Why Businessmen (and women) flock to Rwanda

When you think of Rwanda, if you think of genocide, you should think again. Not that we should forget the horrors of 1994, but Rwanda is moving on — and it wants your investment and tourism, not your sympathy.

Though it is difficult to rebrand the country (especially after movies like Hotel Rwanda), the government is certainly working hard to do so, and investors are listening. One way Rwanda has made business easier for investors is by creating the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). This is a new institution, essentially combining 8 previously independently existing organisations: the Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA); the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN); the Privatization Secretariat; the Rwanda Commercial Registration Services Agency; the Rwanda Information and Technology Authority (RITA); the Center for Support to Small and Medium Enterprises (CAPMER); the Human Resource and Institutional Capacity Development Agency (HIDA); and the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA).

While in Rwanda, I spoke to Clare Akamanzi, the Deputy CEO in charge of Business Operations and Services at RDB, as well as their new CEO, Joe Ritchie. Mr. Ritchie is the co-chairman (with President Kagame) of the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC), which hosts quite an impressive team of advisers, from Michael Porter to Rick Warren to John Rucyahana to Donald Kaberuka.

Through enhanced coordination at RDB one can now register a business in Rwanda in a record 2 days!

I will be posting the interviews with Joe and Clare after they have been published in the Independent.

Rwanda Rwanda

I’ve just returned from a week in Kigali. Unfortunately my power adapter blew out the first night so I was basically computer/internet-less for the week (especially since internet at Bourbon Cafe is 4000 francs after the first hour!!! That’s about $7). All that means is that I have a lot to catch up on. The most exciting thing for me was to visit King Faisal Hospital, Rwanda’s main referral hospital. This place is seriously impressive. We spent about an hour with a Ugandan radiologist who had previously worked in both Mulago and Mbarara hospitals. Long story short, he became so frustrated with his inability to treat patients in Uganda that he took a chance on Rwanda. Since coming to King Faisal, he was able to acquire a new CT scan, a flouroscope, and a machine to do mammograms, among others. He is also excited about getting an MRI machine at the end of this year, which I believe will be the only MRI in Rwanda. There is also a digital x-ray so that films are no longer needed, and so that doctors and patients can share and consult on results much faster and easier.

The doctor (who prefers to remain anonymous) bustled about the radiology department, clearly proud of his work and the service he is able to provide to his patients. After a while though, he insisted he had to get back to work. “If a patient waits for more than 15 minutes,” he says, “you’ll have the ministry [of health] calling you the next day.”

Much more on Rwanda soon. An amazing country and government, despite the fact that some (ahem! France) have beef with Kagame.

In other news, but on a related health note, I went with David (see “What Would You Do?”) to the Surgery in Kampala today. At numerous clinics/hospitals, he has variously been diagnosed with: malaria, ulcers, cancer, and typhoid, to mention a few. So we went today to Dr. Stockley to get a second (ok, more like fifth) opinion. After 3 hours and $70 we walked away with a diagnosis and treatment. The culprit(s) for the pain and suffering he has been undergoing for the past few weeks/months? Bilharzia, amoebiasis, and internal yeast infection. No wonder he felt like crap. I couldn’t help but think he would have been treated much better and faster if he had been a Rwandan instead of Ugandan citizen…but we have hope for the future. And I am a patriot, Mr. President. Are you?

Tomorrow I am off to Mulago for a story for the Independent. You can be sure I will be ranting in 24 hrs time…

$450 a month

That’s what senior doctors are paid by the government of Uganda at Mulago hospital, according to the latest article on Mulago in the Daily Monitor. New recruits make only Ushs 626,181 (about $315 dollars) a month, still better than the Ushs 200,000 a month new teachers are paid (about $100), but it is not hard to see why doctors who have invested much more time and money in their education would hop on the next flight out of Entebbe to more enticing salaries abroad.

By contrast, in Rwanda, newly recruited doctors reportedly earn $2000. What is going on here? Or maybe the better question is, what is going on in Rwanda? As it happens, I am headed to Kigali on the 9am bus today, and hopefully some answers will emerge this week for me…

In the meantime, see this interesting discussion (hat tip Paul Collier and Jim Cust’s Bottom Billion Blog) on Rwanda as “The World’s Social Innovation Capital”. More from Kigali soon….

