Monday, June 18, 2012

Kigali: Economic Development

May 11, 2012

As part of an effort to protect marshlands throughout the country the Rwandan government prohibited economic activities in those areas. As part of the solution, they created a special economic zone where some of the industries were allowed to relocate. I had the opportunity to drive through there and look at the new construction, most of which has only now started.

I actually found this process to be one of the most interesting things I learned while in Rwanda because it was the exact nexus of my interests - how governments and businesses can work together to be more sustainable. Initially the government had just decided to prohibit economic activity around marshlands without consulting the businesses. However, the costs of relocation are so large and finding the right space is difficult that the decision would have caused severe financial difficulties and possible bankruptcies for the companies. In my world, sustainability is not such about the environment, its about the entire ecosystem of lives, including economic and social sustainability. To ensure economic sustainability (while still protecting the environment) the Rwandan government - with the help of the organization with which I was working - entered into dialogue with the companies. The outcome was a mixed solution with elements of repurchase and relocation subsidies where both government and business provided funds. A really great example of how the environment can still be protected while supporting business interests. The process was not without its flaws and only the future can tell how successful the special economic zone is, but nonetheless a much more enlightened process than that I've seen in some developed countries...

Grain mill and storage in the special economic zone

China is everywhere, literally. They're taking their economic colonialism quite seriously...

The required picture of cute African children

Incubation Center
The same day we visited a so-called "incubation center", which is sponsored by several groups and the government, to promote basic skills and craftsmanship so that Rwandans without technical training can create their own small business. The incubation center has had mixed success, as best. Certain areas, such as leather-working, have found success through the production and sale of shoes whereas others, such as fruit processing (i.e. jams, juices, etc.) and bamboo furniture production hasn't even made it off the ground.

The factors for the success vs. failure situations are manifold, and the experiences of the incubation center are a fairly good reflection of the issues that plague development in general. I won't go into that now (there have been tomes written on this topic) but am happy to have this discuss with you one-on-one, if you're interested.

Producing leather shoes for sale at local markets

 Bamboo furniture, produced by...the Chinese.

The way to and from goes guessed it, a marsh! In rainy season, the cars have to drive through the water and the villagers stand there and wait, partially out of curiosity and partially so they can get money if someone's car gets stuck and they need help pulling it out...

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