Humility and openness to learning will spur Uganda’s development

What you need to know:

  • Humility is key to progress. Even the bible in Luke 14:7-11 says that “Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In 1998, straight out of university, through contacts, I was able to secure employment in Rwanda. I got a job with an organisation called Rwandatel, which is the country’s National telecom company. At the time, skilled labour was short in Rwanda so even foreigners were able to get jobs there.

At the time, Rwanda was just recovering from one of the world’s worst genocides that saw over half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed. The Rwandan Patriotic Front under the able leadership of President Paul Kagame had just taken the reins of power and had to start from zero to rebuild the ravaged nation of Rwanda. The whole country was in ruins. Banks had been looted clean, buildings bombed to the ground, infrastructure damaged etc.

It was a difficult time for Rwanda but they were determined to rebuild their nation. Rwandans came in to help from all parts of the world. President Kagame who was then the Vice President but who more or less was pulling the strings rallied all Rwandans in the noble cause of rebuilding the nation.

One notable and remarkable thing he did and which he must be given credit for was that he took a humble position and opened himself up to learning from other nations.

I recall that he was always lecturing Rwandans to be as industrious as Ugandans. Yes, Ugandans have that reputation. At the time, the Rwandans with the exception of those from Uganda, took life a little easier, the most probable factor being the French influence. At the time, Rwandan business owners used to close shop at lunch time to go for a siesta just like the French do. He put an immediate stop to this.

Mr Kagame did not stop at just pushing his countrymen to be more industrious, he also encouraged and sponsored study trips by his government officials to come to Uganda to study Uganda’s development strategies like Bonna Bagagawale and Entadikwa.

The Rwandans even went ahead to buy livestock from Uganda which they later distributed to their citizens under the “one cow policy.” They came in aggressively and were buying all the best cows from Western Uganda. So as of today, they probably have better cow breeds than Uganda.

Why am I narrating all this? To give a context to why Rwanda seems to be progressing so fast even getting more recognition than Uganda, the country that they spent a lot of time studying.

The key word is “humility.” The Rwandans saw themselves as underdogs and invested time in learning from Uganda and even refining what they learnt. They were able to not only adopt good development models but they also were able to avoid the pitfalls that undermined Uganda’s  otherwise good development strategies. One such pitfall is corruption.

Today while Uganda is grappling with high levels of corruption, Rwanda has succeeded in dealing with it through its zero-tolerance policy to corruption. The price to pay for corruption in Rwanda is high and a great deterrent.

And it is not only Uganda, that Rwanda spent time learning from. It is no secret that Rwanda also spent a lot of time studying the Singapore development strategy. The tough handedness that Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew used has been copied by President Paul Kagame.

Much as it may be a hard pill to swallow, Uganda as a nation must realize that it is high time we also humbled ourselves and started to learn from some of our neighbors, and yes even learn from our “young brothers,” the Rwandans. We must accept that we are struggling in many areas and we have to become students again.

For example, we can learn from the Rwandans how they have dealt successfully with corruption, or how they are able to maintain a no pothole road network, how they are able to keep their city clean or how they have reduced crime.

Humility is key to progress. Even the bible in Luke 14:7-11 says that “Those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Let us humble ourselves again and learn and we will be exalted.

Edward Julian Makobore,  Afronomist and Farmer