Business

Last updated: 26 march, 2010 - 16:59 GMT

Striving for the new Millennium

About this programme by Global Business presenter Peter Day

Four weeks' programmes from Rwanda have taught me quite a lot about Africa. It is a very ambitious country, pinning great hopes on new fibre optic connectivity and the internet to enable businesses, government and society to jump into the middle of the 21st century and out of poverty.

Computer power may help to bring middle income status to a poor country by 2020, the aim of Paul Kagame's strong-willed government. But it is too easy to get carried away and to confuse government ambition with what has already been done. (This happens in many places where international reporters zoom in and out of the country on a visit. India is a strong example of a country whose huge ambitions are often reported as though they had already been delivered. Correspondents intoxicated with the high technology explosion of activity in some cities seem to be able to forget about the millions of Indians without electricity or running water.)

Rwanda has interesting foreign friends in high places, reflecting perhaps the guilt that western nations feel for the lack of international intervention to stop the infamous Rwandan genocide of 16 years ago.

So the final programme in this Rwanda series goes out on the road with an American public health professor from Columbia University to look at the work he is doing in poor villages. Josh Ruxin lives in Rwanda with his family and he has founded two NGOs: Rwanda Works and Access Rwanda.

Staple

Ruxin is also part of the Millennium Villages project in Rwanda, trying to demonstrate that the ambitious aims of the United Nations Millennium Goals can be translated into rapid improvements on the ground in poor places.

A day out with Josh Ruxin showed me how he thinks practical business principles ought to inform the poverty relief.

I saw a impressive new centre that will bring nearby new health care to people who have had to walk kilometres for it.

One of the keys to this is managing the site in a businesslike way, turning a new building into a sustainable resource.

A simple thing like a co-operative plant to produce cassava flour from a staple local crop can bring new wealth to a poor region, encouraging the growth of better crops by adding value to what the farmer grows.

A visitor is right to come back from Rwanda fascinated by the potential of a country so keen on linking itself up to the World Wide Web.

But lifting rural people out of poverty needs hard, practical on the ground work to build new facilities and new institutions; market forces may help them to remain sustainable.

Previous updates - November

October

September

  • The media is going through a 'double-mangle' says Peter Day.

  • In San Diego, Peter Day investigates the company that produces WD40's secret formula.

  • Peter Day looks back on a year of the credit crunch with Simon Johnson, former chief economist for the IMF.

  • Peter Day finds out from the experts how to start a bank.

  • Peter Day looks at the great expectations in landlocked Bolivia and its part in the auto revolution.

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