When it was built on over 200 million dollars, some said the Convention Center was an expensive edifice, likely to become a white elephant. As it was inaugurated, irregular rainfalls had cause a severe drought in the Eastern Province.
- Look, they said, money is being wasted on fancy buildings while the people are hungry.
The lengthy dry season was to blame; as pointed out by our Agriculture experts. Speaking to the farmers at the grassroots however, one realizes that more than just the environment, human failure to deliver may have been involved.
Then we saw the work done by ‘Inkeragutabara’ – the Army Reserve Force; a highly efficient company, which, every District Mayor will tell you, is the cornerstone of the performance of local government in Rwanda. ‘Iyo duhaye abandi isoko bakaryica, iyo hagize abadutenguha, duhamagara inkeragutabara…’ (When a contractor or any agency fails to deliver, we call the Reserve Force
They plant trees, build bridges, roads, factories, health centers and houses for poor people, etc. They implement first, follow up on payment later; In fact, fearless agencies routinely rip them off, like they do civilian farmers… reaping off people with guns: fascinating! By the end of the visit to the Eastern Province I was convinced of one thing: With the current structures in place we will overcome the shocks and achieve the ‘Agriculture Transformation’, permanent food self-sufficiency, etc.: Insha’Allah…
If we ambition to achieve an agricultural revolution, put money into the pockets of every peasant, become a regional breadbasket and be rid of poverty in the next five years; Agriculture in Rwanda must be managed by the Army!
The truth is, unlike Haiti, we haven’t been hit by hurricane Matthew. As a mountainous people in tropical regions, living off farming and cattle keeping, our knowledge of erosion, floods and droughts dates back to our forefathers’ days. Like the proverbial drought in the horn of Africa; it is predictable, it has been predicted; early warning mechanisms are in place. It is preventable; it has been prevented in the past: The question is: Do the relevant people do the needful?
I chose to tell these two stories concurrently because I wanted to address those who believe developing African countries can’t afford five star Hotels, high-end airlines such as Rwandair, and 200 million dollar Convention Centers.
When a drought hits, they see another sign of systemic poverty that must be addressed as a priority. I even saw opposition politicians coin the hunger in the East as ‘Nzaramba’ (permanent starvation); while those abroad frequently claim that Rwanda’s progress is a facade, not entrenched within the people.
Our generous Diaspora too, still puts together what they can to cover heath insurance for their relatives in Rwanda, unconvinced it has already been paid off by the state. Not many believe a country like Rwanda can provide healthcare to its entire population; almost free of charge, a cow to every poor family, universal education and milk to every child, and still afford high-speed internet and state-of-the-art infrastructure. They don’t believe it because they simply haven’t seen it anywhere else before. They believe, and with the advice of international poverty experts, that development is an ‘either or’ .
If only they knew that in the last three weeks we made radical inroads into making disease and hunger things of the past, not only for Rwanda, but for the entire mankind.
Only the other week in Kigali, the world reached the historical, most important agreement to reduce global warming, and what did we do the week after? We were visited by a King, and convened to build a pharmaceutical industry, a fertilizer industry, a University of Technology and thousands of houses. Similar deals were made in Tanzania and are expected to be made in Ethiopia where the Monarch visits next. At this point, it is pharmaceutical skills, architectural skills and engineering skills that Africa needs most.
In their respective books, Collier’s The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It’ and Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’, both authors argue that countries catch up with others when they match-up their technology and productivity, not by sending their best in the diaspora and live off remittances and aid.
In Monday Talks last week, we learned that in 1975 Moroccan King Hassan II (the Late Father of the visiting Monarch), decided to change the name of Moroccan Diaspora to ‘Moroccan expatriates’: (Travailleurs Marocain émigré), which encouraged them to acquire the needed skills and funds abroad, then promptly return and invest at home. Our Diaspora too, must see itself as expatriates on a mission; everyday opportunities abound in Rwanda, and with their presence that will increase.
Also, beyond political demagogues and generous Diaspora; farmers have plans and targets; short, mid and long term targets. They just would appreciate it, if the so-called agricultural experts held their end of the bargain each season, each year.
Who says we can’t afford both cutting age infrastructure and poverty alleviation? Our national development program is two-pronged: ED-PR-S: (1) Economic Development and (2) Poverty Reductions – Strategy; or rather, who says one is a burden to the other? Why can’t one leverage on the other and harness accruing advances?
The cause for Africa’s poverty isn’t money! With the rights factors of production; namely technology, financing, conducive global green policies; we are capable of leapfrogging our agricultural revolution.
Now, Samuel Beckett once said, ‘to find the form that accommodates the mess that is the task of an Artist.’ While they may see the big picture, the task of our leaders is to satisfy both schools of thoughts. Those saying we should invest more in agriculture therefore have a strong point, and although I don’t see it, those sending some money to their relatives for Mutuelle may have a point too.
But we must build convention centers because poverty isn’t inherent to us. We have greater ambitions, namely to bring mankind together, and be the hosts to historical pacts that aim to make the world a better place. Last week’s landmark Climate Change Agreement was one single reason – valid enough, worth every single dollar that was spend on that building;
We must build palaces too, so we can host royalty. That is the story of Rwanda; the tiny country that almost disappeared 22 years ago, is now a blessed host to Kings’ pilgrimages and world leaders’ conventions.
In that week, an article in the New York Times quoted President Obama calling the Kigali Agreements ‘an ambitious and far-reaching solution to this looming crisis [Global Warming].’ Secretary of State John Kerry speaking from Kigali said, ‘[The agreement] is likely the single most important step we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet and limit the warming for generations to come.’
Durwood Zaelke, president of an international research organization remarked; although they ‘may have not drawn the same spotlight as the climate change accord forged in Paris last year, the Kigali accord is much, much, much stronger than Paris…’
Shaped as ‘Urugo’, a traditional Rwandan home, the Kigali Convention Center is fulfilling its purpose; that of a Gacaca, a Baobab; the African Court; where questions of great concern to the inhabitants of mother earth are discussed and addressed. There is nowhere else it could have been held then, than in Kigali, Rwanda; a country that illustrates human hope and resilience;
‘Rwanda, which has worked to emerge from the shadows of the 1994 Genocide hopes to become known as well for the forging of a major climate deal. Negotiators met in the sparkling new Kigali Convention Center, and the night the Kigali deal was struck, it was illuminated in green’, the article concluded.
Those who are worried about our healthcare and good harvests should worry no more. Our humble but convenient abode, was privileged to hosted Kings and world leaders who committed to build a world where all that will be no more. It is in the same building that all African leaders, after visiting Kigali, tasked President Kagame to reform our African Union; make it more efficient, free from aid and more successful.
You see, we all write and speak, others better and louder than I, but one must visit Rwanda to really get a full grasp of what I am saying; one must be in the presence of President Kagame to conceive what kind of person he is, and as Moroccan Media CEO Ahmed Charal puts it in the Huffington Post Yesterday, ‘His country needs him, the African continent needs him, and the world needs him.’
His King too had this to say: “As I leave your country’s airspace, at the end of my official visit to the Republic of Rwanda, I would like to reiterate my sincere thanks and appreciation to you for the generous hospitality and warm welcome extended to me and my delegation…”
“I am also pleased with the fresh impetus this visit is likely to give to cooperation between our countries, given the important agreements we signed in numerous fields…” – Wrote His Majesty the King Mohammad VI, after visiting Rwanda, in a message of thanks to his brother, President Paul Kagame.
During his weeks’ visit, the Kigali Convention Center was glowing in red and green; the colors of the Moroccan flag.