Monday, April 11, 2011

RWANDA AND THE CASE FOR THE EAC

Last week I was in Kigali, Rwanda to attend the Commonwealth Secretariat sponsored “Media and Economic Development in a Globalising world”, a media forum in which examined our role as journalists in this fast changing world and region.

Journalism, whose definition is under threat from new media, remains an important tool now more than ever in steering populations through the rapid changes that are upon us. The understanding and application of press freedom varies around the commonwealth and finding that happy medium between journalistic license and responsibility to society will continue to be a challenge.

Around the workshop of course Kigali went on with business as usual.

I have been trying to crystalise my feelings about Kigali with little success, this having been my first time in the country of a thousand hills.

Entebbe Airport is small but Kigali International Airport is smaller, but as I descended to retrieve my luggage I was struck by a Rwanda Development Board billboard highlighting the ease with which you can do business in Rwanda.

The well paved, neat and clean roads of Kigali have become a cliché Рwhich is as it should be, but you have to be there to appreciate it.

And this where my biggest emotional discordance set in.

"Was I impressed because where I come from we have unpaved, port holed and dusty streets? Or was I impressed because here was a country with an economy and budget almost a third the size of my homeland and showing us how things should be done given a little vision, organisation and dedication?

In hindsight it was a bit embarrassing that we had our jaws on the ground about Kigali’s roads, in functioning countries good roads are a given, so what does that say about us in Kampala.

I read somewhere that the efficiency of a government can be detected by the state of its roads. Roads fall apart when governments don’t work. A government in decline starts to show in its roads and conversely a government on the rise improves its roads.

Moving beyond Kampala-bashing the state of Kigali’s roads vis-√†-vis Kampala’s or Nairobi’s or Dar es Salaam’s (I have not been to Bujumbura so I can not speak for them) highlights why fast progress towards operationalising the East African Community is important, even critical for the region’s people.

Rwanda’s traumatic history of the last 50 years needs no repeating, but the legacy of this leaves Kigali with no margin for error in delivering goods and services to its people. A continual improvement in the standard of Rwandans across the board, not only by a few urban elite, is crucial if stability is to be maintained.

Ten million people crammed into a space about a tenth the size of Uganda is a situation that does not allow for much pressure build up.

"The challenge for Rwanda is to grow its economy as fast as it can, while spreading the benefits of this growth as equitably as it can. To do this Kigali needs to be strong enough to reign in the corrupt, who frustrate social service delivery while flexible enough to not only attract investment but also encourage local entrepreneurship...

On one count, judging by the roads in the capital (even if as some critics say they are only for show and only in the capital), Kigali has shown itself able to get things done – in Uganda we cant even put up a road for show.

Given its small population, relative lack of industry and landlockedness, Rwanda can not do this alone. It needs unfettered access to a larger market to attract investment. It needs its neighbours’ infrastructure and processes to be in tip top shape to lower the cost of doing business.

The EAC must work for Rwanda to work. Rwanda must work for the EAC to work. This mutually beneficial equation applies to all the five member states. Rwanda just brings these issues into sharp relief because of its turbulent history and the ever present danger of a resurgence in ethnic violence. A World Bank report in 1990s found that countries with less ethnic diversity are more wont to descend into civil war than others.

The colonial borders of East Africa have been shown to be an impediment rather than an advancer of our welfare, the EAC offers us a way to transcend these boundaries and Rwanda serves as a case study for why failure is not an option.

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