Africa has more to offer than most people think

Africa is a huge continent comprised of more than 50 countries. Unfortunately, the stereotypical single image of Africa is as the department store of unhappiness with wars, famines, poverty, and epidemics.

Africa is a huge continent comprised of more than 50 countries. Unfortunately, the stereotypical single image of Africa is as the department store of unhappiness with wars, famines, poverty, and epidemics.

What I see in Rwanda tells me that this image is quite wrong and that African countries are quite diversified. Speaking of realizing sustainable development, I think we need to see each country or region separately and the best measures should be taken respectively.

Rwanda is a country that has experienced a drastic change during recent decades. Most people who have heard about the country might know of it because of the terrible Genocide that happened there in 1994.

But today, the country shows us a very different phase. Rwanda is one of the safest and most peaceful nations in Africa. There is almost no conflict in the country. Foreigners are safe to walk on streets even at night.

Not only is the country safe but also people, both young and old, are very friendly. Every time they meet foreigners, they give them beautiful smiles and wave their hands with genuine curiosity.

The political situation is quite stable, too. And the stability does not seem to come from enforcement or tyranny. Perhaps due to traumatic memories of the Genocide, people really look happy to live under peace. Corruption is one of the top priorities that the current government is trying to avoid, which is also hunting down people who take bribes and other injustices. It is rare to see the police asking for bribes from traffic offenders.

By living in Rwanda for almost one year, I can truly understand that peace is the key to healthy development.

Actually, I knew that by growing up in Japan and seeing its rapid economic growth without wars and conflicts. But I can now reassure that this notion is true globally.

For example, in the field of energy and environment that I am dealing with as an officer at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) country office, Rwanda is enjoying a lot of improvement and development.

First, this country is unique in dealing with the environment in that the government seriously recognizes the importance of environmental protection, and taking concrete measures. Environmental issues have been mainstreamed in a five-year national plan known as Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy that is supported by a United Nations Environment Program and UNDP joint project.

Also, Rwanda banned plastic bags usage and development on wetlands. The latter supports biodiversity and is the key to protecting clean water sources. Some wetlands in Rwanda are at the source of the Nile.

Rwanda is a tiny country and one of the most populated in Africa yet most of its people are self-sustained by small-scale agriculture.

As such, the country recognizes that people cannot survive without creating a ‘good relationship’ with the environment.

The last Saturday morning of every month is designated as "Umuganda Day." Everyone, including ministers, go out and clean public spaces.

The energy sector is also in a stable situation. For instance, domestic electricity demands are so high that electricity supply is not sufficient. Combined with recent oil price hikes, the electricity tariff is very expensive: 22 cents per kWh for households.

Because of this, some domestic and foreign investors are gathering in Rwanda and developing renewable energy sources, in the process finding themselves engaged in fairly profitable work. One solar panel company told me that payback time could be just a few years away.

Maybe due to historical precedents, most foreign energy investors are from Europe. I hope Asian investors, especially those from Japan, would collect the necessary market information and consider spending money in Rwanda.

The right kind of investment will not only support the continuous economic development of the country, but also its ecological soundness.

Of course, I can never say that the business environment is perfect.

For example, the school system and the medical care system are not as advanced as in developed countries. Therefore, some foreign investors would find it difficult to come here with their families and stay for a prolonged period.

But aid activities can only help to establish the basis for development. Real sustainable development is achievable only through continuous domestic and international business development.

We, aid workers, are doing our bit to offer opportunities to investors to foster environmentally friendly business development.

I am currently coordinating a project to solve solid waste management issues in Kigali, the capital, by utilizing Japanese landfill site technology. In turn, this will help potential investors.

Precise information about the status quo in Rwanda and Africa should be more widely available outside of Africa.

The environment must be created where more people come to think about being involved with African countries for mutual profits, not just for good will.

The author is Program Officer at the Environment Unit of the United Nations Development Program in Rwanda.

ASAHI SHIMBUN

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