12 November 2012

Rwanda: Cheap Chinese Goods Hurt Skilled Rwandan Hands

Last Tuesday evening found Pierre Habumuremyi at the Expo Grounds in Gikondo to close the 2012 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) trade fair.

"What I have seen at this expo--the beautiful furniture, arts and craft, paintings and everything shows how skilled Rwandan hands are. In these skilled hands we have products that can make Rwanda competitive in the regional market," said the prime minister.

The week long TVET expo was the second ever to be organized thanks to the Private Sector Federation (PSF) and Work Development Authority (WDA). It is aimed at promoting technical skills among the youth.

Between October 30 and November 5, over 200 companies in hospitality, tourism sectors, construction, ICT and manufacturing converged to showcase items whose novelty surprised many a reveler who turned up at the fair.

"He who owns skilled hands will never go hungry. Technical skills are a key avenue to job creation and that's why I have to commend PSF and WDA for their efforts in promoting vocational studies," Habumuremyi said.

But some of these skilled people say they risk going hungry because of the many challenges they face.

Dorkus Uwicyeza from cooperative Shikama Ukore was one of the exhibitors. Her cooperative composed of women, most of them widows, designs garments.

"We have very beautiful items but the market is very small locally and we need help to seek more out of Rwanda," she said. Two dozen other exhibitors in her line of trade pointed out the same problem.

Their products cost between Frw 10, 000 to15, 000. For most people, this is expensive and instead they go for cheap second hand clothes and those for Chinese textiles.

"Our members have to find ways of countering second hand and Chinese clothes that are cheaper compared to our first class products," said Paulin Rugiro, the vice pres¬ident of the association of Rwandan tailors.

In fact, these local designers seem to have given up on local buyers and are now targeting foreign tourists strategically setting up shops in major hotel backrooms where wealthy tourists stay.

Local carpenters too are not happy. They lament the high cost of quality timber that they have to buy from DR Congo.

"This ensures we have an expensive end product yet very few are willing to pay the price," said Faustin Nzeiyimaana, a carpenter based in Musanze.

In the vocational technical field, foreigners continue to dominate, but PSF CEO Hannington Namara and the chairman, Faustin Mbundu agree that with close partnership, Rwandans will kick Congolese, Ugandans and Kenyans out of hair dressing, mechanics and hospitality business.

The efforts will major in making vocational schools attractive to young students who still view them as for only those students who fail to score good grades to join university.

"That's a wrong perception. TVETs can be attended by children of leaders and other wealthy people. They are for everybody," said Habumuremyi.

A recent meeting with senior PSF officials, Deputies on the parliamentary committee of Education, Culture and ICT advised that the best way to popularize TVET is to organize school visits for students to showcase their work to inspire others.

But when this is achieved, TVETs should get priority funding to improve their infrastructure and provide the real hands on skills that would make graduates worth their name.

For now, current efforts are on track to achieve just that. According to Didier Munezro, the director of partnership development at WDA, Frw 10 billion has been invested in Infrastructure and equipment. Eighty new vocational schools have also been built since 2010. There are over 110 Schools accredited and at least 16,717 students have graduated from these since 2008.

TVETS are targeting a 60% enrollment by 2017, up from the current 40%.

As enrollment grows the partnership with private sector even becomes more vital to link them up with investors to help find students internship placement where they get opportunities to practice.

According to Namara, students have a chance to start their own businesses through the annual Business Plan Competition (BPC) where bright business ideas can be linked up with funding and training for their owners to become real entrepreneurs.

"The birth and success of a single business is good news to the private sector which aims to be the anchor of Rwanda's economy," says Namara.

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