RWANDA INVESTS IN FUTURE INSPITE OF DONOR STAMPEDE
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was outspoken as usual when he harshly criticized the current wave of opportunistic financial sanctions as withdrawal of committed and confirmed aid packages to Rwanda for education, health and social services hit the country’s budgeting and is currently causing some serious belt tightening.
Based on the fiction like report of some – now largely discredited – UN staffers did several development partners rush into cutting aid and suspending cooperation, and while some of those hasty actions are presently being reviewed and reversed much of the damage remains done.
Blair wrote in an opinion piece now widely available on the web that he: ‘believe[s] this is the wrong approach. Slashing international support to Rwanda ignores the complexity of the problem within DRC’s own borders and the history and circumstances that have led to current regional dynamics. Cutting aid does nothing to address the underlying issues driving conflict in the region, it only ensures that the Rwandan people will suffer–and risks further destabilising an already troubled region. It (Rwanda) has safe streets, functioning Internet and communications, and is building roads and schools at an astonishing rate — all without the benefit of natural resource wealth or access to the sea. Much of this has been accomplished with the help of Western aid’.
And it is here that the current wave of austerity measures has notably excluded two key projects, if RwandAir can even be called a project at this stage when it has established itself as a major aviation player in the wider Eastern African region. Finance Minister Rwangombwa last week told parliament in Kigali, when he had to present a revised budget as a result of the trend, that the borrowings in form of a Sovereign Fund, worth 227 billion Rwanda Francs, will to a substantial part be dedicated to boost RwandAir’s fortunes as the airline is pondering when to turn two options for additional CRJ900NextGen into firm orders.
Over the past two years has RwandAir, against the general trend in East African aviation, bought four brand new aircraft, something in recent history only done by Kenya Airways and Precision Air, while all others opted for a number of reason for pre-owned and often aged birds.
RwandAir’s fleet now stands at two very recent B737-800NG’s, two 4 months old CRJ900NextGen, two leased B737-500 which by midyear will be substituted against two B737-700NG and one Bombardier Dash 8-100 used for domestic and near regional routes. With passenger numbers up by some 50 percent on a year by year comparison, the airline is turning out to be exactly the strategic asset it was created to be, aimed to connect the landlocked Rwanda with the region and across the continent to South and West Africa. The success in business terms, generated by the airline’s management and board, is now being repaid by government by re-affirming that the required capital will be available for further expansion while belt tightening is ongoing in other sectors.
The second major tourism project is the new Kigali International Hotel and Conference Centre, presently at advanced stages of construction, and thought to be at the heart of a renewed strategy to bring additional MICE business to Rwanda, a segment of the tourism industry which is known to spend considerably more than ‘normal’ tourists do. The hotel attached to the conference centre is planned for 292 keys, i.e. suites and luxury rooms, while the conference facility is dimensioned to hold up to 2.600 persons seated, additional break out rooms and of course some 24.000 square metres of office and shopping spaces. Here, as with RwandAir, the powers that be, after due consultation with the private and public sectors, agreed what needs to be done and are facilitating the getting it done.
Rwanda, as a result, is going places inspite of the temporary financial hardship and remains committed to invest in the country’ future by investing massively in a new airport, roads, bridges, new power plants and as mentioned, the national airline and the national convention centre.
Fodder for thought for others in the region who often look at Rwanda in awe, still struggling to come to terms with how fast and how high the proverbial Phoenix rose from the ashes after the devastating 1994 genocide which left the country in ruins. ‘Discipline, it all comes down to discipline’ said a regular source from the country’s tourism sector when asked for the main reason for the transformation of the country in such a short space of time. ‘We tackle corruption, we use funds given for the purpose they are given and account for every cent. There is no tolerance for free loaders, no tolerance for people not carrying their weight, no tolerance for people not standing together to build the new Rwanda. We like all others have flaws but we work hard to make sure that those are not leading to negative results but that the option for change is built into every review of what is going on, what the status of our projects are, what the status of our economy is. When people used to say PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN, we now can truly say PROUDLY RWANDAN’.
The coming 10 days in Rwanda will give plenty of opportunity to delve deeper and ask questions of individuals and business leaders, so expect a series of shorter or longer pieces alongside the reports on FESPAD, the Pan African Dance Festival with the theme ‘Take A Break – Dance. Be sure you do …