What most in the Western World “think” when you mention Rwanda.Photo: UrbanTimes

Whatever perceptions you have of Rwanda are wrong: Part 1

Dan Evans, Managing Director, Storm King Analytics

I wrote the blog post below over 1 year ago during my first visit to Rwanda. I’m currently back in Kigali with a team supporting an Infrastructure Network project for the Network Science Center at West Point. The changes over the last year are quite incredible and Rwanda continues to exhibit incredible economic growth. Additonally, they just hosted the World Economic Forum on Africa and the country is widely considered to be the most innovative country in Africa. Our team will share some insights from this current visit over the next few days, but thought it would be interesting to revisit our previous first impression.

I recently spent a week in Kigali, Rwanda collecting data to support an ongoing Network Science Center at West Point Research project that is developing network models of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in developing markets. This is an introduction to a series of posts documenting my experiences and findings.

If you ask a typical citizen in the US what they know about Rwanda, they will almost assuredly mention terrible ethnic violence and genocide. What most people don’t realize is those horrific events happened over 20 years ago and a lot has changed during that time.

The Kigali Skyline

What I found upon my arrival was vastly different than the majority of other economic capitals that I have visited in the developing world. I discovered an orderly and sparkling clean city with immaculately-maintained major streets, minimal trash, orderly traffic with modern traffic lights, very few begging children, and almost no aggressive vendors. The average citizen of Kigali seems busy conducting business and the city is seeing an amazing increase in foreign investment.

What Kigali looks like: clean street, manicured parks, enforced helmet laws.
Manicured Boulevards maintained by an army of civil servants.
State of the art traffic lights in Kigali.

Of course, the government has it detractors. President Paul Kagame is viewed as both a hero and a villain. He led the Rwandan Patriotic Front forces out of exile in Uganda, which eventually drove out the extremist Hutu government and ended the genocide. Since that time he has ruled as a benevolent dictator. Kagame’s government reports that it has lifted over 1 million people out of poverty between 2008 and 2012, and that the country’s economy grew at a remarkable 8% rate during the global economic crisis. Foreign donors praise the government for their efficient and effective management of aid and also praise Kagame as a progressive leader. For example, he is applauded for his focus on gender equality in Rwandan society and in fact, women outnumber men in the Rwandan parliament. However, political critics of the government have been silenced and other government critics have been strong-armed away from lucrative contracts and benefits from aid programs. Basically, at this point in their history, Rwandans seem to be willing to trade some civil rights for this stability, security & economic growth.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Photo: BBC

The Rwandan government has developed a comprehensive plan called Vision 2020 that aims to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020. A major part of this plan is the development of the technology sector in the country. The remaining posts in this series will describe what I found as I immersed myself into the tech scene in the capital.

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