Rwanda Vs. Liberia: Two Post-War Countries on Opposing Ends

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WEEKS AFTER SPLASHING £30 million on a sponsorship deal with English premiere league side Arsenal, Paul Kagame’s Rwanda in the past few weeks rolled out the first domestically built car off the assembly line at Volkswagen’s new factory in Kigali as Europe’s biggest carmaker tapped into demand for ride-sharing to expand in the region.

IN THE DAYS preceding the Volkswagen announcement, Rwanda expressed support for a ground-breaking invention of Dr. Dougbeh Christopher Nyan, a renowned Liberian scientist and medical doctor who recently come up with the invention of a test that rapidly detects and distinguishes a host of different infections, at least three to seven infections simultaneously.

DR. DOUGBEH’S test also distinguishes multiple infections which bear the same symptoms like yellow fever, malaria, typhoid or Ebola. The test detects and identifies HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis viruses, Dengue, West Nile Virus, and Chikungunya. Most testing methods take about 3 hours to 7 days or more, but this device gives test results within an hour, is simple to perform, and cost-effective for struggling economies.

THE IRONY IS STRANGE. Rwanda, Like Liberia went through a brutal civil war of its own between the Rwandan Armed Forces and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front spurred as a result of a long-running dispute between the Hutu and Tutsi groups.

WHILE MANY remain perplexed by what Kagame is doing in Rwanda, others are divide amid concerns that he has clamped down on critics and is constantly accused of silencing those not on the same page of his agenda.

WHAT KAGAME IS DOING in Rwanda is no less commendable. The $US20 million investment, which will create up to 1,000 jobs, is as an example of much needed spending by overseas firms in the nation, which receives $1 billion in foreign aid and development assistance but is making business-friendly reforms. It also represents a new chapter in Rwanda’s journey of economic transformation.

LIBERIA WHICH endured more than a decade of civil war has been through a lot in the past few years. After a series of interim government arrangements, the country in January 2006 ushered in the first woman head of state with the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

THE REFRAIN HOWEVER has been the same, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability and a recurring circle of impunity wherein those accused of theft of government funds often find themselves back in the good books of leaders and rulers who encourage their acts by glorifying their reappointment with flying colors.

THE RESULT in recent days has seen the exchange rate, currently in the 160s, skyrocketing daily and competing with the upcoming 171st Independence anniversary and a surging game of blame in which the speaker of the house or representatives is now blaming the unfolding economic decline on former President Sirleaf.

THE BUSINESS CLIMATE is becoming even more complicated by the day as more and more foreign and local businesses struggle to stay afloat. Some foreign businesses have cut down imports to as low as forty percent while some others are contemplating or already begun packing up to leave.

ALL THIS POINT to a rather unfriendly climate for business where the government has consistently bent over backwards to make conditions unfavorable and unbearable for those doing business.

KAGAME’S FORMULA is not perfect and has justly come under fire from critics who have taken foreign governments, including the United Kingdom and the United States, who pump nearly a billion dollars annually into Rwanda – 40 percent of the troubled African nation’s budget.

BUT SOME OF the positivity that is overshadowing his bad deeds could be modeled in Liberia.

ONE OF SUCH policies is the Rwandan Diaspora initiative which has been instrumental in the increased remittances to the local economy. According to World Bank figures (xls), remittances to Rwanda topped $100m (£62m) in 2010, more than 1.5% of the country’s GDP. Other countries, including Ethiopia and Kenya, have created “diaspora bonds” to encourage investment in local development projects.

RWANDANS IN THE UK AND THE US have been tapped to contribute to a new “solidarity fund” set up by President Kagame in a bid to lessen the government’s reliance on foreign aid. The fund’s website says Agaciro aims to improve the country’s financial autonomy and gives Rwandans “a higher level of direct ownership in the nation’s projects”, with priorities chosen through national consultations. Individuals can transfer money to the fund through banks, online or SMS.

IN LIBERIA, government must do all it can to empower local businesses instead of overtaxing them and expecting them to exhaust meager resources into helping to save the economy.

THE PRIVATE SECTOR is one of the key components which could help resuscitate the local economy. If government fails to provide incentives for local businesses to thrive the future will remain bleak for years to come.

THE RWANDA model is not perfect but segments of it suggest that hope is not out of range for Liberia.

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