A taste of change

“We are all ordinary people in a society, and even an ordinary person can within their own small ways, turn on a light in a dark room.”

“We are all ordinary people in a society, and even an ordinary person can within their own small ways, turn on a light in a dark room.”

Humility, the Hero’s workshop,  USA.
When I was a child, I used to keep all my old dolls and toys in one big box, like they were little treasure packages. A new doll would be neglected for two weeks, just because I still had an emotional attachment to my old one.

I liked my old pair of shorts more than the new dresses, preferred my old Adidas sneaks to the new FUBUs and the list could go on….

As I grew older, I noticed that my childish attitude towards cherishing the old had transcended to other things- like music, literature, lifestyle, dress codes, until finally – I decided to draw a line of balance- never forget the old, embrace the new.

I like to think that I have a very open-minded attitude, until told otherwise. It may have been that easy for me, but in the society I live in today, change is very hard to embrace. It is treated like a bitter pill that a society is made to swallow.

According to my favorite information engine- wikipedia.org (highly recommended), “Change is the process of becoming different…..”

What brings about change? Let’s explore this subject.  I would like to think it is the people living in an environment that make a difference. Rwanda is made up of a growing economy that vibrates with the energy of development.

In a country that only 14 years ago had its tallest building with only 5 floors, now we have a country that has over 10 buildings, a good road network, security, investor advantages and advanced technology that shows a promise to be one of the best in the next few years.

But if you look closely into Rwanda’s heart, the best resource we have is the human resource. And that is where change seems to be a challenge.

We live in a society that has an attitude that doesn’t embrace the out –of-the-ordinary.

A fine example is what you see in wedding ceremonies, the dancers rise and fall to the Rwandan drum beats, as they gracefully perform the most complex dance moves with ease and grace-surely their dance merits a good round of applause and a few whistles from the crowd-but none come. Why?

Take the same attitude to a concert, a musician performs  in his fullest heights of talent, throwing his energy from one corner of the stage to another, you will note that a good part of the crowd-undoubtedly the older group- in an attempt to maintain their civil and calm airs - are glued to their seats as they clap politely.

This gives one the impression that this group is mildly interested in the action that they paid about 25 000 frw to watch. When I first asked about this unfriendly behaviour, I was told that there is a general belief in our culture demands that we should seldom, if never – show our enthusiasm or happiness in public- you may judged as uncultured.

I am part of a small discussion group with intellects from both the working class and academia community. We have been taking apart the current reforms in the business environment and placing them under a magnifying glass, in attempt to understand them in more intimate detail.

As our discussions progressed, we learnt quite a bit about the mindset of a country that has the initial objective to grow and prosper.

We realized that though the government believes in taking Rwanda into the era of regional integration, the existing environment that the general Rwandan lives in may need to embrace the demands for this vision. And it starts with changing the mindset of the people.

Initially, we began by addressing the usual issue of customer service in 80% of the shops, restaurants, hotels and banks that one walks into.

The total lack of interest in one’s customers was a subject that clearly rubbed everyone the wrong way. And then someone brought in a good justification for this attitude – apparently the Rwandans-dated back into our history, are known to be proud, aloof people with an attitude chip on their shoulders, so it is only natural that they would treat their customers this way.

Ok, let’s stop and think for a minute- it is only natural to take one’s misplaced pride and ego before customer service that brings the money in? 

We then embarked to the issue of promoting the local industry through access financing. We realized that even if there was access to finance, the majority of these business men, didn’t have plans that were worthy of the attention of the financier- simply because all the plans were the same as what existed in the business environment.

Our businessmen were either ignorant or close-minded about the other existing opportunities of doing business. According to our research, very few came up with a new, fresh idea completely different from what existed in Rwanda’s business environment.

So would you blame the financiers for rejecting all these business plans presented to them?

We moved on to the working environment. The general idea in an office is that if you are extra nice to your superiors and keep your controversial ideas to yourself, you have better chances of getting a promotion.

Secondly, if you have friends and family in high places, you have even higher chances of getting a managerial position. I wonder what would happen if you were related to the wealthiest family in the country?

If qualification and ability was considered more than nepotism, as should be the case, would there be an unwelcome imbalance in the existing system? Would it be embraced?

As we talked about this and threw around ideas on how these issues could be tackled, we came down to one conclusion – changing the mindset of a country. We should look at the overall vision that the country portrays to the outside community and adapt it to our environments, socially, professionally and to a measured degree, personally. We could start by practicing what we preach, couldn’t we?

If  today’s businessman thinks that making a good business can only be in transport, advertising agencies, coffee and tea –then maybe they need to be introduced to other areas of profit making interest . Change is new, it is fresh and most often it is successful.

If we have so many poorly managed businesses that push away many disgruntled customers, then Rwandans need to receive a few lessons in attitude transformation.

A potential investor looking to start his business, will not be that interested if he meets four irritatingly arrogant Rwandan businessmen/women in the first week of his stay in Rwanda.
If nepotism is more dominant than qualification, then a human resources management facelift needs to be performed.

An institution gets to be successful through the profits that it makes at the end of the day, not by a line of “strong-family-background-or-other” employees that it possesses.

At the end of the day, it would be a national achievement to see that the people reflect the country’s goal. Change isn’t such a bitter pill, once you accept to taste it.


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