Recovery lessons from Rwanda

Rwanda has been dubbed the economic miracle of Africa and a model for economic recovery the world over. Coming from a devastating genocide of 1994 that left hundreds of thousands of people dead and reduced it virtually to ashes, to a modesty economy, is an envy to many today.

Muchesa Chatsama,consultant

By 1994, following the tribal and ethnic wars, the Rwandan economy registered a negative growth rate of about -11,4%, with government services almost non-existent. Fast forward to 2015 (about two decades), Rwanda recorded an impressive growth rate of 6,9%, becoming one of the most successful and competitive countries in Africa.

What then is the story behind this miraculous rise to stardom of Rwanda? I am going to enunciate in this piece some serious choices and commitments taken by the Rwandan government and the lessons that can be drawn from that by the new Zimbabwean government.

First and foremost, it is critical to recognise the visionary leadership of President Paul Kagame. He acknowledged the socio-economic and political challenges that bedevilled the country over the years and pledged a vision for the country (vision 2020).

Many have accredited Kagame with visionary leadership that provided a clear direction of where the country should go. To date, he has lived up to his word and it is evident by the country’s economic trajectory so far, notwithstanding some of his inadequacies of course.

No one can be blameless, particularly in the political and power games, but generally it has been positive for the Rwandan economy. Kagame has earned it. In comparison, Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa has also been so articulate on Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political challenges in his maiden speech and he also expressed his vision.

We take that as a starting point, though, of course, there has been scepticism on his seriousness and commitment within the context of his cabinet appointments. But my honest opinion is to give the man the benefit of doubt since we were not privy to the backroom events that could have constrained him to pick certain individuals as expected by the people.

Secondly, since Rwanda was coming from a highly-polarised era that obviously bred a lot of paranoia, it was imperative to create an environment of trust and sense of freedom within the country in order to encourage both local, and foreign investment.

Kagame’s administration was able to provide that in the most pragmatic way. Rwanda, to date, is deemed one of the safest place to be. This is testified by the amount of foreign capital that flows into the country. Mnangagwa also has a herculean task to provide security and unity among Zimbabweans, who have become highly-fearful, polarised and suspicious, particularly in the wake of the heavy-handedness of former president Robert Mugabe’s regime that was so intolerable to diverse opinions and to those who were critical of its style. Mnangagwa should provide justice in a consistent and non-selective manner.

The other thing that Rwanda did was to undertake a series of pro-investment reforms to facilitate the ease-of-doing-business. These reforms aimed at improving efficiency in the public sector, reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, removal of non-tariff barriers, investment in human capital development, encouraging citizen participation, as well as promoting information communication technologies.

The Rwanda Development Board was created to spearhead the implementation of the new regulatory framework. Currently Rwanda is ranked second on the ease-of doing-business index in Africa. Whereas it may take a couple of days, weeks or months to set up business in Zimbabwe, it only requires six hours in Rwanda to complete the registration of a business. This has been made possible through the harnessing of technology to create a one-stop shop that integrates all the institutions involved in setting up a business. Technology has therefore been another fundamental bedrock upon which the Rwandan government produced the necessary efficiencies for the reconstruction of its economy.

The Rwanda Development Board was also charged with developing and managing Special Economic Zones (SEZs) for all sectors of the economy that provided various incentives for investors. For the avid followers of this column I once wrote on the ease-of-doing-business, where I insinuated that a lot of policies have been crafted around this subject and what only remained outstanding is implementation. The concept of SEZs again is not new to us. Let us just hit the ground running as Mnangagwa said. Serious business should begin like yesterday for all, especially those who occupy public offices. Servant leadership must prevail evidently.

Rwanda also took a zero tolerance stance against corruption. Likewise, Zimbabwe should not tolerate corruption at whatever level. It is common knowledge how cancerous this vice has become. We need demonstrable evidence that the government is committed to fighting this endemic challenge. The whole nation is waiting with keen interest to see whether Mnangagwa will walk the talk on graft. Corruption must be dealt with ruthlessly and decisively.
Ministers must not take their appointment as opportunities for wealth accumulation. In fact, in my contribution to this column a fortnight ago, I suggested that all public officers must declare and disclose their interests so that no one will question their possessions in the future. Disclosure and declaration of interests is one hallmark of good governance.

Consistent with the assertion of “earning one’s hour, day, week or month” is the issue of performance contracts. I have written before on this subject and I will not tire to say it again and again. Non-performers must be removed from the system. The Integrated Results-Based Management system must be made to work today. All the findings and recommendations of the Auditor-General on all government institutions and agencies must be implemented like yesterday and that must be the starting point.

Rwanda created performance contracts for all public officers in order to improve accountability for every penny spent. Things such as reporting annual losses, failure to produce annual statements and disregarding procurement procedures must be unforgivable going forward. Gone are the days of building organisational structures around people in order to form self empires. Organisational structures must be informed by clearly laid corporate and business strategies.

Every function in any organisation must be justified and some form of metric designed to assess its contribution.

Technology must again be at the centre of all strategies. This is because automated systems, in my view, reduce chances of fraudulent transacting that have become characteristic of some of our government and quasi government institutions, as well as state-owned enterprises, which have deliberately stuck themselves to manualised modules of business transacting. The winds of change must start blowing now.

Rwanda also took deliberate actions to value add their products as well as diversifying markets to include America, Asia and the Middle East. Likewise, Zimbabwe must do the same. The “Look East” policy is not sustainable for economic development. Again, the intention as indicated in Mnangagwa’s inaugural speech is encouraging, but the nation awaits with eagerness to witness the sincerity of the said statements through action. Gone are the days of ululating and clapping hands for mere talk. We have suffered before even in the midst of well-intentioned talk without follow-up action.

The masterstroke for Rwanda came in 2016 when the country was chosen to host the World Economic Forum. They seized the opportunity to ensure their infrastructure and systems are on point such as roads and hotels, as well as the airport shuttle transport system and the efficient networks that ensured no hiccups in clearing delegates. It was a perfect opportunity for the country to sell itself and indeed they did just that.

All said and done, Zimbabwe can draw great lessons from Rwanda and the level of expectations from the citizenry that had not known any other leader, for close to four decades, is too high and certainly work is cut out for Mnangagwa and his cabinet.

A new era has just been ushered in Zimbabwe and that has ignited the people’s hopes on the economic front mainly because there seemed to be collective reasoning that politics had always been impeding economic growth.

Chatsama is a leading organisational development, training and leadership development consultant with ProSource Global Consultants. He is an expert in strategy and policy design. These New Perspectives articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES). Email kadenge.zes@gmail.com and Cell +263 772 382. 852.