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Rwanda’s policy certainty offers lessons for other African countries

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Picture: Will Boase/Bloomberg/Taken on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 – An armed security guard sits beside an automated teller machine (ATM) operated by Ecobank Group in the Remera district of Kigali, Rwanda. Coffee-producing Rwanda’s economy has doubled in size in the nine years through 2010, according to the World Bank.

By Laurika Mashaba

Rwanda’s ability to have a thriving economy and bounce back from its tragedy, the Rwandan genocide that happened in 1994, is remarkable. This is made all the more evident when we consider that the country managed to do so almost entirely from scratch.

Prior to the Rwandan genocide, Rwanda had “home grown initiatives”, such as Ubudehe, which required every citizens’ participation to ensure that poverty is combated. These initiatives were re-established after the genocide, being an addition to newly established approaches, contributing to economic growth.

Rwanda was able to pick up its economy through the export of tea, coffee, and the tourism industry. Coffee farmers in Rwanda partnered with Starbucks, to teach them how to make coffee that is of an acceptable standard globally.

Rwanda’s economy was boosted through coffee production by 6.2 percent in 2017. Through tourism, Rwanda is able to address the issue of unemployment through job creation; in 2019 the tourism sector had a net gain of about $498 million. In that year, roughly 164,000 people were employed in the tourism sector. Though Rwanda receives financial aid from Western countries, it relies on its own natural resources for its development.

Africa is regarded as the wealthiest continent in natural resources, however it remains the poorest continent in terms of its productivity and by measures of standards of living. Countries of the global north continue to build their wealth at the expense of Africa’s economic growth through the continuation of illicit trade and the continued provision of loans to African countries, which causes the Continent to move backwards.

Africa, as a poor continent continues to be at the mercy of western countries even after colonisation as they continue to be dependent on them. For Africa to be truly independent and be emancipated, the Continent’s leaders and its people have to apply an effective strategy and not dwell on the past.

Rwanda stands as an example of this. Though Africa may continue to reflect on the past, they should not dwell on it and rather work on how they can build from that. The fixation on dependency and corruption should be a thing of the past and leaders should rather strategise on how to solve these issues. Policies should be implemented and be put into practice to make way for development.

Rwanda’s regime is identified as authoritarian as their constitution gives greater power to the President, Paul Kagame, who has the authority to appoint a prime minister. Scholars of regime types call attention to the fact that Rwanda is thriving because it is under an authoritarian leadership and that countries such as South Africa, which are constitutional democracies, may not be able to adopt the methods Rwanda uses for its economic development.

South Africa, as a parliamentary republic, has a three-tier system of government, which need to consult with one another to address economic issues. However, that system should not derail the development of the country nor prevent South Africa from adopting Rwanda’s approaches for a more developed country.

While Rwanda may be under authoritarian rule, the local government and the citizens of the country are involved and are active participants in developing the country and inform the higher power about the needs and demands of the people.

Since South Africa got its independence from apartheid governance in 1994, it has been striving to give its people the means for a better living. As a democratic state, South Africa tries to make provision to people through service delivery by the government to close the gap between the rich and the poor.

However, this seems to be a challenge. The government has made promises to the people to provide free housing and access to basic education amongst many other things. But many citizens still wait for these unmet promises to be implemented.

South Africa has experienced economic recessions from 2009 to date, making it dependent on loans from Western countries. The economy was hit even harder during Covid-19 in South Africa, leading to about 1 million job losses.

More loans had to be acquired by the government from lenders to, at least, provide Covid-19 relief funds to those who were unemployed. South Africa continues to depend on financial aid to sustain its economy, yet there is a recurring decline in the economy.

The country continuously struggles with issues that derail it from economic growth, such as high unemployment rates, currently standing at 34.63 percent; lack of access to proper education, corruption, among others.

Though South Africa’s economy was able to grow by 1.2 percent in the last quarter of 2021 through personal services, trade, manufacturing, and agriculture as the key drivers of economic growth, there are still adjustments to be made.

South Africa could adopt some of Rwanda’s economic development strategies for effective economic growth, without diminishing what is functional about itself. There needs to be a change in leadership, particularly when ministers have discredited themselves. Crucial too is the importance of the inclusion of more young people in government including allowing them to hold consequential leadership positions, to bring about innovation and responsible stewardship of the state.

Above all, the Rwandan case presents the importance of policy certainty. Decisive leadership is an irreplaceable ingredient in the recipe of development. In turn, South Africa’s democratic ethos can ensure that the government is held to account for the pronouncements it makes.

This in turn will also ensure that there is transparency and accountability in providing service delivery. South Africa can also focus on improving its strongest sectors such as the mining sector, tourism, and agriculture, as well as ready itself for the changing nature of production in light of emerging technologies.

Laurika Mashaba is a junior researcher in the 4IR and Digital Policy Research Unit (4DPRU) of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.