Courtland Walker

Rwanda Journal: Vision 2020

Editor’s note: NextBillion staff writer Courtland Walker recently returned from a 10-day trip to Rwanda. Over the next week, he will post reflections on his trip as part of the Rwanda Journal series.

rwandaThe most recurrent thought during my time in Rwanda was, “What’s the first step?” I kept doing a hypothetical in my head: You have a million dollars. Do you pave roads? Do you put up more power lines? Do you put a floor in every house? A bed net? Do you buy tractors? Fertilizer? Laptops? Cell phones?”People don’t need electricity, they need jobs.” That response, from my sister who has been in-country for three and a half years and seen first-hand both the education and health systems in Rwanda, has been on my mind since my return.

Certainly job creation and economic growth is central to raising livelihoods. This given, the mind is once again on the hypothetical; if the goal is job creation, “What’s the first step?”

In grappling with this question, in 1997 the Rwandan government first set out to detail where they wanted go, then worked backwards to decide how to get there. In consultation with the development community, NGOs, and the private sector, the result of their efforts is Vision 2020. The document rests its development strategy on six “pillars”; in short, the Nation, the State, the People, Infrastructure, the Private sector, and Agriculture.

(For another take on Vision 2020, check out Worldchanging, where editor Alex Steffen weighs in on the program as a test case for leapfrogging.)

What impresses me most about the document is not its MDG-style ambition, but its level of self-awareness. There is an honest discussion of the country’s turbulent political, economic, and colonial history. The country not only knows where it wants to go, but even more importantly, it knows where it is, and how it got there; and as such its first steps, and each one there after, should be firmly grounded. And what are these steps?In a nutshell, create a “knowledge-based economy”, by first modernizing agriculture and animal husbandry to increase yields and viability. Then educate, urbanize, and diversify the labor force, currently 90% subsistence farmers, to off-farm activities in service and industry, while simultaneously upgrading transport, energy, and ICT infrastructure based on solid urban and regional planning. The State, pulling back on a past history of intervention, instead focuses on rule of law and sound governance, investing heavily in education and R&D, leaving the private sector to grow and “contribute to the reduction of poverty on a sustainable basis” (i.e., through economic growth and job creation). For more detail, the full Vision 2020 report is well worth the read.