, NAIROBI, Kenya – A visitor to landlocked Rwanda will marvel at the tremendous optimism and change in that country. A Kenyan, especially, will notice that the roads are clean, traffic laws are obeyed, civil servants work without asking for bribes, and investors and tourists are flocking to the country in droves.
Rwanda under President Paul Kagame has enacted various pro-business policies captured in the country’s Vision 2020. The aim is to accelerate investment and economic growth and transform the country into a regional trade hub.
Rwanda has already joined the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC). These efforts are paying dividends. Last year, Rwanda registered an 11 percent economic growth rate, compared to Kenya’s paltry 3 percent growth.
As they consider investment destinations, investors are seeking countries with sound governance and policies. Rwanda has moved to genuinely create an atmosphere that will attract and retain investors. Kenya should know that genuine reforms are more important than conducting PR for investors. Even though we advertise on CNN, we cannot fool investors as no one wants to put their money in a country that is insecure and corrupt.
In education, security and governance, there are several lessons that Kenya and other African countries can learn from Rwanda:
Education: Rwanda offers free education at the primary level and plans to extend this to the secondary level. Rwanda has invested heavily in education through training of teachers. Donors too are pouring in money for education and ICT. Rwanda is one of the African countries that is benefiting from the One Laptop per Child Project.
Kenya can learn plenty of lessons here in proper planning and also in building synergy with donors and the private sector.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT): Rwanda has identified ICT as the engine of economic growth. The installing of fibre optic cable and other ICT infrastructure will facilitate the conduct of business and unlock tremendous opportunities for economic growth. Kenya should borrow a leaf and invest in ICT right from primary school.
Business Registration: Registering a company in Rwanda costs zero dollars! Better still, the Rwanda Development Board brings under one roof all the relevant offices that you need in business registration; the registrar of companies, the utilities companies, the environmental agency, the tax authorities are all under one roof.
How long does it take to get your business registration certificate in Rwanda? Three days!
Is Kenya still competing with such investment destinations?
Governance: Another lesson that Kenya can learn from Rwanda is in governance.
President Kagame is a hands-on leader whose government freely provides information to its people and to investors. For a long time in Kenya, government hid information from its people. This culture has not died away. What is so secret about a Cabinet meeting?
In Rwanda, minutes of the Cabinet meeting are read in the evening news! In Kenya we chastise ministers who “leak” cabinet deliberations. Does the Cabinet not serve the interests of all Kenyans?
Media: President Kagame himself addresses the media on various issues and they have an opportunity to ask him questions. But when the media misuse this freedom, they suffer as when Rwanda banned the BBC Kinyarwanda Service for alleged incitement.
In Kenya, the media is deemed enemies when they in reality should be partners in development. But for this to happen, we have to appreciate that media demand true information and state of things. We cannot have things to hide and expect the media to go along with us.
Roads: Rwanda has one of the best road networks in Africa- clean and free of potholes. It has even created a ministry of infrastructure to oversee the expansion of roads and to uphold standards in building.
What can we learn here? Contractors of public projects should not be paid if they deliver shoddy work. Better still, they should be tried and jailed.
Women: Rwanda is the only country in the world where the Parliament is 56 percent women. In Kenya, we should now go past the 30 percent share for women and aim at higher representation of qualified women at all levels of the public sector.
Security: Kenya can learn a lot in regard to security. In Rwanda, security is paramount and court cases are determined swiftly. Police patrol the streets on a 24 hour basis. No investor or tourist will visit a country where they feel unsafe.
Rwanda’s efforts have attracted the attention of investors, donors and tourists. Donors are pouring money in Rwanda. The Clinton Foundation funds the anti-malaria program and also provides ARVs to Rwandan children living with HIV/Aids and it is also dedicated to fighting malaria. It is also building its third hospital at Butaro at a cost of over $1 million.
USAID has funded the capacity building of 12 district governments to enhance service delivery. USAID also provides food assistance to vulnerable households in Rwanda.
And last year, Rwanda was approved for the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation threshold assistance program, which will strengthen the capacity and independence of the Judiciary, expand opportunities for civic participation, and promote civil rights and liberties.
In 2005, Rwanda was rewarded as one of Africa’s brightest economic performers and qualified for the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI).
Furthermore, the World Bank Report ranked Rwanda as Africa’s best in terms of good governance and lowest level of corruption in 2003 and a 2005 business report, ranked Rwanda first in sub-Saharan Africa and twelfth worldwide as the best pro-business reformer.
Business investors too are banking on Rwanda. One of the world’s biggest holding companies -Dubai World – is investing $230 million in eight tourism facilities within Rwanda. The world-reknown Starbucks brand is currently promoting Rwandan coffee internationally.
In 2007, Ericsson and mobile operator MTN unveiled the first services in their Millennium Village project in Rwanda. This project in partnership with Colombia University’s Earth Institute, aims at improving mobile and internet connectivity in rural areas, supporting social services and economic development.
Recovering fully from genocide and building a stable and prosperous and modern
nation is a tall order. But Rwanda has made an important step in crafting a new
Constitutional order and in enacting policies to restore confidence and faith in that country.
More importantly, Rwanda has shown Africa and the world that having good ideas is not enough; the difference is in the implementation, in taking those first painful steps to rebuild a country and restore shattered hope and confidence.
Only then do investors and tourists pour in. As Kenyans, we must know that no serious investment will take place if we never put our house in order.
(Edwin Maina is a writing and editorial consultant with an interest in African development. His contact is: firstname.lastname@example.org)