Kigali is a city that can convince you that you’re mad, the whole city can turn on you in unison, it is the essence of the herding instinct that is Rwandan culture. I try to fit in, to see it from the “Uniquely Rwandan” perspective. This perspective is vibrant, dynamic, colourful, Rwanda is going places and no one can deny it. However, as a person from the Diaspora there are certain things you cannot turn a blind eye to. Last year I was worried about our trade deficit. I wondered why our exports have stagnated at $250m for 20 years, I linked this to aid, saying aid was our main foreign exchange earner so production was seen as not necessary. Our national trade deficit is some $750m, we are living unsustainably and this was before any recent aid cuts. Rwanda is caught in the full grip of consumerism, especially among the elites, all seeking the expensive symbols of wealth and not accumulating actual wealth.
The halcyon dream that Rwanda is in is so deep, it is only now starting to stir, there are small signs – lack of forex, money-traders are jumpy. Banks are holding on to dollars, the central bank releases foreign exchange but the banks tighten for liquidity. All this points to a straining of the social contract called “Akarava” symbolised by the Rav-4 Sports Utility Vehicle favoured by the middle classes, the Prado LX and GX represents the Ruling Elite. Akarava is the bare minimum standard aspired to by yuppies – the upwardly mobile, they have largely benefited from this boom. They fall into 3 broad “Ibitegory” or categories; the “Diaspoman” – people from outside who came back, “Kavukires” – these are the class of people who benefitted from land sales and used the money to go into business, lastly “Abakera” old rich families who still have massive economic influence.
So any talk of dependency and lack of exports was always going to shake dreaming Rwanda from its credit coma. Everyone in Rwanda seems to be on credit, credit to buy a car, credit to build a house, credit to buy household appliances, even credit to send your kids to school. I know friends who are on $2,000 but pay $3,000 a month in expenses, it costs $5,000 a year to send a kid to a top school in Kigali, guys borrow to put a kid in a trendy kindergarten. Some guys even borrowed to donate to Agaciro Fund, no work done. Akaravas have been squeezed, caught between keeping up and accumulating debt, they all have land assets, overpriced properties because high artificial demand driven by speculation, so if land prices dropped then even banks are knee deep. I am not trying to paint a gloomy assessment but the current middle-class life leaves no disposable cash but relies heavily on property.
So the government recently started Agaciro Development Fund, it is part of a wider drive to restore Dignity and Self-worth. This should be innate in every human being, so you wonder why a government has to remind people that. When you look at Rwandan history, then you see how people’s lack of self-worth was manipulated to evil ends. So if our government is trying to get us to have agaciro then something else is currently taking its place, that something is Commodity Fetishism. Self-worth is driving the best car, having the best house, taking your kids to the best schools, having the most beautiful wife, being the richest. All this push for agaciro will be hollow unless people change their lifestyles, but the government is encouraging this lifestyle, giving out loans to its employees to buy lavish 4×4’s, these 4×4’s lose value while the debt increases. So aid money, though small is crucial in maintaining this unsustainable lifestyle.
Aid money has other effects, the most ironic is lack of democracy. The irony is that African governments clamp down on free speech not for the sake of it, but to maintain a good image with the west. If it is done carelessly then you generate bad headlines and loss of aid, but any aid-recipient nation has to clamp down on press. Rwanda is no exception, but the irony is that they do so in order to present a picture to donors of total consensus and total harmony. Like a man running an orphanage, you have to keep donors even if it means spanking some kids. So it is ridiculous when Western governments accuse Rwanda of human right abuses when they are the main cause of them. Removing aid is not the answer, however, our democracy will grow in proportion to our tax-base.
The dreamtime is over, we need to start moving towards production, generating income for this country, this money of ours is just paper unless backed up by hard currency. For the price of a Rav-4 you can buy a machine that can generate $1,000 a week, I saw bakery at an auction in UK for $5,000 with 3 ovens, 2 mixers, dehumidifiers, cooling racks. It would be tax-free and generate hard cash. Kigali does not have a good bakery, no cinema, no auditorium, no theatre, no big dry-cleaners, one burger joint, no automated Carwash, I could go on and on and on. All these projects are affordable for people who spend $100,000 on a car, it just shows the lack of ambition and common sense in Rwanda. We are just programmed to consume and consume, looking for Agaciro in all the wrong places, when you had it within you to begin.
The child has been conceived now, no turning back now, we all agree we wan Agaciro so the question should be how to get it. Agaciro has to move from an account full of money to something substantial, agaciro is something backed by success. How do we get there, some people think we will get Agaciro on 1st January 2020, that it will magically shower down on that day. The truth is we already have it, we need to bring it out in the open. The truth is unless you are productive to your nation then you can never have agaciro, if you are driving a big car on debt with no steady income – then you can never have agaciro, if you are renting a house with no plan to build your own – then you cannot have agaciro. Agaciro needs self-sufficiency, it needs sacrifice, self-denial, investment in your country, building our skills base, maintaining our good reputation as a people, and a nation.
Agaciro does not stay up in the club buying shots of whisky all night, agaciro does not go looking for rich white men in KBC, Agaciro cannot beg a Muzungu or rich man on the street, but instead they will show them their potential and get them to invest in them. Agaciro saves for tomorrow, invests in projects that make money, cuts down useless spending, is charitable, learns skill, teaches skills, invests in people, boosts morale, and loves their country. If you never give any money to the fund but change your life for the better, then Agaciro will be a reality. For this to happen we have to change how we think, Rwanda is full of unrealistic people just going along with what others are doing. If debt is trendy then we all get it, if gout was trendy then some Rwandans would run for free gout. We can only get Agaciro by coming off aid, we can only come off aid by creating a surplus, we can only create a surplus by producing goods for export, and we can do that by getting off our asses. This Agaciro must be a social movement, bring a change in lifestyle and means of production or it will be pointless, giving money is not enough, we need a change in our outlook. We need an agaciro savings account for all, and stop eating our future today
Essay by Rama Isibo
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