Two days ago, I walked into a Nyarutarama-based café and patisserie and saw a familiar face that I thought I’d probably never see again, save for on Facebook and Instagram. After a quick greeting I asked about her work and why she was back. In an excited voice, the young lady she told me that she had quit her well-paying job in a blue chip multinational to move to Rwanda permanently and start a business. Now if she was Rwandan or even Rwandan-descent I would have marveled at her giant cojones; I mean, it is a rare human being who leaves security and wealth to become an entrepreneur in an emerging market. What left me bamboozled was that she was, in fact, a blond, blue-eyed American.
Now don’t for even one second think that this column is about denouncing the influx of immigrants “coming to take our jobs”, as some western politicians rail whenever they are within earshot of a microphone, far from it. I am extremely pleased to see them because it tells me that the economy is moving in the right direction. Because of their drive and business-savvy, more locals get employment, taxes increase and services improve. It’s a win-win situation for all of us. Scratch that, it is ALMOST a win-win. The only losers, or rather non-participants, I see are the thousands of young Rwandans all over the world.
I find it mind-boggling that many in my generation choose to live and work in other countries. I mean, what is there not to like about living and working in Rwanda? Where else are their skills needed more? Not the US, that’s for sure. Or Canada. Or the UK. Or France. Only here in Rwanda are their skills actually essential; else where they are simply part of the cog. But in Rwanda they are the machine itself. Where else in the world could someone say that they became a consultant in the foreign affairs ministry, a part of the president’s communication team and editor and columnist in the national paper before they were even 33 years of age? Only back home.
Only an economy building itself up from the roots can give young people the space to flourish and even lead. Only in a country without an aging political class, hell-bent on perpetuating its privilege, can a young man or woman think that they will get anywhere close to real power and influence. Rwanda happily is all that.
But the trick is, you can’t take it for granted. Don’t think that just because you studied ‘abroad’ or worked in some organization in Ottawa this country owes you something. Very often when I chat with some individuals still living abroad they talk about how little government pays as compared to the McJobs they are currently in. Or worse, they are waiting to be wooed and begged to come home by a high ranking official. That, my friends, is simply a pipedream.
There is so much money to be made in this country that I find it shocking that there is even a Diaspora still. Think I’m lying? Okay, let me show you just how easy it is to make money in this country. Say someone works for a ‘measly’ $40,000 a year. If they went to a bank, they could easily obtain a personal loan of $10,000. With that money ( approximately Rwf 7million) they could then buy some property along one of Rwanda’s many lakes. Using that land as collateral and with a good business plan, they could obtain a local loan and then use that money to build a small resort cottage that they could rent out to families or groups that wanted to spend some time enjoying nature for a day or so.
I understand that it is tempting to get caught up in the hamster wheel that is life over there, but there is no reason why one should allow such a fate. There are too many opportunities right here at home to allow yourself to live a mediocre life over there. So, here is my advice to you; start writing those business plans, looking for money and planning your move back home. Start it today.