For any nation to have sustainable growth that leads to self-reliance, its people must feel proud of the products and services that are offered locally.
Before we can convince the outside market that our products and services are good, it must first resonate with us by consuming or associating with what is produced locally.
Why am I bringing out this line of argument today?
Over the weekend, I had chance to visit the Eastern province. There, I had chance to interact with a few farmers who claimed to be making significant losses as a result of their milk that is not being bought. In one of the cases, the farmers had formed a cooperative with one milk collection centre fitted with basic preservation equipment.
On average, their combined output as a single cooperative was in the excess of 3,000 litres of milk. But unfortunately the customer who routinely bought their product could no-longer take the entire collection for understandable reasons of excess capacity within their factory.
This excess stockpile emanates partly from a slow-responsive market that either consumes imported fresh milk or imported powdered milk or still sticks to that typical Rwanda culture, where the best milk is the one drawn straight from the cow’s udder into our cups.
The story is not limited to milk alone. It stretches to a variety of products that our local industries churn out every day. Unfortunately, even in cases where local quality is not comparable to the imported products, we still stick to these foreign stuffs at the expense of our industries.
How many restaurants, hotels or coffee shops have you entered and you are told that they serve no fresh milk but rather powdered milk? How many offices have you visited and the tea girl enters with a small bowl of powdered milk instead of a flask of either African tea or pure milk? Yet we are told fresh milk contains more nutrients.
The powdered milk is normally accompanied by a can or pack of imported coffee from the US or Europe as Maraba’s bourbon coffee is not celebrated world over.
What am trying to say is that we need to appreciate and enjoy what is produced locally instead of craving for what streams in across our borders.
Why not Primus or Mutzig and instead opt for Bell or Heineken? Why not Inyange milk instead of filling our office cabins with NIDO tins or Nescafe? Why not Agashya juice instead of stocking our fridges at home with Del Monte juice?
Who says a mattress from Rwanda-foam is not as comfortable as the one from Vita-foam? Who says Nairobi’s Aga Khan Hospital has better specialist or better MRI equipment than King Faisal hospital?
Sadly you find that foreigners are the ones appreciating the numerous products and services we offer, at times more than us.
I know this campaign is not necessarily music to the spirit of regional integration. But mindful of how our local industries are at infant stage and struggling to build capacity, they need a dedicated local market that will enable them consolidate their gains to compete favorably out. This local loyal market comes from an in-built sense of pride among the nationals driven by the urge to associate with or promote the local brand.
We all agree that quality is the prime mover of any consumer, but much as this demand for quality is paramount, it equally has to be accompanied by the patriotic urge of consuming what is locally offered. That way, our industries will be able to build internal capacity that will set them on the course of competing across the region and beyond.
Otherwise how do you expect our firms to expand in a situation where even the small market they should count on has its loyalty in foreign brands?
We need to recognize that boosting local consumption does not only motivate our local firms but is also a strong ingredient for inducing local and foreign investments. A foreign firm will not come to invest into a major milk processing plant if the existing firms have stockpiles that aren’t moving and yet this should not be the situation.
Societies are known for the different cultures and values that define them. Such norms stretch to the extent of even guarding jealously the food they eat. A Xhosa in South Africa will also feel proud to be associated with umfino, a Fulani or Yoruba is Nigera will always enjoy his fufu, a Kenyan will never be convinced that Sukumawiki or Ugali is tasteless nor will a Muganda from Uganda have a meal without Matooke.
This loyalty extends from their staple food to what their industries churn out every day and this is what we need to nurture. We need to develop confidence in our local brands.
Every Rwandan today is proud of imihigo, girinka, ubudehe, mutuelle de santé, all home grown programs. Extend this humility to what our firms. This is when we can talk of sustainable development.
On twiter @aasiimwe