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South Africa can learn from Rwanda

When you think of Rwanda, chances are the 1994 Tutsi genocide springs to mind – one million people died in 100 days. However, if you are a keen conservationist or nature lover, you may think mountain guerillas. Rwanda and Uganda are the only two countries in the world where you can see mountain gorillas.

There is so much more to Rwanda. Incredibly, this tiny landlocked, densely populated largely subsistence farming-based country has the fifth fastest growing economy in Africa, with economic growth estimated at 6.3% in 2017.

President Paul Kagame, who took office in 2000 is often described as a dictator, but he is also a man with a vision for the country and the country’s new model of economic development is yielding impressive results. The article: “Rwanda Rising: a new model of economic development,” written by Jeff Chu and published on the FASTCOMPANY website makes for very interesting reading).

President Kagame has implemented a two prong strategy of luring private investment and building a global network of powerful friends, who can help the country. In practice this means identifying global business leaders, meeting with them and finding ways to work together. A good example of this is his request to meet with the CEO of Costco, Jim Sinegal. Costco is the world’s second largest retailer after Walmart. Dan Cooper one of the company’s shareholders, set up a meeting. As a direct result of this meeting, Sinegal visited Rwanda. Today, Costco is one of the biggest purchasers of buyers of Rwandan coffee. Sinegal in turn, introduced Kagame to the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. Today, Starbucks is one of the largest purchasers of Rwandan coffee.

This begs the question what can South Africa sell to a large global companies, and which companies should we target? South Africa needs to think out of the box. We should look for new, unexplored avenues – hemp production, aquaculture (tilapia), or honey, might be a starting point. The African bee produces the best honey, and yet South Africa has not exploited this opportunity. Honey is used in so many industries – industrial, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical. The scope is huge. Ironically, South Africa imports much of its honey.

Kagame believes poverty contributed to the genocide. It is imperative, therefore, to lift people out of poverty and to focus on economic growth. He has set an ambitious target to make half of Rwandans wage earners, in an economy which is subsistence based. He is partnering with the private sector to achieve this end.

He recognizes developmental aid is not the answer, so the focus is on development through investment. This requires a number of things including an investor friendly environment. There are very good tax incentives for investors, specifically in the tourist industry. It is also easy to do business in Rwanda – one can register a business within one day for a flat fee of US$ 43. There is huge potential for South Africa to learn from these practices. I often hear business leaders in South Africa lament the fact that there is so much red tape and the fact that there are no incentives to invest.

Kagame is also embracing best practice and has visited the Asian Tigers to learn about things that have worked and what could work in Rwanda. His vision for Rwanda is based on sustainable development, a green economy and deploying technology wherever possible. Particularly impressive is the fact that Rwanda is partnering with AkilahNet to position Rwanda as a leader in cargo drone technology. The first drone route, Redline, which will use drones to fly medical and emergency supplies will be launched in 2017. The project aims to have operational droneports, which can send supplies to 44% of Rwanda by 2020.

Kagame is also tapping into the Rwandan diaspora network, and continues to meets with American entrepreneurs. There is tremendous scope for our leaders to tap into the South African diaspora and to meet with entrepreneurs, China and India are obvious starting points.

A number of other strategies really impress.

Every tier of society is accountable to the layer above it. Mayors and top officials sign performance agreements with the President. (This sounds like very good strategy to emulate in South Africa). Society is organized around the village. On the last Saturday of every month, villages are legally obliged to participate in a nationwide community service day. Afterwards villages discuss community issues. There is even an element of peer shaming for non-performance.

Imagine if South Africa adapted this model. Imagine if able-bodied South Africans performed community service once a month – cleaning up, repairing infrastructure, addressing the most pressing needs in the community. Better still, if communities met afterwards, and dealt with issues there and then. We would have far fewer service delivery protests. Service delivery and the quality of life for thousands of South Africans would improve dramatically.

Learning from others, is always best practice. Learning from Rwanda is a good starting point.

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