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. At the time I was conducting research on the drought and while speaking to farmers at the grassroots, I realizes that more than 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, feeder 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 strong structures in place we can overcome shocks and achieve the ‘Agriculture Transformation’, that we set out to do and ensure permanent food self-sufficiency.: 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 civil servants do was is expected of them, which they are paid for?
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 in the people.
Our generous Diaspora too, still puts together what they can to cover health insurance for their relatives left home, 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, cash stipends to the poor 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 in Africa is an ‘either or’ .
Only the other week, the world reached the historical, most important agreement to reduce global warming, they did that in Kigali – in the very Convention Center which was expensive to build. The week after we drew closer to our ambitions to building a pharmaceutical industry, a fertilizer industry, by signing deals with a visiting King – of Morocco, for we believe it is pharmaceutical skills, architectural skills and engineering skills that Africa needs most, not imported western democracy and confrontational politics.
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. They just would appreciate it if folks at MINAGRI, RAB, RICA, NAEB, or any other fancy acronym, delivered seeds, fertiliser, pesticides in time and in non-toxic quality. The recipients of the “One Cow Per Poor Family” would be forever grateful, if said cattle was pregnant by the time it is delivered – as is stipulated by the Presidential Decree to that effect! In other words, farmers do their part, but they would love it if experts held their end of the bargain, each season, each year.
See, THE MAIN PROBLEM OF AGRICULTURE IN RWANDA IS THE SUPPLY CHAIN!
This becomes easy to grasp once one stops conceiving agriculture as a household food security activity and sees it as a cutting-edge industrial value chain. If Rwandans are still digging with their bare hands in 2016, then there is a fundamental – mental problem. Let’s fix that – which is only a mindset – and not scapegoat on our failure to modernise agriculture to our equally important infrastructure development.
Who says we can’t afford both cutting-edge 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 right factors of production; namely technology, financing, conducive global green policies; we are capable of leapfrogging our agricultural revolution.
Now, while they may see the big picture, the task of our leaders is to satisfy both schools of thoughts. Those saying we must prioritise agriculture therefore have a strong point, and those who say we must build infrastructure that create jobs to wean Rwandans off of it sooner, have a point too.
However, I believe that 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 spent 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.
A last week 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 New York Times article concluded.
Those who are worried about our healthcare and good harvests would be pleased to know that 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.’ He said this, during his King’s visit this week. For the occasion, the Kigali Convention Center was glowing in red and green; the colors of the Moroccan flag. And so may it continue to glow in all colors of the earth, to bless travellers and fortunes that may find their way to us, the resilient people of Rwanda.