Rwanda teaches students that orderly innovation is the path to national progress.
Pineapples with juice dripping down their sides, neatly tied bags of passion fruit and tree tomatoes, shiny green imported apples, golden-skinned finger bananas—at one time, the intersection close to my Kigali home was crowded with women carrying their merchandise, in wide baskets atop their heads and in woven bags slung over each arm. Near them, you could always find a young man or two selling sweets and biscuits from a cardboard box. Needed to clean the dust off your shoes before venturing into town? Someone was always carrying around packages of tissues for 100 francs each.
Rwanda is the site of one of the most extensive efforts to promote youth entrepreneurship in the world.
Once a characteristic image of street life just about anywhere on the African continent, this sort of scene has almost disappeared in Rwanda. Street businesses have been tidied up and brought into the formal market, and they are required to have a fixed and formal place of business. Prepared foods must be properly labeled and inspected for consumer safety; motorcycle taxi drivers must belong to a cooperative, wear numbered uniforms, and provide helmets; all businesses must register, obtain a license, and become part of the tax system.
These are all sensible regulations, arguably modeled on the way things work in many developed economies. And in Rwanda, they are enforced with increasing effectiveness each year. This is Rwanda’s contemporary aesthetic of entrepreneurship, of national progress: clean streets, orderly businesses, everything registered and known—an orderly and regulated form of self-reliance from the broadest policies down to the tiniest details.