Living the Dream: Joe Ritchie and the Rwanda Development Board

As an  accomplished USA based and globally bound business leader, Joseph J. Ritchie’s decision to accept the post of heading Rwanda’s mega parastatal the Rwanda Development Board really caught pundits off-guard. For him it was a new calling. The appointment was history in the making.
The Leader and his team:Joe with part of his team members Chantal Rugamba and Francis Gatare.
The Leader and his team:Joe with part of his team members Chantal Rugamba and Francis Gatare.

As an  accomplished USA based and globally bound business leader, Joseph J. Ritchie’s decision to accept the post of heading Rwanda’s mega parastatal the Rwanda Development Board really caught pundits off-guard. For him it was a new calling. The appointment was history in the making.

What is expected of this decision comes a vision of the good things to come in terms of Rwanda’s public service delivery in areas such as ICT, Private Sector Development, Branding of the Country as an investment and tourism destination of choice among other impacts. 
Joe’s decision to join the Rwandan public service is definitely a first one for Rwanda. The Government of Rwanda is  credited with its ability to craft new forms of solutions to fight off a myriad of challenges it faces while actualizing its road map into the future otherwise known as Vision 2020.

In yet another  new move the Government during the opening months of the 3rd quarter named an American business leader Joseph J. Ritchie as the CEO of the newly created Rwanda Development Board, a super institution born out of merging the activities of eight agencies.

The decision to merge eight government institutions shows the business-savvy perspective of the government. Bureaucracy is often cited as a major hindrance to quick service delivery in many African countries.

In Africa, governments do little to improve their  service deliveries in the long run. The Government of Rwanda in a major departure from this practice within African public service , has instituted measures to curb excessive red tape within Government.

Key among these being the adoption of decentralization of governance and embracing e-government within service delivery.

To add on to these drives Rwanda becomes the first country in the region to have critical  multi institutional services put under a single roof. The key objective according to policy makers is to enhance the synergy likely to be accrued from such a move.

‘The RDB will work to transform the way Rwanda does business with the World’, Ritchie remarked during the unveiling of the super board.

‘We will strive to institute a private-sector mentality, which will be critical to building a knowledge-based economy, creating jobs and increasing opportunities for all Rwandans’, he added.

The  RDB established by law in September 2008 brings together eight agencies among them the Rwanda Investment and Export promotion (RIEPA), Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN), Rwanda Information Technology Authority (RITA), Human Resource and Institutional Capacity Development Agency (HIDA), Rwanda Commercial Registration Services Agency (RCRSA),the Centre for Support to Small and Medium Enterprises(CAPMER),The Rwanda Environmental Management Agency(REMA) and Privatization Secretariat were merged in a move to improve on the service delivery in the country.

The policy implication of this move is bound to be revolutionary. The move will allow the government to gain greater levels of efficiency, while being able to provide greater oversight and accountability, and advance cross-cutting strategies to accelerate economic growth and development which so far no individual agency or ministry could do on its own.

In other words, a policy analyst commented that ‘RDB will be able to improve the effectiveness and responsiveness of Government, particularly in its dealings with potential investors’.

The RDB added the analyst , ‘will work to create a Government that is more responsive to the needs of its citizens and investment partners’.

According to a statement from Government, RBD will also work to enact structural and cultural reforms to accelerate Rwanda’s strategic growth and development needs, consistent with Rwanda’s Vision 2020.

Key to this strategy, RDB will lead the Government’s efforts to create a climate that will make Rwanda a compelling global hub for business and investment. I

t also emerged that RDB will moreover pursue legal and regulatory reforms, while working to enhance infrastructure that supports private sector development, including transportation, ICT and human capacity development.

Joe Ritchie will be supported by a cast of technocrats and other public service mandarins sourced from the presently merged institutions.

Mr.Francis Gatare has been named Principal Deputy CEO, who was formerly DG RIEPA; Rosette Rugamba  was named Deputy CEO for Tourism and Conservation, who was formerly DG for RRTPN; Nkubito Bakuramutsa was named Deputy CEO for ICT, who was previously DG for RITA.

Clare Akamanzi was named deputy CEO for Business Operations and Services, who previously served as Deputy DG for RIEPA and Hirorimana Deogratuis was named Deputy CEO for Human and Institutional Development who previously served as DG HIDA.

The law allows for a full year’s transition period to integrate the existing agencies into a fully operational development board.

Joe Ritchie becomes the first American to assume such a role in the Rwandan Government. Joe has been an advisor to president Kagame and he is believed to have helped popularize ‘Brand Rwanda’ in America and introduced many of its products in the American market including specialty coffee.

Born in 1946 Joe  is a commodities and options trader and is the founder of Chicago Research and Trading, whose capital went up from US$200,000 to over US$225 million in 11 years.

According to BusinessWeek magazine, ‘Ritchie is widely acknowledged to be one of the sharpest minds in the options business’.

‘I started out driving a bus’, Ritchie says, ‘then I was a policeman, then a computer programmer’. His mother was a homemaker, his father a civil engineer and a minister.

Home was Reedsport, Oregon, a small city ‘about at the middle’ of the state’s Pacific coastline. Ritchie moved to the Chicago area to attend Wheaton College.

And when trading stocks with a computerized model left his eclectic spirit wanting more, he began a kind of international business journey that to this day continues to expand and is fueled by a keen interest in raising people’s self-esteem in all his ventures.

So begun what one may call a globe trotting adventure which eventually brought him to Rwanda. He has been all over the world. In Russia, ‘I was kind of the guy who first got a lot of joint ventures going in Russia before the end of the Cold War.

I started a business over there that grew into about 80 companies with more than 5,000 employees. It started out with computers but branched out into architecture, manufacturing, hotels, law. The biggest assets anywhere are the people you get’.

In Japan he says that ‘a couple of my friends who grew up over there are working with me. We have businesses that are fundamentally Japanese but use American know-how. These are in the services - housekeeping, service management.

It’s such a hierarchical society. You can take the people on the bottom and make them feel better about the work they do and help them be happier. That’s the kind of value added that I think is a very satisfying way to earn a buck’.

The RDB is modeled along the path of the Asian tiger’s public development corporations which spear headed these tiger’s development outcomes. For instance Rwandan policy makers seemed to have been inspired by the Singaporean success story which they are keen to emulate.

Singapore had incorporated a Special Purpose Agency it’s acclaimed Economic Development Board (EDB) to spearhead its planned transformation way back in 1963.

EBD delivered on the Singaporean dream of achieving its planned transformation from a developing to a newly developed economy within a short span of less than 50 years.