At a press conference in Kigali, I took a question: is the country’s Vision 2050 is achievable?
We had just launched a new study, The Future Drivers of Growth Report, that was jointly produced by the World Bank and the Government of Rwanda. The question was well-asked, since the study explores Rwanda’s goal to become an Upper-Middle Income country by 2035, and a High-Income Country by 2050.
I cannot see the future, but I can look at the evidence before my eyes, both empirical and anecdotal.
The empirical data is positive. Rwanda has been a reform minded country for over 20 years and this has paid off. Over the last decade, Rwanda has made remarkable economic and social progress, with growth averaging 7.5% while per capita GDP nearly doubled from $404 to $748. Over a million people were lifted out of poverty between 2000/01 and 2013/14.
Reforms are evident in the most recent Doing Business Report, where Rwanda has climbed to a global rank of 29 compared to 41 last year. It is remarkable, because with seven reforms implemented in 12 months, the country is recognized as one of top 10 most-improved economies, alongside global players such as India and China.
The next step for Rwanda’s economy, according to the report is to focus on four essential and interdependent drivers – innovation, integration, agglomeration and competition. You can read more about these here.
Underpinning these drivers, is the urgent need to invest in human capital.
The World Bank’s new Human Capital Index indicates that children born today in Singapore (the highest ranked country) will reach 88% of their potential. By comparison, children born in Rwanda today will achieve just 37% of their potential. This is a tragedy, but we are pleased that the Government recognizes the scale of the challenge and is embracing the Human Capital agenda. President Kagame is Global Champion for the Human Capital Project, and the Government is part of the Early Adopter program.
The Bank will play a part as well. During my visit, I announced a 10% increase in the Bank Group’s current active support to Rwanda. New funding of $150m will improve student learning and progression in basic education in Rwanda and deal with low completion rates in basic and secondary education as well as the high repetition rates. Use of technology is expected to be a key component.
The anecdotal evidence is also positive.
Rwanda’s leadership recognized early that digital disruption is coming, and to meet their ambitious goals they need to get ahead to turn this into an opportunity. I heard from Claudette Irere, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of ICT, how Rwanda is turning its small size into an advantage by creating a pioneering environment for tech companies to test ideas before they scale up into larger regional markets.
She introduced me to IT engineers from across Africa who are studying for a Masters-level degree at the University of Rwanda’s Center of Excellence. They have ideas, analysis and designs to change entrenched everyday problems, like pay-as-you-cook gas stoves that use internet-of-things technology linked to mobile money. Or a geo-spatial model that analyzes the prospects for renewable energy in South Sudan and to promote more reliable and diverse sources of electricity.
Talking to the students, or to entrepreneurs at the K-Lab in Kigali (part of the Fablab network) - who showed me autonomous drone designs, 3D printed water filters and solar lanterns – it’s hard not to be enthused by their energy and optimism.
I ended my stay in Rwanda with a visit to Kigali’s new Convention Center that has just hosted The International Conference on Family Planning. The government-backed Center has helped propel Rwanda to the third most popular destination in Africa for business tourism, providing additional foreign currency earnings alongside other key export industries such as traditional tourism and commodities.
So, back to the question at the press conference. Can Rwanda achieve its Vision 2050 in the next 32 years?
In July 1994, while Rwanda was just emerging from the Genocide an online book business was founded in Seattle. Today, Amazon.com is global business powerhouse with over half a million employees and reached a market capitalization of over $1 trillion in September this year. A great deal can be achieved in 24 years, as Rwanda itself has also shown.
So, my answer to the question is ‘yes, but’. Yes, Vision 2050 is achievable. But Rwanda must maintain its bold approach to reform, and deliver on its commitment to invest in its people and create an environment so they can harness the opportunities of the digital revolution.