Christmas Came Early for Uganda Police

It seems Uganda’s Ministry of Works and Transport is tired of taking all the heat for the country’s shabby roads and high road accident rate. Daily Monitor writes today:

All motor vehicles in the country must be compulsorily tested for road worthiness, the Ministry of Works and Transport has revealed.

In a new law that seeks to reduce road carnage, the ministry has proposed strict electronic testing of private vehicles at least once every year while public vehicles will be scrutinised twice a year.

“The system we are using currently to inspect vehicles is inadequate and out of fashion but this new system will be like an x-ray, and no vehicle without an inspection certificate will be allowed on the road,” Works Minister John Nasasira said.

Um, excuse me? An x-ray? We don’t even have working x-rays in the hospitals! Ok, well at least they don’t all work all the time. In any case, I highly suspect that bad drivers and bad roads account for the majority of road traffic accidents/deaths, not the vehicles themselves. Oh, and seatbelts. This drives me nuts. Parents, BUCKLE YOUR CHILD’S SEATBELT. You are wearing your seatbelt, make your child do the same. There is no excuse for putting your safety above theirs. If they don’t like wearing them, tough! They are children. They are your responsibility.

But I digress. Back to the “x-ray” inspection….

The police should be overjoyed at this new initiative. Now, along with lack of third-party insurance, logbooks/paperwork or driver’s permit (among other offenses), the police have another way to get some “lunch.” Here is how it will go*:

Officer: [Steps into road blowing whistle and waving. Positions himself such that driver can only stop, unless he hits the officer and/or swerves wildly while simultaneously pretending not to see him]

Driver: Yes, good afternoon officer.

Officer: Good afternoon. Can I see your driver’s permit?

Driver: Sure, here.

Officer: And inspection certificate?

Driver: Well, you see officer, after waiting two hours to get my vehicle tested, the power went out and the vehicle x-ray machine stopped working. And when it came on again, inspectors had gone for lunch. So I wasn’t able to get the certificate.

Officer: Hmm. But now, eh, you must have that inspection certificate. I don’t know what we do… [pause] I don’t want to take you to the station. [pause] You will pay a big fine if we go to the station.

Driver: Yes officer.

Officer: So. What do we do? [pause, tries to ascertain if he must be more direct]. I don’t want to take you to the station. [pause] You could give me something for lunch…

Driver: [pulls out wallet, slips a 10k note on the seat].

Officer: Ok then. Nice day.

End scene.

I still fail to understand why one must go to the station for a simple offense. Just give us a ticket! As it is, there is no incentive for either the police officer or the driver to abide by the law — if you do, you will go the station, fill out paper work, and pay a huge fine. If you don’t, the driver can part with 20k instead of 150k, right then and there, and the poorly paid officer can get a little bonus. Of course, not all not all officers and drivers will take the moral low ground. But I have a sneaking suspicion the majority do (I even know of someone who had to go to the ATM with the officer because he didn’t have the amount required for “lunch”!!!). And why not, when those poor officers get paid pennies (ok, shillings) to stand in the scorching sun for hours at a time? Oh, and Nasasira, please stop deflecting blame and do your job. I don’t care about decentralisation or KCC. You are the minister and you are responsible.

* As to whether I have ever encountered a similar situation, I will take the fifth.

Johnnie Carson is Obama’s Pick for Asst. Secretary for African Affairs

“President Obama’s nomination of Johnnie Carson to be Assistant Secretary for African Affairs is a strong choice. Carson is an accomplished career foreign service officer with an excellent track record on African issues spanning many decades and a range of positions. Carson has a deep understanding of our diplomatic capacities and the importance of regular interagency collaboration. I look forward to considering his nomination and hearing how he and the administration plan to address the many challenges we face on the African continent.”

Says U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommitee on African Affairs. Ambassador Carson worked in the Foreign Service for 37 years (serving in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Portugal, Botswana, Mozambique and Nigeria) before joining the National Intelligence Council, serving as officer for Africa. See his complete bio here.

I understand he has been less than chummy with Museveni, criticising, among other things, his running for a third presidential term. What will Carson mean for Uganda? For Africa?

