The basic idea behind “sustainable development” is to improve the quality of life of the population while maintaining that ability for future generations. This idea is important for the developed countries that have expanded their consumption. This has led to numerous problems with the environment in both their own territory and globally. In an interconnected world, the issues impact all countries, and particularly those “developing” that are seeking to raise the quality of life of their citizens.
One of the measures that have been used to track “economic growth” has been the GDP, or gross domestic product, developed 80 years ago by Simon Kuznetz. As an example, the GDP does not correct for the consumption or loss of an ecosystem resource and, in fact, adds to the measure for environmental cleanup.
For Rwanda, a finite and variable resource is the external funding which makes up 40 per cent of the country’s budget. What happens to the current quality of life as that budget changes much less if it is “mined” out? It is clear that a small decrease from one source sends this country scrambling to find other sources today.
Globally, it has been shown that a rising GDP does not lift all people equally. With the rise has been an increasing gap between the upper and lower ends of the economic spectrum. It also tends to divide the middle class, moving a greater percentage into the lower end of the economic scale while only a few are able to migrate upward.
As an example, Rwanda has embraced the idea of raising the quality of education as a way of improving economic opportunities for the youth, yet the country has not anticipated, but is increasingly confronting the fact that the opportunities for college graduates do not automatically follow with a certificate of completion, particularly when that degree is weak in terms of competencies and the major employer, the government, is unable to be that employer of last resort.
Similarly, there is current pressure for Rwanda to expand the mining sector, a finite resource that has short term opportunities and long term consequences. Yet the agriculture sector and value-added agricultural enterprises, which have the potential for greater employment and long term benefits, remain under developed. Rwanda has two major resources, its land and its citizens, most of who are currently in the rural areas and agriculture dependent.
Rwanda ranks well in the East Africa region. If one examined the categories, it is clear that Rwanda is moving forward in most categories.
Since Rwanda’s principle resources are land and people, the impacts cannot be mitigated by the country building its way out of current and future problems.
A continuing dependence on the GDP as the primary measure of improvement for both the citizens and the larger, changing, environment masks impact of current policies on near term, and definitely, long term opportunities for Rwanda and its citizens.
Dr Tom Abeles, Rwanda