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Why Rwanda wins world prizes

By Andrew M. Mwenda

On September 9, the Doing Business Report of the World Bank Group ranked Rwanda as the world’s top reformer in creating a business friendly environment. The report also showed that within one year, Rwanda jumped from number 139 to number 67 out of 186 countries sampled ‘ almost jumping 60 positions. No country in the world has ever managed such a feat. Uganda also made a jump but in reverse ‘ from number 111 to 112.

The key areas of reform considered by the report include starting a business, employing workers, getting credit (legal rights), protecting investors, registering property, closing a business and trading across borders.

According to the report, Rwanda is the 5th highest ranking African country after Mauritius (17th), South Africa (34th), Botswana (45th) and Namibia (66th). How has this poor and obscure country beaten Africa’s giants like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco in being open for business?

The critics of Rwanda’s current leadership must be biting their nails. On April 20, Time magazine nominated President Paul Kagame among the 100 most influential people in the world ‘ alongside Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. Writing the commentary on the nomination was Pastor Rick Warren, the most respected evangelist in America ‘ now an advisor to Kagame.

On July 16, the World Technology Network (WTN) had nominated Kagame as the world’s best policy leader in advancing the use of new technologies. Later, Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria told CNN in an interview that Rwanda is Africa’s most successful nation ‘ when Barak Obama was singing Ghana. Zakaria who also hosts GPS program on CNN is among the most intellectually minded journalists in the world.

This September, I was at the University of Oxford’s Said School of Business in an Africa leadership program. The program brings together 20 Africans in their mid-30s who have made a mark in the corporate world to spend time sharing ideas on leadership on the continent. Throughout our discussions, Kagame was being cited by everyone, fellows and the visiting lecturers alike, as the exemplar of good leadership.

When I attended the Australian business leadership retreat in August 2008, Rwanda was referred to by almost every major speaker. When I went to China for the World Economic Forum meeting in September 2008, the CEO on Intel gave me a ride from my hotel to the conference hall. I told him I was from Uganda but he thought I said Rwanda.

‘You have a great president in Rwanda,’ he told me, ‘He is mentioned at every technology conference I attend. Rwanda is too poor and small a country to have such a profile especially in the area of technology. How have you done it?’ For a moment, I was tempted to associate myself with success. I decided to be honest. I am from Uganda, I said, Rwanda is our neighbor to the south-west. ‘That country seems to be going nuts, eh’ he said, ‘And your president doesn’t want to leave power, huh?’

So what product has Rwanda given to the world that everyone is buying into? The answer was given to me by Joe Ritchie. After making hundreds of millions of dollars as a commodities and options trader in Chicago, Ritchie has now settled in Rwanda as advisor to Kagame and CEO of Rwanda Development Board. What would make a successful multi-millionaire leave his exciting business to come live and work in this impoverished nation?

‘I have a fund,’ Ritchie once told me as we sat down to a cup of coffee, ‘It is just my own money that I invest in companies on the basis of the character of the CEO, that’s the only thing I look at. I don’t look at what sector they’re in, I don’t look at their sales projections, I don’t look at sales growth, I don’t look at anything except the character of the CEOs. I picked about 60 or 70 companies out of the hundreds and hundreds of them and I bought their stock. This fund outperforms the market regularly.’

What has this got to do with Rwanda’s growing international reputation? Ritchie met Kagame at a dinner organised through a friend. ‘And in five minutes, I knew there’s not another head of state on the planet like this guy, he’s just unique.’ Ritchie has met many world leaders from across all the continents. ‘I think politicians are all crooks,’ he told me, ‘But this man (Kagame) was clearly different. He is honest, sincere, genuine and straightforward.’

‘I realized I can sell this man to the private sector,’ Ritchie went on, ‘I can’t sell him in Washington. Washington doesn’t care if you do right or wrong. In fact they like guys that are on the take, because then they can control them with money. I mean Washington is the biggest payer of bribes on the planet. Generally, they don’t appreciate honest straightforward heads of state, because they can’t control them. But I know that in the private sector there are people that would appreciate it.

‘I took a list of the companies whose CEOs care about character,’ he continued, ‘We began introducing Kagame to CEOs on my list of companies and others we knew by reputation were very good guys. Soon we had introduced him to five people that knew President George W. Bush personally. If you know a CEO or someone that’s been very successful and he calls up the White House and says, you know what, there’s a little country called Rwanda, and a guy named Paul Kagame that runs it, and you need to focus on that guy because they are going to go somewhere, you pay attention. And if a second one calls, you say, wow. Well, by the time three or four or five call, it’s all over.’

We are told repeatedly that only one mortal human being has the competences to lead Uganda. If Kagame had remained here, he would still be one of the many people we would be told has no capacity to make a good president. The lesson is that NRM and our country are teaming with many talented people who can make good presidents. Do not stifle them.


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