Thinking beyond the Agaciro Development Fund

President Kagame launched the Agaciro Fund

First of all, here is the bad news.  Yesterday,  The New Times ran a story ‘‘Franc weakens against US dollar’ where it reported that  the national currency ‘weakened against the dollar over the last couple of months as traders increased demand for the greenback to finance the country’s imports’. In the first half of this year, the Franc depreciated by 1.3 per cent with the dollar selling at Rwf612.43, compared to Rwf604.14 during the same period last year.  Presently, a dollar is being sold for Rwf 645 at most forex bureaus in Kigali.

The weakening of the franc was attributed to rising imports, which sparked high demand for the dollar. From between July 2011 and July 2012, imports increased by 66 per cent.  Rwanda’s export to import cover (balance of trade), excluding cross border trader, stood at 27.8 per cent as of August this year.

“It’s good”, said Amb. Claver Gatete, Governor of the Central. While the balance of trade deficit sounds scary  analysts I’ve talked to say that, in fact, bearing in mind the size of our economy, it not too bad Especially because almost 75 per cent of the goods consumed in Rwanda are imported.

But, here is the good news: the only way is up. However, we shouldn’t assume that progress will occur automatically. A recent Financial Times article quotes the World Bank, saying that foreign direct investment (FDI) is “extremely low”. Statistics reveal that FDI has contributed only 1.9 per cent of GDP, at $371m, last year (up from $109m the year before). The article goes on to say that unless there is double digit growth for the next couple of years, Rwanda will not be able to attain its middle-income country status by 2020.

Very many things need to change.

I’ve been watching the Agaciro Development Fund campaign with a lot of interest. With Rwf18 billion collected and pledged so far, the assertion that there isnt equity in the country should be tossed to the curb. While I understand that the Fund is ‘special’, it makes me wonder, if people can give away such vast sums of money for ‘patriotic’ reasons in order to spur national development, why shouldn’t they be in the position to do the same thing, albeit for less altruistic motives?

Every day, while driving to work, I pass by the incomplete Kigali Convention Centre.

The incomplete Kigali Convention Center is fast becoming an eyesore

Unless I’m mistaken, the reason this city landmark isnt open for business is because it’s funding dried up. Honestly, at the rate it’s being built, it shall be completed by the time I have grandkids. So, here are my suggestions.

The Agaciro Development Fund should morph into a bond, which citizens can then buy into. During the Second World War, various governments availed to their citizens aptly named ‘war bonds’. These bonds were able to generate capital for the government and make civilians feel involved in their national militaries. Exhortations to buy war bonds were accompanied with appeals to patriotism and conscience.  These war bonds tended to have a yield which was below market value and are often made available in a wide range of denominations to make them affordable to all citizens.

I believe that the ‘Agaciro Bond’ would work the same way. Plus, unlike the bonds that are presently being offered by the Central Bank, the Agaciro Bond would mature between ten and twenty years.

The proposed Bugesera airport is still lacking the funding it needs

I understand that inflation would have to remain extremely low for such a long-term bond to make sense, but I believe that if the monies the bond generated were spent well, spurring growth, inflation wouldn’t be a problem. Plus, if it was marketed well, people would understand that they didn’t buy Agaciro Bonds to make a huge profit, but rather to have a real stake in the completion of development projects. These could include financing aircraft for the national carrier, investing in the methane gas project, the Bugesera airport and of course, the Convention Center.

But of course, no nation has thrown off the yoke of underdevelopment without a strong private sector. The problem I see is that our private sector is too miniscule and underfunded to compete both nationally and regionally. And that is something I put firmly at the feet of the business owners themselves. Let us look at one of our biggest companies, Ameki Color.

There is more money in people’s pockets that they’ve let on. But it’s up to local firms and the government to convince us to loosen our pockets.

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