Economic transformation happens through a positive change in the mind-set of the people, said Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame when he addressed delegates on the second and final day of the African Transformation Forum (ATF) in Kigali, Rwanda.
The ATF is organized by the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) and the Government of Rwanda.
President Kagame, reflecting on Rwanda’s remarkable transformation from the debris of the 1994 genocide, said “Rwandans are ordinary people with an extraordinary history.”
Twenty-two years ago, he recalled “Rwanda’s very survival was at stake and everything was a priority. We figured out what to do by doing it, because we had no choice. Help took years to arrive and was not appropriate to our circumstances. We had to start with our own resources and ideas and in fact, the desire to get out of the mess and chaos our country was in.”
He told the approximately 250 delegates from all parts of Africa and the globe that in terms of transformation, “we really only have two strategic tools in my opinion: One, let’s change how people think; and two, let’s shape how resources are allocated and later on utilized.”
On changing mind-sets, he told the audience: “this challenge is not technical. It is political and social because it’s about people. It’s about developing a mind-set of urgency, ownership, responsibility and service as well as, quite frankly, the mind-set of money-making and long term investing.”
Citizens, he said, bear most of the risks – and gains – of transformation. “They have to be included in the decisions and understand the benefits of transformation – because success comes from what they do every day.”
In his remarks welcoming the President to address the Forum, K.Y. Amoako, the president of ACET said that in order for transformation to happen, it was necessary to galvanize all sections of the population – “it must become a movement” he stressed. He added that the Coalition for the Transformation of Africa, which was launched at the Forum, would be part of that movement. “We talk about Africa but we are a sum of different countries. Every country can move at its own pace but we need to push collectively. How do we share best practices? How do we learn from each other?”
President Kagame said the launching of the Coalition for the Transformation of Africa promised to be an innovative and promising outcome of the gathering. But he cautioned: “One way to avoid it becoming a venue for more talking among like-minded elites is to build in an element of outward-facing service in the work of each chapter.”
He also agreed that the ACET motto: ‘transformation in a generation’ was achievable and added: “We all want a prosperous, stable and equitable Africa and we want it as soon as possible. Period. This contrasts so radically with Africa’s past and present, that we rightly speak of the need for transformation in the real sense.”
Everything, he said “starts with a clear and even very simple vision for the future that everyone understands and agrees on”. He told the delegates that Rwanda’s experience “has taught us some important things: you don’t need to have all the answers or all the funds to get started. Constantly assess and correct course, but don’t wait for perfection or rescue.”
Alluding to Africa’s often haphazard implementation of policies, he said: “If we know where we want to go and what has to be done to get there, then why do we seem stuck when it comes to implementation?” A wish list, he warned, “is not a strategy for getting things done: it is a recipe for an endless loop of conferences and declarations.”
On the role of the state and the market in the economic life of a country, he argued that in the African context, “we can grow very old waiting for the invisible hand of the market to work its magic. Government often must lead, catalyze, support, and invest by bringing in partners to fix market failures and mitigate risk.”
Referring to worries about the decline of overseas development aid (ODI) expressed by some speakers during the Forum, he said it was not the decline of aid that Africa should be worried about now – the continent should have seen that coming; we need to be more worried about how the money was invested when it was available.
The projected reduction in ODI, he argued, could be seen as a paradox where it was “a very bad thing, but also a very good thing” It had helped many needy people, but the process itself has led to dependency. “There has been a cycle where we have invested in perpetuating a problem.”
In terms of international trade relations, he added: “We actually already have much of what we need right here in Africa. We will never win by discounting the quality of our own products and our people.”
Expanding on pathways to transformation, he said: “We have to stay adaptable and flexible. Plans and frameworks should not become a barrier to action or to course corrections. Mistakes will be made along the way and money wasted. But that should not be the end of the road – it serves a purpose if it helps to discover the most effective approach more quickly and build public understanding and unity of purpose.”