Lessons Bahrain Can Learn From Rwanda – in Business!

Kigali, the capital of Rwanda (source sendacow.org.uk)

Kigali, the capital of Rwanda (source sendacow.org.uk)


I recently read an article about Rwanda that blew my mind.

It’s been 20 years since the genocides took place, where nearly one million Rwandans were slaughtered during a three-month period.  As a self-proclaimed reconciliation activist, I’ve had a cursory interest in Rwanda and it’s development after the genocides for a while now.  I’ve heard about the Gacaca trials, a system where ordinary Rwandans judge their peers (with tens of thousands in jail, it was impossible for the regular court system to try all the perpetrators), and some other development here and there.

But when I read Management Today’s recent report, I began to appreciate the magnitude of the country’s development.  Rwanda is lead by President Paul Kagame, a controversial yet effective leader, who has managed to transform the country since he took office in 2003.

Here are some of the points that impressed me the most:

  • GDP per head has risen to almost $650, and just under 45% of the population is now below the poverty line, down from 60% in 2000.
  • The average growth rate for the economy in the last decade is 8.2% (yes, you read that correctly).
  • Rwanda has more female members of parliament than men.
  • Literacy has jumped to 71%, up from 48% in 1995.
  • It has an enviable and relatively advanced infrastructure.
  • Kagame is cracking down on corruption, and working with Transparency International.  I find this particularly fascinating considering the reputation of African leaders.
  • Rwanda now ranks 49th out of 177 in Transparency International’s corruption index.  Bahrain is ranked 57.  Fascinating that an African nation ravaged by civil war just 20 years ago is now ahead of us in corruption rankings.
  • Emma Haslett, the MT writer describes the country as “compulsively clean.”
  • The country seems united and all are working towards the president’s Vision 2020. In comparison, sadly Bahrain is very divided with no unified direction.
  • The report quotes a foreign businessman who praised how easy it is to do business in the country.  Rwanda ranks 32nd out of 189 in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index. In comparison, Bahrain ranks 46th.  Interestingly, Bahrain ranks 99th in starting a business in the same index.
  • The process of registering a business “from filling in the forms to walking away as the director of the business” takes 24 hours!  One of my businesses took 8 months to register in Bahrain, while another took almost a year.  To be fair, these are the exceptions, but from experience it rarely takes less than a month to register a company in Bahrain. You need many permits from different government institutions, each one of which can take from several days to several weeks.  We could learn a lesson or two from Rwanda.
  • Rwanda is setting itself up to be an African IT hub.  It actually has a tech incubator and sends it students abroad to earn master’s degrees in science and information technology.
  • Rwanda formed a $140m partnership with Korea Telecom to provide a 4G mobile phone network across 95% of the country.  In Bahrain you’d be lucky if you went a whole day without your mobile dropping to Edge.  In Bahrain the dreaded “E” seems to be the norm, with occasional jumps to 3G and 4G.

Of course Rwanda is by no means perfect, and the president does have his detractors. The report talks about the possibility of him changing the constitution to run for a third 7-year term.  But so far Kagame seems to be doing a good job. He’s the African version of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew.

I think Bahrain could learn a thing or two from Rwanda.

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