The year 2010 turned out much better for Rwanda than most economists had predicted. But as we continue navigating the global economic malaise, the government should maintain its eyes on the long term.
For 2011, three areas will be critical: restructuring the economy, population growth, and strengthening our political system. These are not one-off projects, but major continuing priorities and, will continue to be important this year and for some time to come. In some cases, I think, for a long time to come.
First, we need to restructure our economy to maximize our growth, our potential and what we are able to deliver. We need to do this to respond to the changed external environment and also to adapt to our geographical limits. The global crisis has made this a more urgent task.
Worldwide, growth will remain weak for several years to come. Therefore, we will have to work harder to expand our markets in the developed countries. In Africa, economies continue to transform themselves.
This creates a window of opportunity for us because we are ahead of many African countries. We can service them, help them to make the transformation and development and growth and, in the process, move ahead and benefit our economy and transform ourselves. But Africa’s rise also means growing competition, because as the other countries enhance their capabilities, they will narrow the gap and the economic race will get even tougher.
Rwanda can and must continue to do better to take advantage of the abundant opportunities in Africa. Our standing is high, our capabilities are growing. People want to do business in Rwanda and look towards Rwanda for ideas, for models and for opportunities to link up and cooperate. We must take full advantage of this strong position. Never will this situation be more acute than 2011 – this is indeed Rwanda’s time.
Domestically, we face increasing constraints, especially in land and population growth. Our total land area is finite and very little is lying fallow. Our own population density is high, and this cannot continue indefinitely without serious setbacks. Hence, fundamental adjustments in curbing population growth should be a priority in this New Year. We have to shift to growing qualitatively, not just by expansion but by upgrading. We have to extract maximum value from the resources that we have. Every piece of land must be put to optimum use.
Activities which are no longer competitive or productive have to be phased out gradually and replaced by undertakings which are more productive and competitive. We have to upgrade the quality of our workforce and what we are able to deliver individually and as a team.
Becoming more productive is not just a matter of working harder but also means restructuring, change and flux; uncertainties, experiments and discontinuities. Businesses need to innovate relentlessly, phasing out unproductive activities and shifting into more fruitful areas.
They have to be ready for fresh competition - new players able to do better and always threatening their position. Workers cannot expect to be carried along by a generally rising tide. They too have to be psychologically prepared to adapt, to change and to make the effort to improve themselves, not just in 2011 but throughout their working lives.
Underpinning our ability to tackle all these challenges, whether it is economic, demographic or any other, is a good political system - a system which will ensure a stable and capable government, good leadership and an engaged electorate. Having a sound political system is essential but in itself it is not enough to produce political stability or good government. That still depends on having the right people in-charge - an able, and committed team coming forward to lead the country.
Today, Rwanda is the undisputed champion in this area, giving investors and Rwandans confidence about the brighter future.
Rwandans have to understand that we are in this together, and we have to push forward in the same direction. Therefore, economic policy is not just a matter of attaining the highest possible GDP growth number, but also ensuring the quality of growth and enabling all Rwandans to benefit from the country’s progress.
I am confident that 2011 will be fruitful and successful.