Innovation Blog

Rwanda:  Entrepreneurship, not Genocide

By Shlomo Maital

   In a recent three-part episode on the BBC World Service’s Global Business program, Peter Day visited Rwanda and described its amazing renaissance, through entrepreneurship, after the horrendous genocide in which 800,000 people were slaughtered in 1994.  Its driving force is President  Paul Kagame,  whose guerilla force entered Rwanda and is credited with stopping the slaughter, when UN and other forces were impotent to do so.

     The Republic of Rwanda  is a landlocked country located in the Great Lakes region of eastern-central Africa, bordered by Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania.  It has 10 million people, and covers some 26,000 sq. kms.  It achieved independence from Belgium in 1962.

    Rwanda’s vision, led by Kagame, is to become a mid-income country, rather than a poor one, in 10 years.   A new road leads from the capital Kigali to  Nyamata. Kigali is lovely, well-run, and relatively safe.  A terrible slaughter occurred in 1994 in Nyamata, in a Christian church.  It is now a memorial, with the clothes of those slaughtered still on the pews.    Peter Day spoke with an NGO called Rwanda Works .   Officials said Rwanda’s government is covering the country with fiberoptic lines (which run under the road) and other transportation infrastructure.   

     Rwanda has fertile red soil.  It is a country of beauty, known as the Land of the Thousand Hills, now being repopulated.  Immigrants have come from overpopulated parts of Africa.  New markets have sprung up along the road. 

    An expert told Day:  “If you look off to this hillside, you’ll see a homestead here and there. This is traditional in Rwanda — outside Kigali, people lived on the land they cultivated.  After the war, the thinking on the part of the government was — we won’t develop if everyone lives on their land.  Too hard to get health, education, electricity, water to people dispersed.  So the government built housing for several hundred thousand people in villages.  When you get a village, you get specialization, and wealth and prosperity creation.   For instance:  here is a person on a bicycle with soda bottles on the back.  This is a sign of production and wealth creation.”

     A government minister spoke to Day about Vision 20/20:  Where we want to see Rwanda.  Key:  Rwanda wants to move away from reliance on agriculture to becoming a knowledge-based economy, with human capital and high-value skills.   “By 2020 we should have per capita income of $900; today we are at $400, which is double the $200 level in 2000.”

     Rwanda needs foreign investment.  Meanwhile, the government has installed IT infrastructure that is world class.  It is well connected to the world and to friends, including the US (Costco and Starbucks).  They buy Rwandan coffee.  

      Clair Akamanzi, of the Rwanda Development Board, says:   Adding value to coffee and tea, and selling abroad, is very  important for us now.

      Belgium, Germany, France  had important colonial roles here.  But Rwanda has now cleverly joined the British Commonwealth.  This makes it eligible for British aid.

     “When you are innovative, you can find niche markets anywhere in the world,” said a Rwandan entrepreneur, Emmanuel Murukazi, who pioneered coffee shops in Rwanda, changing the Rwandan culture not accustomed to them.   His chain called BourBon has now become global.  He even has a coffee shop in Washington DC.   They roast beans daily from five Rwandan regions, each type differentiated.   Murukazi is selling the notion of drinking coffee to Rwandans not accustomed to it, and branding Rwandan coffee.  

    Rwanda has few natural resources.  Transport is still difficult. Poverty is still rampant.  Coffee still provides half of Rwanda’s exports by value.    But led by its President’s vision, Rwanda has hope for the future.  No longer is entrepreneurship a matter of Silicon Valley (California), Silicon Wadi (Israel), or Silicon Bypass (Route 128, Boston).   There are hotbeds of entrepreneurship worldwide, including Africa.  They merit close attention, and strong support.