Ideas & Debate

When values define a country’s brand the Rwandan way


A motorbike rider carries a passenger in Kigali. file

Branding of a country is determined more by its value systems and governance principles. I was in Rwanda last week after one year. Every time I visit the country I observe a number of positive things that we Kenyans have not succeeded in achieving over the years.

These are basic things that define how a country has decided to value and brand itself, and how it is viewed by outsiders including prospective investors and development partners.

Probably Rwanda had the opportunity to start doing everything correctly afresh after the unfortunate genocide of the mid 1990s. This then implies that any country can deliberately target to set and achieve new governance and social goals.

Indeed, our own 2007/8 post election violence did start us on a new journey to strive to get our governance systems right, and we are gradually progressing in the right direction.

However, it will not be easy for Kenya until we deliberately discard some entrenched and inhibiting habits and attitudes, and gradually work on creating new values.

The culture of firm and fair enforcement of policies, laws, and regulations; and the corresponding willingness of its citizens to comply, seem to be what sets Rwanda apart from most other countries in the region.

Additionally, there is an apparent adherence to orderliness in the way things are done, which is visible in general cleanliness, effective traffic control, orderly town planning, and commitment to environmental protection. The value of cleanliness is something that strikes everyone who drives around Kigali .That the city has cleaners who devotedly sweep every bit of dust from highways and roads is in complete contrast to most cities in Africa, Nairobi included.

To have a population that is disciplined enough not to litter streets — and a city authority that devotes itself to collecting all garbage — is something that many cities in Africa can learn from Kigali.

The “right” of pedestrians to comfortably and safely travel in the city is well demonstrated by wide, paved walkways for pedestrians, as well as disciplined use of Zebra crossings. When driving to Kigali airport at 5am one morning, I was impressed to see joggers on walkways unperturbed by insecurity.

Lighting on highways and roads is impressive. I also noticed security officers patrolling the streets that early in the morning. My taxi driver told me that mugging and burglary were not a common feature.

The harmonious co-existence of passenger carrying motor-bikes with other vehicles in the city was a complete contrast with Kampala and many towns in Kenya. During the five days that I was in Kigali, I did not witness any accident involving a motorbike.

When I went to Bujumbura for the weekend, I witnessed two serious motor-bike accidents in two days. By law, and now by habit, Rwandan motor-bike riders and passengers wear helmets.

A young, busy, executive frequently used his mobile phone while driving me around Kigali. He was abruptly flagged down by a policeman and asked to surrender his driving license and was in return given a ticket for 10,000 Rwandan Francs (about Sh1,400).

He was required to pay the fine at the nearest revenue authority office, and use the receipt to reclaim his license from the police.
The young executive was, of course, embarrassed. But what was in contrast to the Kenyan experience is that there was no attempt by the driver or the police to negotiate a “deal”. It was all done in mutual respect and courtesy. When my companion regained his composure he explained that over weekends police mount many road blocks to nab drunken drivers.

According to him, an “alco-blow” reading of seven points and above earns one a fine of 75,000 Rwanda Francs (Sh10,750); car keys are confiscated and the driver is locked up in police custody to sober up. Kenya can learn a lot from Rwanda on how to effectively implement the new Amended Traffic Act.

A city of hills

Kigali is mainly a city of hills and valleys which are marshlands, streams, and rivers. These are mostly clean and free of human encroachment. Nairobi, which has its riversides turned into residences and slums, with its rivers carrying water that looks more like crude oil, is a good example of a city which has irretrievably failed to protect its wetlands and river systems.

Since I was last in Kigali, hundreds of new residential houses have come up on many of Kigali’s hills. Driving around, one notices the orderliness of the new estates. Roads and drainage systems are apparently developed by authorities before houses come up.

Marvelling at the quality of the houses’ architecture, a friend informed me that building craftsmen in Rwanda are quite serious with workmanship and that they do not steal building materials as commonly happens in Kenya.

I believe that Rwanda is one large “campus” where we can learn first-hand how differently to perform many government tasks. There is a lot in Rwanda that we can “copy and paste” into our socio-economic governance systems.

As for branding and defining values that will set this country apart, I think the next government should give us leadership that defines a new beginning. If Rwanda can do it, the rest of us in the region can also certainly do it. This will be an effective way of positively branding our country.

Wachira is the director, Petroleum focus Consultants. [email protected]