Blair advisor to Kagame: Lessons to draw

This is a slightly edited article by World Economic Forum young entrepreneur nominee Andrew Mwenda, as it appeared in international papers.

On January 18, The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom reported that former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had taken on the role of advisor to the Rwanda government. For a person of Blair’s standing in the world, this is the greatest public relations coup by the Rwandan government.

More critically, it is an endorsement of the leadership of President Paul Kagame. How can a small, poverty stricken country somewhere in Africa, having no minerals and almost of no strategic value in global politics, attract the attention of such an international statesman as Blair? Whenever people of Blair’s standing retire, they join the boards of big corporations.

On January 10, the news media reported that Blair had just been appointed by the world’s leading investment bank, JP Morgan, as senior advisor. Is Rwanda now playing in the same league as JP Morgan? Blair’s appointment follows the general pattern of strategic positioning Rwanda has been doing.

The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, has personally been working closely with President Kagame in supporting the health sector in Rwanda. Paul Farmer, a professor of Medical Anthropology at Harvard and possibly the world’s leading authority on public health-care in poor settings has been working closely with Kagame to develop one of the most innovative national health insurance systems in the world.

Last June, I spent an evening with Google founder, Larry Page, after he had returned from a visit to Rwanda and Uganda. He told me how impressed he was by Rwanda. In April, Kagame had visited Google headquarters in the Silicon Valley where he had lunch with senior executives including the CEO, Eric Schmidt. Deals were signed, among them Google’s promise to provide Rwanda free web-based software.

Former US President, Bill Clinton, has been visiting Rwanda regularly since he left the White House to help build their national healthcare system.

Clinton appointed Kagame to the board of the Clinton Global Initiative, a pioneer institution that aims to turn  good intentions into real action and results.

That Clinton appointed Kagame speaks volumes about what international leaders think of Rwanda. On Clinton’s board, Kagame sits with the brightest minds in the world and develops the best social networks.

Kagame has practically redefined the way African leaders should engage the best of the Western world.

African leaders like Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now Congo) made powerful friendships in Western capitals.

But they were largely for protecting Mobutu’s presidency rather than help his country resolve its economic conundrums. And it worked; Mobutu ruled Zaire for 32 years, building palaces as his citizens went hungry. Other presidents seem to have learnt from Mobutu - first in organizing powerful western allies to protect their power, and in building for themselves multi-million dollar palaces.

Nothing more! Kagame is building international networks for investment in Rwanda. His council of economic advisors shows he is seeking serious and influential advice.

On his council sits Joe Ritchie, a multi-million dollar commodities and options trader in Chicago who was named by Business Week as one of the “sharpest minds in options business”; Michael Porter, a professor at the Harvard Business School, possibly the world’s leading authority on competitive strategy and international competitiveness; Michael J. Roux, the chairman of Roux International, Myinternet, Nexted and Australian Development Bank.

Roux is also Vice Chairman of Citigroup. Also on Kagame’s council of economic advisors is Ford Scott, president and CEO of Alcatel - one of the world’s leading telecommunications companies; Donald Kaberuka, the president of the Africa Development Bank, and Clet Niyitegeka, a Rwandan American who is vice president of Glaxo Kline. Someone should read the list of Museveni’s (Who) presidential advisors on the economy to see how great a visionary our man can be.

Kagame appoints people who can advise him. Last April, Fortune magazine ran a lead story titled “Why American CEOs Love Rwanda.” Starbucks CEO Jim Donalds was facing a riot from his board, who wanted to fire him. He invited Kagame to the board meeting.

In a surprise move, Kagame delivered a corporate endorsement for Donalds when he told the board how the partnership between Rwanda and Starbucks was improving the incomes of poor farmers.

The board kept Donald in his job.The strategic alliances between Rwanda/Kagame and some of the leading minds in business - and politics - around the globe are yielding incredible results.

Dubai World has just signed a US$ 230m investment deal in Rwanda. The government of Singapore has been hired to advise Rwanda on how to build a modern city that serve as the region’s service centre.

A Rwandan-Libyan consortium is building a US$ 300m ultra-modern conference centre complete with a five star hotel and an IT park in Kigali. It aims to turn Kigali into the regional IT hub. On The Frontier (OTF) is handling Rwanda’s competitive strategy. The story goes on and on.