Hope is required for big dreams, and Rwanda is certainly a small country that dreams big. As exciting as it is to be in a place with so much collective momentum toward a common goal to alleviate poverty, it seems healthy to ask if it is possible to dream too big.
At the end of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 document, the author(s) seemingly anticipate the reader’s response to their audacious dreams.
”…Some will say that this is too ambitious and that we are not being realistic when we set this goal. Others say that it is a dream. But, what choice does Rwanda have? To remain in the current situation is simply unacceptable for the Rwandan people. Therefore, there is a need to devise and implement policies as well as mobilize resources to bring about the necessary transformation to achieve the Vision.”
Certainly Rwanda has more justification to dream big than most:
- Rwanda had little, and lost even more, in the terrible genocide of 1994
- It is ‘unacceptable’ for a dignified people to maintain the status quo in such poor conditions
- You cannot underestimate the impact of one good leader in office for many years (especially in Africa today)
- When starting from such poverty, any improvement is striking
- It is easy to impress when the world expects little, and similar countries in the region disappoint
- In a small country, with a common local language and culture, collective progress is easier
- If you could succeed in Rwanda, you may establish a model that could be translated to other countries needing rapid development
- To try and fail is better than not to try at all (or to aim low and hit the target)
I happen to believe, on the whole, Rwanda’s leaders have good intentions: they genuinely want, first and foremost, what is best for Rwandan citizens. As a result, I like the direction that the leaders of Rwanda dream. Dreams pursued with the wrong motivations are certainly problematic, but I don’t believe that is the case here.
Unfortunately, I do believe there can be some “downsides” to dreaming big. Chief among them comes with initial success. In right measure it is called confidence, but it can easily slide down the slippery slope into “pride”. Without discounting the successes Rwanda has achieved, I cannot help but be disappointed by some decisions taken in recent years. Why do the main roads from the airport get paved and re-paved so often when many of the roads that non-visitors (i.e. residents) travel remain nearly impassable? English has been made the official language for education in schools, but couldn’t the transition be handled in a smoother, more professional fashion? Does Kigali City really need the cost and size of the current Master Plan, one that might rival such prescriptions for a developed country? Does RwandAir really need a large luxury “787 Dreamliner” super-jet (recently publicized to join the fleet in 2015)?
In our work, Karisimbi Partners has seen enough over-development of agri-processing plants (beyond realistic demand) and luxury hotels (room capacity under development far outstrips current occupancy levels) to suggest that more careful and measured spending, by public and private entities alike, would be a better way to achieve Rwanda’s grand dreams without the perception of vanity spending commonly attributed to the ruling elite in other African countries.
Big dreams can be realized, and can inspire amazing achievements, but if the dreams are associated with a moral failing (pride), they will quickly lose their inspirational characteristics. It would be wonderful to see Rwanda claim its place as a world leader, but to do so at a pace that accommodates the current realities on the ground. Even grand ambitions benefit from a reasonable action plan, especially if they hope to be sustained.
Onward and upward,