Rwanda is flying so close to the sun that it might burn its wings. unless… 5th July 2012

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Rwandans have been very efficient in selling the image of the country since the end of the genocide against tutsis; quiet a strong achievement, given the amount of detractors out there, equally striving to justify their presence in exile, hide their past actions, nostalgic of the past, those avid of power; seeking foreign back-up or just the good old Rwandan trick of backstabbing or portraying others in a bad light to make ourselves look good.

I get impressed by their ability to seduce and brand. For instance, they have been able to convince the whole world that the best place to see gorillas of the mist is in Rwanda; even gorillas themselves have fallen in the trap as most have deserted DRC and Uganda mists to migrate to the small land of milk, bamboo and coffee. No doubt Rwandans have done well in PR.

This very strategic move however, is a blade with two sharp ages: If you invite people to your home, you’ve got to have enough to offer them. In the past years, it was relatively simple, they did not demand much: when I go to Mogadishu, Ndjamena or Bujumbura, my expectations are low; If I make it back alive, find some food and clean water, I am willing to forego warm showers and tolerate corrupt officials, leave alone bumpy roads. Imagine my pleasant surprise, if I encounter ATM machines, public gardens and timing traffic lights – the same brand as the ones I just left in my developed city of Johannesburg, Montreal or Berlin; only, these are all brand new and working perfectly. Instead of a rundown, I see a busy city of sleek, bilingual young people busy tweeting on their smart phones. I feel like home again; oh wait, I feel better than home because while I do that, the sun is up, the weather perfect, and my job makes me feel self-righteous. What a fantastic place to change the world, I would say to myself…

All these beautiful days of compassion, sympathy and even empathy are slowly becoming a thing of the past. No false modesty, no sense of guilt: It’s time for business and the client is king! behaving just like a king: ready to pay top dollar – and Rwandans tend to let themselves go on setting prices – but also demand top service. Beyond customer care, quality service – the best…

Things are changing; the benchmark for assessing Rwanda has changed, probably faster than Rwandans have realised it has. Rwandans themselves wanted the standards set so high, well they’ve got their wish! Rwanda will no longer be assessed against its neighbors in the east or central African – just like Singapore does not compare itself to Burma, its direct neighbor or Botswana to Zimbabwe in terms of economic progress or security. Equally, Rwanda should not be compared to Burundi, DRC or Uganda, probably in any aspect possible.

They say misery, just like happiness, is quickly forgotten. Once the situation changes, the threshold of acceptable lifestyle, the scale of measuring efficiency and performance shifts quickly, upward or downward, depending on the trend. And people are incredibly fast to adapt and with so much ease..

Rwandans no longer inspire pity, but competition. The days of ‘oh look at us we have suffered, we are trying our best, etc.’; bullshit! Films on the Tutsi genocide will no longer win international debutant awards, bestowed on humanitarian grounds; it’s been done; Kagame will no longer be honoured for taking the country out of chaos and on to the path of development; it’s been done; He will not be awarded for emancipating women in decision making positions; it’s been done! Instead, he will be criticised if the internet is any slower than promised, if teachers can’t be paid, or if instead of a 7% domestic growth next year we register a 4-5%.

Tourists will expect five-star hospitality; researchers will expect 2012 data and 2013 predictions ready to use, while political scholars will expect peaceful transitions, free and fair elections and the rule of law of the level of Canada and Denmark; Nothing less.

Businessmen will expect excellent condition infrastructure, highly qualified and motivated manpower, non-corrupt politicians and a vibrant market. There must be a strong reason a businessman chooses to come all the way to invest in the Rwanda’s small market of 11 million and pay high taxes, instead of investing in the DRC market, wide of 66 million people, where all he needs to do is bribe the head of revenue, the regular army chief and the militia leader every now and then; a much cheaper activity; add to that the fact that in DRC he wouldn’t need to import his manufacturing machinery by truck all the way from the port of Mombasa and his row material from DRC, to transform it in Rwanda where the manpower is more expensive due to regularised social security policies.

So, my question again is what do we truly have to offer that others don’t? Knives and watches like in Switzerland? Clothes and shoes like in Italy and France, electronics like in Japan, china, etc? I need to know, because good memories, coffee and a bunch of African artefacts won’t do; that you can get in almost every African country; sorry in every poor country. I mean, artefacts from rich countries are out of reach anyway… ever seen anyone go to France on holidays, visit the Louvre and pick up the Monalisa on his way out?

A couple of years back, I remember meeting a young African girl named Thupo from Malawi. She’d set out to meet president Kagame and travelled all the way, found a job in Kigali, built up connections and climbed her way up in the Rwandan society; last time I saw her she was almost there; she had just met Joe, then Minister of youth, who’d promised to get her an appointment with the boss; she was excited! There is something to learn in her novel-like story: she came for the best thing we can offer to the world: Our president. So again what can we offer! Apart from our president, that is…

Charities are leaving and investors are taking over their offices. The thing with charities is that they have little money and tell you what to do. Investors have piles of money and want you to tell them what to do! They want you to tell them where the market is, why it is better here than elsewhere in the region, in the world?

For that it needs to take the thinking and doing to the next level; creating development thinkers, competitive innovators, problem solving strategists, etc. This will imply creating an incubator of geniuses with innovations available nowhere else, gold medal winning athletes, world best mathematicians, international award winning book writers and film makers, platinum disk singers, world class holiday attractions, world class services, best quality manufacturers, quadrupled, sustainable and vibrant SMEs. Like it is said in the EDPRS-II briefing: ‘beyond being best at what we do, innovate…’

Rwandans like to leave well, insatiably comparing themselves to the best, claiming loud and clear that they’re the best, that their country is developing better than others; well, let’s see it then: no more complaisance, no more empathy, business is business: Today Rwanda faces its most daunting challenge. But it is a good problem to have, it’s got to raise the game; It is time!

Today Rwanda has reached a critical stage and all the prerequisites are in place for the country to actually take off and propel itself to different heights of development, thus completely breaking off with the circle of poverty. If taken on full gear, with the resolute and insouciant drive of hitting the ground running, of which only Rwandans have the secret, it is achievable. Of course it might cause heart attacks around some World Bank analysts, always urging caution as clearly impossible mega-plans are taken on with a speed nearing suicide, and eventually seen through… It can be done and it will be done; we have no choice anyway!

As Raila Odinga was meeting the Kenyan Diaspora in Rwanda on his last visit, I joined my Kenyan brothers in a true East African spirirt, to listen and learn. A half hour rather smart speech, which he concluded with a reference to the upcoming presidential elections: ‘Kenya is like a plane that has taxied to the tarmac’, he started; ‘It has placed itself in the runway’s take-off lane’ he paused to survey the intrigued audience, worked out a commercial smile and continued: ‘pushing gas to full gear ready for takeoff. All Kenya needs now is a qualified pilot!’; The old man concluded with the legendary Kenyan eloquence; leaving no doubt to the identity of the pilot he had in mind…

For us we have that pilot, we’ve been flying with him at cruising speed for some time now! Our plane seems set to move to supersonic speed any moment; so buckle-up: He’s got five years left until we reach atmosphere, away from gravity…

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