London, 6 July 2009

Address by President Kagame at the Commonwealth Business Council’s African Business Forum “The Conversation for the Time in which We Live”

•  Your Excellency, George Kunda, Vice President of Zambia;
•  Hon Mike Foster, Minister for International Development;
•  Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

The world is in a crisis born from regulatory mismanagement.

The contagion of hopelessness has spread throughout the world, affecting those who have had little or no ownership in their own demise.

Still, the question remains, “What will be the lessons?”

Prominent media outlets and recognized economists are already shaping this as the debate between “market fundamentalism,” the notion of unfettered markets versus “authoritarian regimes” who, they say, are anxious to buy influence and whose values, they insist, are inconsistent with good governance and high environmental standards upon which we in emerging markets increasingly insist.

I believe these observers are missing the point: their analysis reflects worn-out thinking; indeed, they are engaging us in a conversation for a time in which we no longer live.

This is the era of total global competition for sub-soil assets, financial capital, skilled workers, and market access.
It is marked by obsolete international decision making processes, and a failure to accept the right of self-determination for those nations with less wealth and political power.
It is marked by an unproductive debate over the merits of aid.
These commentators are discussing symptoms, not root causes.

This dynamic glosses over the hypocrisy by some, which prevents deep introspection, and leaves poverty safely intact.

While they hurl negative attributions at one another, they ignore the most salient fact, that the current situation robs the majority of the world’s people of their autonomy, and therefore, their dignity.

We can no longer afford to participate in a discussion for a time in which we no longer live.

It is time for we who lead nations, the multilateral institutions, and the academy to agree on a new protocol that can be constructed on mutual respect and common interests.
It is also time for the press to rise up once more and play their historic role, which is to shed light on the new terms of discourse.

We, who lead nations, should not preach the merits of change to others, and not be willing to change ourselves.

It is time to provide not only the nutrition, shelter, healthcare and education they require; not only to create the nation of justice, opportunity, and tolerance they deserve; but also, to improve the very quality of their hopes and aspirations.

In that spirit, I invite those in the leadership of the G-8 to recognize that others have something to offer, especially on the issues that affect their own lives. Together, we need to develop broader and more effective consultative processes that genuinely integrate our vision of our own destiny, into your planning.

People in developing nations are less convinced, these days – that Western help is motivated by altruism. Some think that the rhetoric of free markets is a cover for protecting the commercial interests of wealthy nations.

They see that we in poor nations are forced to eliminate subsidies, even as you subsidize your own sensitive sectors; they see that the benefits of privatizations in poor nations often went to the citizens of well-off nations; they see that the medicine you compelled East Asian nations to take a decade ago, during their banking crisis, seems not to be the medicine you are willing to ask your own citizens to swallow.

They see that China and India, who control their own destinies, are the ones managing unprecedented growth, and consequently, eradicating poverty at the highest rates the world has ever seen.

While it is not appropriate for me to speak on behalf of all of Africa, I can say that we have leaders in all parts of the continent, and at all levels of civil society, commerce, and government who are ready to assume the mantle of their own people’s destiny.

We need only identify and support them. Indeed, those who live in well-off nations should be happy that they exist, and are capable and eager to lead.

Business leaders have choices to make also.

Those who plan to invest in rent-seeking models, to merely extract our natural resources and sell them at low price points, to avoid fair taxes, to underpay our workers, to scar our land—should reconsider this approach.

We seek those who are willing to build their core processes and core products in Africa, to find new market segments all over the world, to build new distribution systems, and to invest in the greatest possibility of superior returns, the skills and abilities of their African colleagues.

Rwanda grew at 11.2% last year, even as the world entered a recession, and we did that while wages in key sectors grew each year over the last eight years.

We call this economic growth through investments in social equity.

Our coffee is now hailed as among the world’s best, and it graces the shelves of Starbucks and Costco; our tourism experience, which we view as an export that is locally-consumed, attracts the world’s most demanding travellers who pay a very high price to enjoy our scenery, our animals, and our hospitality.

We now export finished goods  (high-end woven products, jewellery, and bags) directly to the most famous retail establishments in the USA.

Put bluntly, our experience demonstrates that a land-locked nation, rising out of a crisis; through the use of informed strategy and timely action—can grow.
And that through growth, we can eradicate poverty, and create a society that shares power, is more tolerant of differences, and more trusting, action-oriented, and self-determined.

Businesses people who are willing to join us in this endeavour, and build upon this model, are most welcome to invest, and very likely to prosper.

No less than Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and former chief economist of the World Bank, recently said, Developing nations are increasingly convinced that western economic ideals are ideals to run away from, rather than embrace.

This is, certainly, NOT the case in Rwanda, but it does mean that the Multilaterals, who are widely seen as the proxies of a few nations, should be concerned by this trend.

It is time to de-link shareholder rights in the multilaterals, with decision rights over the poor. It is time that the multilaterals base a greater percentage of their professionals in the countries they assist, it is time that they speed up their decision making processes; AND, it is time that they show greater willingness to be guided by their client-nations, thereby creating incentives for those in the developing nations to improve analytical competence, and rest the locus of responsibility for their destinies where it belongs, on their own shoulders.

Leaders in the academy have much to offer and reflect upon, as well. I have relied on many of the world’s greatest economists and political scientists, and, in fact, the leaders of many other disciplines.

They have often provided the profound intellectual resources required to build a modern nation. I value their commitment to ideals, and their goals of rigor and truth.

Still, there are some who appear confused by our imrpovements.

When our recent elections placed a world-leading 56% of women into our parliament, making it perhaps, one of the world’s most progressive deliberative bodies; a small number were perplexed.

They could not imagine that the same women, who sit together on Rwanda’s thousand hillsides, weaving the peace baskets, have a potential to sit in parliament and create legislation as intricate and profound.

It is as if some can never agree that something good can come out of Africa–that we might indeed, lead the world in something good.

Let me invite each of you who loves Africa deeply, who has dedicated themselves to the truth long ago, to reconsider your biases, and to be a force for positive change. You will certainly find in many leaders of Africa, that we are willing to learn from you.

Here are some of my thoughts that I believe could be the basis for a more productive protocol between rich and poor nations:

We will focus on the only investment with the possibility of infinite returns, our children.

We will do this through investments in education, healthcare, and specialized infrastructure.

We will improve the rule of law, share power between men and women, and with those who have ideas that are different from our own.

AND, we will use all the energy and assets in business, the academy, and civic society to connect the poorest and most disenfranchised of our society to global networks of productivity.

This, we believe, provides us the greatest chance to raise incomes, and lay the basis for a host of progressive human values like tolerance, trust, civic engagement, and other pro-innovation attitudes, thus, strengthening our society.
We ask you to never pretend that you care more about the people of our nations more that we do.

People tend to forget that prosperity and justice are a process and they fail to acknowledge that they took a long time to achieve what they have achieved so far.
We are open to learn from the best processes, but it can take some time.

No, when prominent journalists and other experts foster “the debate between market fundamentalism and authoritarian regimes”; they are perhaps incorrect.

The real debate is between those who persistently prefer facile moralistic solutions, and who dare not challenge the exhausted logic of the past, versus those who would seek to place decision rights and the moral burdens of destiny on those who shall live it.

This requires a new protocol between the rich and poor.

And, THIS is the conversation for the time in which we live.