can call it conservatism, timidity, safety in the familiar and fear of the unknown, or whatever.

The truth is, it is a mindset that often stands in the way of invention and progress. As history has shown, progress happens when unbelief and comfort in the usual are sabotaged by innovative and daring actions.

It is now fact. Volkswagen will be building cars in Rwanda by mid this year. All the unbelief has been swept away, and few will remember that there were ever any doubts. That is the way of all progress. You have to overcome entrenched attitudes.

Does anyone remember the introduction of computers in Rwandan schools earlier this century? That was met with opposition, also informed by unbelief. It was thought to be unrealistic in our circumstances.

We don’t even have books and now we are bringing computers. There is no electricity to power them, so what is the point? This simply won’t work, the arguments went.

Well, the programme has worked so well, no one remembers those initial arguments against it. No massive earthquake or other catastrophe happened as a result and our schools still stand.

In fact many more have been erected. ICT has become such an integral part of our lives, few can remember how things were done without it, or indeed how they could be done at all. It has worked so well that now computers are being made in Rwanda.

Who would have imagined that today our children would be learning how to make robots that, when eventually fully developed, will provide answers to many of our challenges?

We saw that possibility last week when they demonstrated their farming inventions.

Not long ago, few would have thought that today, drones would be an everyday sight on our hills delivering urgently needed medical supplies to health facilities across the country.

If you had suggested that happening, you would have been met with such offhand remarks as: only in science fiction was that possible.

Well, as Rwandans now know, drones are not a futuristic invention in some fictitious country of the future, but are here and now in a real country called Rwanda.

Imagining that certain things cannot be done is the result of a lack of self-belief. I hasten to add, however, that lack of confidence is not a typical Rwandan trait. On the contrary Rwandans are supremely confident people.

In this instance, it was the work of many years of subversion of the Rwandan character designed to make it possible for their domination.

Similarly, getting things done, that are ordinarily considered normal elsewhere, depends on conquering unbelief, liberating the mind from many years of mental conditioning and undermining of one’s capabilities.

It means reclaiming the initiative, becoming an active agent with the ability to shape the future, not a passive receptacle depending on the decisions or goodwill of others.

And so, the saying about people having their future or destiny in their own hands is not an idle slogan. It is a necessary mental condition for any progress. It begins with self-belief – the knowledge that one has the ability to do things other human beings can.

It involves having the courage to act on one’s convictions. Again, the adage who dares wins is not a mere catchphrase but a reflection of a positive mindset.

Finally, all this does not just happen. It is the work of people with the right ideology, able to conceive a vision for the future and formulate the strategy to translate it into reality.

That is what it takes to make happen what may appear impossible. This is a lesson we learn about the Rwanda of today, and more importantly, of tomorrow.