One of my great privileges here in Rwanda is to be surrounded by some of the world’s great “development minds,” some of whom are just passing through and others of whom are here for a longer term.
I recently met with Dale Dawson of Bridge2Rwanda, Blayne Sharpe of The Isoko Institute, Mike Brennan of SEVEN Fund, and Jeremy Kahn of On The Frontier (OTF), a leading consultant to developing nations. Such “development wonks” often use jargon like “The Asian Tigers,” the Singapore model, the South Korean model, the Irish model, etc.
It is quite noteworthy that experts in academic circles are now referring to the successes of “the Rwandan model.” Although I could have easily speculated, I asked that we pause and detail what a development expert means by the term “the Rwandan model.” This is the answer:
Leadership: Strong, effective, results-oriented leadership with a clearly articulated vision and accountability.
A government that is structured and run much like a business corporation which greatly values transparency, accountability, and measurable results.
Peace and security: The essential foundation upon which development and prosperity are constructed in a safe environment that allows citizens to work and encourages foreign investors to participate in the vision.
Zero tolerance of corruption: An environment where individuals and organizations (both domestic and international) can “do business” without ever paying a bribe.
Culture of unity, inclusiveness, interdependence, and reconciliation; where divisionism, genocide ideology, and ethnic bigotry are considered criminal; where women hold more than 50% of the seats in Parliament and many cabinet posts; where opposition parties are guaranteed strategic positions in government; a culture that is determined to engage all citizens and to diligently move forward without forgetting the lessons learned from the past.
Investment in physical capital (infrastructure): Building first things first: roads, schools, safe water, an electric grid, a financial services industry, telecommunications, and now fiber-optic cable.
An unequaled commitment to social capital: Specifically education, as recently demonstrated by expanding to nine-year basic education for all (9YBE) which required the entire nation (most importantly, local communities) to construct 3,000 new classrooms. Education is the largest line item in the national budget (at 20%).
Hospitable, favorable business climate: Believing that the most certain, effective, efficient way to build the country is to unleash the innate competitive energy of entrepreneurs, and believing that limited government under a rule of law liberates the private sector to do things that government cannot do.
And last but not least, a surprise: Restrictions, monitoring, and a guarded view toward NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations / non-profit charities), recognizing that “the law of unintended consequences” sometimes results in those with the best intentions doing more harm than good.
Even before the earthquake, Haiti had long been the NGO / charity capital of the world - 10,000 officially registered NGOs - with very few favorable results and considerable harm following all the charitable effort.
For example, well-funded charities come in to such an environment and employ the community’s “best and brightest” who would otherwise be building businesses and employing others in their communities, or perhaps serving as capable leaders in government. But the local community cannot compete with the “big bucks” paid by the international charities who thereby remove the best talent from the marketplace.
Moreover, “charity” is often dispensed recklessly, creating dependency and undermining the natural determination to be self-sufficient and provide for one’s own family. Thus, there is “no exit” for the charitable organizations as they must forever provide for those who they made dependent in a type of “charitable neo-colonialism.”
Rwanda, on the other hand, strongly discourages initiatives and strategies that may undermine self-sufficiency. President Kagame expressly exhorts: “Do NOT make beggars of Rwandans!”
“Congratulations” Rwanda for the audacity to dream big, to believe in yourself, to diligently pursue intelligent development with determination, and thereby become “the Rwandan Model” to which development experts of the world look for valuable lessons. Haiti, Somolia, Southern Sudan, and the rest of the developing world, should come and see. Murakaze neza.
Tom Allen is the Country Director, Bridge2 Rwanda