At the World Economic Forum in Africa last week, a session with former UK prime minister Tony Blair, Rwandan president Paul Kagame, and philanthropist Howard Buffet saw an unusual theme emerge – that of hope. “People have to have hope,” pointed out Buffet, as part of the discussion of emerging economies and their future growth. “They have to believe that things can change.”
That change, according to the session, is about self-reliance—and the hope in many African countries is that they can someday achieve it. Africa’s hope can no longer be about easy political narratives. As Blair pointed out, camera-ready opportunities in which the wealthy give to the poor are not the way to develop a resilient and self-reliant culture.
The country of Rwanda bears this out. Despite its turbulent past, this country has decided decisively that it is in control of its own destiny. “We are very stubborn,” said Kagame. “We want aid but we need to participate in where the money goes.”
That translates into Rwanda taking a long view, focusing their energy on what will make them competitive and improve their overall productive capacity. One area they have firmly committed to is a stable political and business environment. And it’s paid off. According to the Heritage Institute’s 2016 Economic Freedom index— which ranks countries according to open markets and rule of law—Rwanda is the fourth strongest country in Africa and 71st in the world (for context, France ranks lower at 75 and China at 144).
As pointed out by Buffet, “No investor wants to invest where you don’t have stability and predictability.”
Another example of Rwanda’s drive for self-reliance is its investment in information, communications, and technology (ICT). “People thought we were crazy,” said Kagame about the government’s focus on ICT despite poor access to electricity and underdeveloped infrastructure. But ICT, "is not a standalone thing,” he pointed out; it supports all of the other areas of economic development.
Rwanda is now ranked above several larger sub-Saharan African nations in the latest network readiness index from the World Economic Forum. And thanks to government initiatives, current mobile penetration was estimated at 77 percent in 2015.
This type of investment—and success—is a testimony to the power of hope. As Kagame noted, when Rwanda was emerging from its civil war in the early 90s, the underlying theme of their recovery was the hope that they could and would forge a new future: “We were starting more or less from nothing,” he said, “We had to involve everybody’s participation, with everybody saying, ‘We need to create something for ourselves.’”