Rwanda: ‘No prophet in his hometown..’

Imagine President Kagame is in Davos. He has chaired one of the panels on world’s economics, had a successful dinner with leaders of the world’s finance, he has promised to bring the Worlds Economic Forum to Rwanda. ‘The region is vibrant and secure; excellent place to conduct business!’ – he’s told them all.

The next day he is planning on meeting Swiss bankers and other CEOs of multinationals to finalize details of investing in East Africa. The meeting will be cancelled in extremis; he has to comeback to his country quickly, because a military coup is ongoing next door in Burundi…

Kaname Akamatsu, is one of the leading proponents of an interesting economic theory called the ‘flying gees paradigm’. This theory explains South-East Asia’s inter-dependent development trajectory.

The idea is that like gees, Asian countries supported each other in their development; Japan developed as a front-runner goose, taking all the wind of a country trying to break through in the early sixties, and taking the burden of the conception and production of commodities, then moved that role to its less developed neighbors of the time, which ‘aligned successively behind the advanced industrial nations in the order of their different stages of growth in a wild-geese-flying pattern.”[2]

The lead goose in this pattern is Japan itself, the second-tier of nations consisted of the newly industrializing economies (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong). After these two groups come the main ASEAN countries: Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Finally the least developed major nations in the region: China, Vietnam, Philippines etc. make up the rear guard in the formation.[3]

In our region though, Rwanda experiences the opposite reality. For a big multinational company to come to Rwanda, it has to look at the regional market. 11 million Rwandans aren’t that interesting. But if you put 67 million Congolese, 49.2 Tanzanians, 44.3 Kenyans, 37 Million Ugandans, 11 million South Sudanese and 10 million Burundians, you would have a more than 200 million attractive, vibrant market.

A common market may not thrive though, if its citizens do not have a common vision; a common philosophy. Like any brothers and neighbors we aren’t exempt of historical rivalry; some true, some exaggerated and some myth: My Kingdom was mightier than yours, etc. But usually brothers drink that off, crack jokes and move on to serious matters at hand; such pacifying the region, eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers, fostering a meaningful integration and attracting investors.

President Kagame enjoys hanging out with Aliko Dangote, Donald Kaberuka, Howard Buffet, Carlos Slim, Yong Kim, Ban Ki Moon, etc. With these individuals they elevate each other intellectually and his country financially, he has even made most of them his personal advisers. Unfortunately, being born out of this region, he has to make do with Joseph Kabila, Alain Nyamitwe and his boss Nkurunziza every now and then – life isn’t perfect… If they were well mannered at least, he would introduce them into his circles too, but of course he knows they would embarrass him.

So, we never asked where we wanted to be geographically located, us no more than the Congolese or the Burundians. In a perfect world, we could have chosen between Japan and South Korea, but then again we could have landed between Israel and Palestine.

Evolution of mankind being cyclical, no one even knows where this region will be in the next 200 years, maybe better off than them all, who knows…

For now though, we are here now and that’s what matters. We can choose to complain about each other and compare dwarfs, or we can work together and change this thing and elevate the standard of the people of this region.

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