Paul Kagame, a disruptive president

Vérone Mankou
Vérone Mankou

In Role Models Posted on

I have been talking about personalities that inspire me for a while. Until now, I had only talked about entrepreneurs. As you can see, by reading the title, I radically changed the register in my today’s blog post.

Today, I am talking about a politician who is not universally accepted. I am quite aware that such an article in this blog will meet with mixed reactions, but by reading it with a little objectivity, you will quickly understand the purpose of this post.

I want to begin by warning you that I do not know Paul Kagame personally and it is quite probable that I will never know him. The initiative I have taken doesn’t seek to score political points.

I wanted to talk about him because he is an inspiring man. I’ve been watching him for a few years now, seeing what he’s doing, seeing how he’s doing it, and I fell under the spell of his achievements and the progress he has made. My article is just the report of my analysis concerning his economic action in his country, from what I have seen in four years and what I have read during this period.

Since 2000, Paul Kagame has been the President of the Republic of Rwanda, a country whose history well known (and which I will not mention). He is the main artisan of the “famous” Rwandan economic miracle and it is his role in this miracle that I will speak here. There we go!

Economic dynamism

When he was elected President of the Republic, he launched a program called “Vision 2020”, in which he expressed his vision for the next 20 years. Here are its key goals : Transform Rwanda into a knowledge-based middle-income country, reduce poverty, make the nation united and democratic.

In order for this vision to become a reality, Kagame relies on good governance, the establishment of an efficient state, the qualification of human capital (specifically in education, health, and digital economy), the dynamization of the private sector, the construction of world-class infrastructures and the modernization of livestock.

To put it in context, let’s have a quick look at what Rwanda was like in 2000: a GDP of $ 1.735 billion, a population of 8 million, life expectancy was less than 50 years. Basically, the country was poor, very poor. And we all know, to get by when we have no means, we must have strong ideas and work hard. This is what Paul Kagame has done by bringing everyone closer to achieve the objectives mentioned above, with quasi-military methods and discipline.

It is a difficult and probably harassing march, but the results can be clearly seen : today Rwanda’s GDP is 8.5 billion dollars, for a population of 12 million and an estimated life expectancy at 65. That’s not all!

The dynamism of the private sector is no longer to be demonstrated and the State is striving to improve the business climate. To illustrate this, the country was 143rd in the Doing Business report in 2008. It is now 56th in the world, 2nd in Africa : a leap of nearly 100 places in nine years …

This dynamism owes much (if not all) to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the pillar of Kagame’s vision 2020. The RDB is the gateway to Rwanda’s economy, its objective: “Transforming Rwanda into a dynamic global center for business, investment and innovation”. The RDB, Kagame wanted it, he did it and then let talented people manage it because in his country everything is done to encourage private initiative. For example, in Rwanda, starting a business takes 6 hours when to his neighbors it is necessary to wait days or even weeks (when it is not months). This “lightening” of administrative procedures allows the creation of 10,000 companies per year.

Digital Development

In the field of technology, Rwanda has become a leader on the continent. Its technological advances allow the country to progress to the point of seeing itself as a technological pole of East Africa, where in many of its neighbors electronic governance is still at the concept stage, in Rwanda it is a reality. Do you want to touch that reality? Type “irembo” on Google to see …

Rwanda has been a pioneer in the integration of ICTs in education in Africa with the launch of the One Laptop Per Child program, which distributed more than 100,000 laptops to primary school students across the country (It is from this moment that I began to see the country differently).

By 2016, more than 260,000 computers had already been distributed out of a planned total of 500,000. And believe me, it is not the only brilliant initiative of Rwanda in ICT. I haven’t even talked about “Kigali Innovation City” or the wonderful and famous KLab … I will not say more, there is too much to say on the subject. Paul Kagame considers that “the Internet is a property of public utility in the same way as water and electricity”. With such a statement, you can imagine that he has done a lot in this area.

