Meet Senegalese entrepreneur Magatte Wade, friend to Whole Planet Foundation and one of the main contributors to the film, Poverty, Inc, which examines the darker side of the charity industry. Magatte is one of a new community of Africans who take issue with how their continent and culture are portrayed by politicians, the press, and even NGOs. From their perspective, many nonprofit initiatives fund development projects in Africa that ultimately do more harm than good. Learn more about Magatte’s worldview below, where we’ve shared her review of the new book, Rwanda, Inc.
Rwanda, Inc: An unlikely growth story
When people think of Rwanda, they still think “genocide.” Rwanda, Inc. urges them to update those thoughts. According to the authoritative Fraser Institute, which tracks an index of economic freedom for each of 144 nations, Rwanda’s overall index has been one of the fastest growing in the world since the genocide. This African nation of 11 million now ranks 45th in economic freedom, higher than France, Poland, and Israel.
Journalist Patricia Crisafulli and consultant Andrea Redmond don’t cite the Fraser Institute index. But they do vividly describe the transformation that has occurred in Rwanda. While economic data for developing nations are only approximations, data cited by the authors indicate just what you’d expect when economic freedom achieves a great leap forward: Rwanda has enjoyed strong economic growth accompanied by a noticeable decline in poverty.
The turnaround is largely due to the nation’s current president, Paul Kagame, an extraordinary person, even in the eyes of his detractors. Growing up as a Tutsi exile in Uganda, Kagame returned to Rwanda by the early 1990s to lead an army that tried to prevent the persecution of Tutsis that had been taking place since independence in 1962. When Hutu extremists began the massacre in April 1994, U.N. troops stood by and watched it happen, along with the rest of the world. Kagame’s troops swept in to stop the genocide, succeeding by July 1994, but only after more than a million people had been killed. From 1994 to 2000, a Hutu leader supported by Kagame was president. Since 2000, it has been Kagame.
Having established himself as an effective military leader, Kagame now appears to be just as effective in lifting the living standards of his people. He is also known for reducing corruption. In 2005, when Transparency International first ranked Rwanda according to its Corruption Perceptions Index, the country was 83rd. By 2011, it had moved up to 49th, making it one of the least-corrupt countries in Africa, and just ahead of Costa Rica. He also proved to be an astute investor. On the advice of Clet Niyikiza, a Rwandan Ph.D. who had been vice president of medicine development for GlaxoSmithKline, Kagame invested $16 million of Rwandan pension funds in Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, a start-up alleged to have a blockbuster cancer drug.
The authors respond to criticisms of Kagame, but not in sufficient depth to address the concerns of his detractors. One concern is that he has not permitted freedom of the press. The response of the Kagame administration is that, since the genocide, it has been necessary to limit speech that is potentially inflammatory. Crisafulli and Redmond point out that, to this day, Germany and other European nations have crimes against hate speech that are similar to the limitations imposed in Rwanda.
One indication that Kagame does not quite fit the usual dictator profile: He engaged in a public debate in front of 70,000 Twitter followers with a foreign journalist who accused him of being “despotic and deluded.” Kagame is consciously modeling Rwandan reforms on those of Singapore, rated second in the world for economic freedom, but with an admittedly authoritarian government. Kagame has vowed to step down in 2017, although critics question whether he will. We have just four years to wait to see if he keeps his word.
Compared with the embarrassing parade of leaders in Africa since independence, Rwandan President Paul Kagame is clearly intelligent, disciplined, and principled. It is inspiring to read about the economic gains he has brought to the long-suffering people of Rwanda. In light of Kagame’s unquestionable achievements, it would have been even more satisfying if Rwanda, Inc. had either shown us Kagame warts and all or definitively exonerated him from the most damaging charges against him. Instead, we are left to wonder: Is Kagame great only with respect to economics? Or might he be a truly great African leader?
Senegalese entrepreneur Magatte Wade is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. She blogs at Magatte.wordpress.com.