For the last several months students from some of America’s top universities have been visiting Rwanda. They have come from the universities of Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Michigan and others.
They are not your usual tourists who come here on vacation, to visit the mountain gorilla or in search of the exotic. Of course they get to see these, but that is a bonus, not the main reason.
So what brings them? Students of social systems are usually interested in two types of systems – those that work exceptionally well and those that are disastrous failures.
In the case of the young American students – and Rwandans attending those schools – the attraction is the success story that Rwanda has become. Every so often a report comes out which says Rwanda is doing very well in this or that aspect, from doing business to good governance, from the fight against corruption to the maintenance of international peace and security, rolling back incidence of malaria to universal basic education.
There is therefore something worth studying here, especially if you remember that the curricula of the best schools now have a practical application bias and place case studies at the centre of their teaching programmes.
Rwanda’s growing list of successes provides a large corpus of case studies, not only for scholars, but also policy analysts and formulators.
The newest addition to this list is a report that Rwanda is moving up the league table of the freest economies in the world. According to the 2011 Index on Economic Freedom jointly published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal this month, Rwanda has moved up 18 places on the list of the freest economies in one year – from 93 in 2010 to 75 in 2011. The report covers 183 countries.
Rwanda is ranked first in East Africa. Uganda is at position number 80, Kenya, 106 and Tanzania at 108. All the other East African countries’ rankings dropped from the previous year’s levels.
In Africa, Rwanda comes after Mauritius (12), Botswana (40), Cape Verde (65) and South Africa (74). These too, except Cape Verde, dropped in their ranking.
The Index of Economic Freedom measures the degree of freedom by assessing ten factors. They include business, trade and fiscal freedom. Others are government spending, monetary, investment, and financial freedom. The rest are freedom from corruption, property and labour freedom.
Rwanda improved in eight of the ten factors that were assessed, with most scores above 70%.
The report noted that, “Rwanda’s sound regulatory framework is conducive to private sector development”. Personal and corporate tax rates, though moderate, are also conducive to investment. The economy averages an annual economic growth of 7%, the report further notes.
Commenting on this recent report, Deroy Murdock, a Fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University, observed of Rwanda: “There is no denying its self-confidence and unflagging commitment to pro-market modernisation. Rwanda is moving on up.”
This upbeat assessment of Rwanda is not the pronouncement of some starry-eyed idealist or a person smitten by Rwanda’s beauty (although there is plenty of that).or seduced by the exuberant hospitality of Rwandans (many complain of our reserve, sometimes calling it aloofness). Nor is the report on which it is based the work of institutions known for lavishing praise on small developing countries. They are actually reputed more for their harsh dismissal of their development efforts.
These are significant statements which demand attention. However, their significance lies not in the ranking itself, but more in what makes this possible and what it means. The conclusion that Rwanda adheres to free market principles and has an open and business-friendly environment leads to another issue.
Economic freedoms can only be exercised in an environment of other liberties. They can be fully realised in a climate of the rule of law and good governance. Naturally, they lead to economic growth and higher standards of living for the people. Therefore they can only be good for the people. By this logic, and in fact, all these are present in Rwanda.
All of which bring to question the motives of the various individuals and groups who scream about the lack of freedom or the existence of crushing poverty in Rwanda. The deluded among them have even offered to save the hapless Rwandans from the terrible state they are in. They expect that a liberated population will shower them with gratitude and hail them as saviours. That is part of the delusion, to which they are entitled.
Yet here is hard proof about the real state of affairs in Rwanda which should silence the howls and shouts of a mix of meddlers of every sort, angry activists for whom anger has become a way of life and criminals.
The students from American universities have seen this proof and are making it part of their study programme.
Conservative and liberal think tanks and media document it for everyone to read. Everyone recognises that Rwanda is moving on up. That will continue to happen regardless of whether some people choose to block their vision.