The Rwandan miracle

In Rwanda in 2000, 60% of the population was poor. In 2014, this figure has been reduced by 25 per cent and Rwanda wants to replicate this increase by 2018 to bring the poverty rate down to 30 per cent while keeping the extreme poverty in line. Again, Rwanda surprised more than one in 2015 by announcing that it got a million Rwandans out of extreme poverty in just five years… : the Rwandan miracle!

In 2015, in its annual report, the Word Economic Forum ranked Rwanda as the best managed country in Africa … and the 7th best managed of the planet! A veritable crowning of the vision of one man, sustained by dynamic and committed people … what is still lacking to many leaders in Africa, by the way.

Ambitions

Although the country is well-managed, even if it has had a sustained growth for more than a decade, it has been ranked among the best tourist destinations in the world (tourism is a great windfall for Rwanda) , when it wants to be Leader (or just a powerful country) it must be able to export. This will allow, for example, to bring foreign money into the country (who depends on external aid, which represents more than a third of its annual budget).

Having understood Rwanda early enough, Rwanda wants to boost its exports of raw materials (minerals, coffee, tea …) as well as those of manufactured goods. This motivated the establishment of a special economic zone in Kigali to set up factories to export.

This logic of export is limited with a not so rich basement and an agriculture handicapped by overpopulation and a difficult relief. “The land of a thousand hills” is a beautiful branding, but it is also a nightmare for farmers. But this is not enough to slow down this country which wants to advance with great steps, against winds and tides.

Five years ago, the services market accounted for almost half of GDP. Rwanda, therefore, wants to move towards a knowledge-based service economy. In order to do this, Rwanda relies on its youth, which represents 70% of the population and which it has already started to orient.

A giant, a model

Rwanda can be seen as an example of successful development. He quickly recovered from his tragic past. Unity and reconciliation have been strengthened, which promotes good governance in the medium term. (It does not come from me, it is the AFDB who says so).

In case you do not know, Rwanda is a very small country of 26 thousand km2, 12 times smaller than the Republic of Congo and 90 times smaller than the DRC. But what he has managed to do since 2000 is nothing like what has been done by his neighbors … especially french speaking countries ! And, at 3 years from the 2020 deadline, they are already talking about a vision 2040: a visionary country!

The disruptive president

I would like to go back to the word “disruptive” that I used in the title of this article. This word is increasingly used but remains misunderstood by many. Being disruptive is “having a vision of the future, finding innovative ideas and realizing them while making it a product or service that will quickly become unavoidable” ; To be disruptive is also to “completely break with old patterns and arrive where nobody expects while creating a mass phenomenon”

Based on the definition of the word “disruptive”, I would define the concept of “Disruptive President” as a visionary president who finds ideas that break with classical or old patterns and realize them while at the same time managing to develop his country in an unexpected way in federating both inside and outside.

Through his vision and his unfailing will to advance and change his country and the living conditions of his compatriots through innovative ideas (mentioned above), Paul Kagame has everything  a “disruptive president” can have. In my opinion, he is one of the greatest and “true” leaders of this continent. Without a shadow of a doubt.

In the Bible, it is written that “When there is no vision, the people are forsaken”. Many leaders in this continent have no vision or do not have a great vision. But even when they have one, they do not apply it because their management and governance approach do not allow it.

Paul Kagame has his demons (as we all do), but what he has managed to do with his country is commendable. I do not defend his record, far from it. I just praise the strength of his vision. May this article appeal to the consciences of current and future leaders on this disruptive notion.

I do not think that Rwanda has anything good. If you do a little internet search, you will discover the many things that are being blamed on this country (or its President) and you will form your own opinion. Here, I defend an optimistic vision of Africa by going up that everything is not so dark here, although not everything is so light.

For those who are in Congo (or close to the Congo) and who wish to take the pulse of Rwandan dynamism, I invite you to discover this country and its many economic potentialities during the Business Trip that I organize from 21 to 25 August in Kigali. I’ll tell you more, just keep in touch.