“Whether there are new ways for Museveni to re-invent himself and his government in the eyes of an Obama administration will now be seen,” says analyst Angelo Izama in a November 2008 article in the Daily Monitor. “President Museveni’s appeal is waning. On the eve of the last election, senior US Africa policy heads, including Johnnie Carson noted that Uganda is a success story gone bad.”

Museveni has allowed the potholes of his regime to grow wider and deeper in recent years, and now he is in for a bumpy ride.

Listening To: Nakaaya, Mr. Politician

“Mr. Politician” came out last year, by the talented Nakaaya Sumari. It is currently my favorite song…as those around me can attest to…

We stand for the 30 million walking these roads you never fix,
We sick and tired of hearing these lies, games and tricks
Instead of looking up to these fake ones for hope
Remember Amina the next time you vote…


Check it out here on Museke, “home of the African music fan”.

On that note, I’m walking these roads all the way to the gym…

Condoms –> More AIDS

This is essentially what Pope Benedict XVI has suggested while on his current visit to Africa, where he will visit Cameroon and Angola. Regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has killed and affected millions, the vast majority living in sub-Saharan Africa, the Pope told reporters that it is “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems.”

Criticism of condom use is an altogether unsurprising position from the Catholic church, which largely rejects the use of birth control. Nonetheless, the argument appears to have reached a new level, with the Pope actually suggesting that condoms are making the “problem” of HIV/AIDS worse. I disagree with the church’s position on condoms in general, though I recognize the valid point that condoms will not alone bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Nonetheless, I find it incredibly irresponsible for such a powerful and influential leader to make a causal argument of this nature with little to no evidence to back it up. Millions of the devoted will be listening, and millions may thus come to the conclusion that condom use in and of itself may increase their chances of contracting HIV. This could obviously not be farther from the truth (if you are going to have sex anyway, wearing a condom will certainly not increase your chances of contracting HIV).

We can agree to disagree on ideology, but not on matters of scientific fact, especially when millions of lives are at stake. This kind of misinformation benefits no one.

For more thoughts on the subject, see the opinion by the Guardian‘s Ela Soyemi. Or yesterday’s NYT editorial. Or on Bill Easterly’s latest post.

This Week: Oil Roundtable

It’s official. Uganda has oil.

But how much and what kind? What does it mean for Uganda’s future? Who is calling the shots? Will it boost development, or will the oil curse strike again?

For answers to these questions and more, please attend a groundbreaking roundtable on Uganda’s oil sector, sponsored by Kampala-based think tank Fanaka Kwa Wote and the U.S. Embassy Kampala.

What: Oil Roundtable
When: Thursday, March 19th, 9:30am to 12:00pm
Where: Protea Hotel, Acacia Road, Kampala
Who: Panel of experts and interested parties, including:

Professor Jacqueline Lang Weaver, University of Houston
Mr. Stephen Birahwa, MP Buliisa and Member of the Committee on Natural Resources
Mr. Brian Glover, Managing Director of Tullow Oil
National Environmental Management Authority
Uganda Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development
Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development

Moderated by Managing Editor of The Independent, Andrew Mwenda.

Weapons of …. Mosquito Destruction

We shall kill them with…a laaaaaazerrrrr. Yes, that’s the latest plan for mosquito, and thus, malaria, destruction. At least according to astrophysicists.

“A quarter-century ago, American rocket scientists proposed the “Star Wars” defense system to knock Soviet missiles from the skies with laser beams. Some of the same scientists are now aiming their lasers at another airborne threat: the mosquito.

In a lab in this Seattle suburb, researchers in long white coats recently stood watching a small glass box of bugs. Every few seconds, a contraption 100 feet away shot a beam that hit the buzzing mosquitoes, one by one, with a spot of red light.

The insects survived this particular test, which used a non-lethal laser. But if these researchers have their way, the Cold War missile-defense strategy will be reborn as a WMD: Weapon of Mosquito Destruction.”

Read on in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.

One question, if we can’t even get cheap malaria meds to health centers in rural villages, how the heck are we going to get lasers there? And I’m guessing said lasers will also require a small thing called electricity…

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