It had been a long day at work and clearly the participants, who were all aid workers, drinking Primus were hungry and waiting for the Ugali to arrive. The debate was on sustainability and growth, with all the efforts on behalf of the government in improving the business situation- where was this country headed in the long run?
The cliché of emerging markets and growing inequality is not false, at least empirically, but the discussion was not about the empirics of development. As most alcohol fuelled discussions take the route of personal introspection, this trio of a Chinese origin Canadian, an Ethiopian and a Bangladeshi origin Indian set out to put the aid industry on trial with respect to its functioning in Rwanda.
The well-known criticism of international aid has been that it robs the nations of sustainable growth through short term solutions till the aid amount runs out or the generous hand outs (read loans) for building infrastructure that bleeds the nation’s exchequers. This criticism rules out the role of the state.The modern international aid is aimed at enabling the state, which in most cases operates under limited resources. The goal is to help the state in its functions and not stepping in to carry out its functions.
This brought the focus back to three of us, we are the enablers, championing free markets, fair business, growth and ‘distribution’. The Ethiopian boy was methodical and a bit traditional. With the Ugali taking some time to reach our table and the chicken wings flying off our plates, he said the ‘impact’ of all this effort should be on poverty and how free markets can eradicate it.
The Canadian Chinese was just finishing off his third Primus and putting down his glass with a bang said that we should be careful, because impact on poverty has been historically used as a successful strategy for expansions of religions and free markets could be the new religion of the 21st century, and the converts are taught trickle down like resurrection.
The Bangladeshi origin Indian was looking for rice in the menu and was not very happy with the choices, he thought that Rwanda is an example of how businesses can expand territories and win over countries, the corporate glass buildings are the new iron thrones. In theory, if the country adopts and fosters the business and very importantly there is more entrepreneurship from within the country as opposed to the helicoptered model, the country might see self-sustenance in a few decades.
The Ugali or the maize porridge had arrived along with the baked fish and there was silence for some time when the Ethiopian boy innocently asked what the enablers do when the country had reached its goal of self-sustenance and home grown entrepreneurship?
To that we ordered another round of Primus.