1 February 2013

Rwanda: Fast Tracking Self Reliance


DURING THE last National Dialogue (Umushyikirano) many developmental ideas were expressed and exchanged. One of the key discussants, the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, detailed how most of the rural population work for only a few hours of the normal working time.

A farmer wakes up very early in the morning, goes to their garden at 10a.m and closes shop at 11a.m. So for the rest of the day, work is over.

Rwanda is predominantly an Agricultural Nation; this means that over half the population works for only 4-5 hours a day. The Minister also correctly put it that Rwanda's major resource is Human. This again means that Rwanda, as a nation, should optimally exploit all its human potential to achieve self reliance faster.

Optimal maximisation of human and material resources entails meaningful and planned exploitation of material, time and human capacity. All Rwandans should be a resource market ready to be exploited in terms of their time and capabilities.

Exploitation in the positive sense, that is not misusing or under-utilising the time and capability of each and every Rwandan. The cultivator, the pastoralist, the Government bureaucrat, the businessperson and the politician's time and capability should all be optimally pooled together to easily gain social capital and achieve self reliance faster.

In this regard, the districts should select a product distinctive to their region and develop it up to nationally and internationally accepted standards. In other words, they should strive to enhance local communities' entrepreneurial skills by utilising local resources and knowledge.

Rwanda has 30 districts. Each one of them can specialise in the production of a distinctive product most suitable for the district. For development to take place, organisation, infrastructure, intellectual and material assets are a necessity. Social Community-based enterprises can act corporately in pursuit of the common good.

In short, they can do collective business ventures that can contribute to local economic and social development.

Social capital is a community's major resource. Whereas human capital is an individually-related resource, social capital, in contrast, is based on the relations between individuals.

Social capital is not the private property of any of the persons who benefit from it. It facilitates coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. The interactive effect of an entrepreneur's service to the community, and reciprocated community support to the business contributes to the business's success.

Social capital, which can be measured by participation in the community, has a positive influence on economic performance at the micro level. Generally, resources are limited, but wisdom and learning is unlimited. Local wisdom and learning is key to development

To attain social capital, one of the things the districts should do is set up adult education programmes to "upgrade" the very many illiterate and semi-illiterate artisans who abound in the villages and towns (plumbers, masons, tailors, etc) by offering them training courses in their respective or preferred fields and even helping them to acquire regionally or internationally recognised qualifications, such as City & Guilds, Technician Part 1, etc.

The training programmes should be designed for particular needs. For the farmers, training should include alphabetisation or basic writing and reading, agricultural training, commercial training preparing them to be entrepreneurs on top of their farming.

The training should be conducted after the farming hours using the already existing local infrastructure.This would result in: easing pressure off the land by creating off-farm activities, creating employment (as opposed to the 4hrs in the farm!), having skilled labour to employ in the various districts projects, supplementing the meager number of the skilled labour force available nationally, thus creating a critical mass of semi-skilled and skilled labour force.

This would also increase the standards of living, and subsequently, the purchasing power because, generally, off-farm activities generate more income than the farm. It would also attract investment since there would be sufficient skilled labour.

An enlightened rural population would work more hours as they would be engaged in more activities than just farming and as they form over half the population, this would fast track self reliance for the nation.

The author is a Kigali-based entrepreneur and social analyst.

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