After sunset, when Kigali comes alive with all of the people returning home from work, there is always a group of women waiting in the shadows at the major intersection closest to my home. Standing outside the shops, they search for clients among the people and vehicles that fill the streets.
But before you jump to the wrong conclusion, I should clarify—these women have quite an innocent occupation. They sell fruit: pineapples with juice dripping down their sides, neatly tied bags of passion fruit and tree tomatoes, shiny green imported apples, golden-skinned finger bananas.
Except that, these days, these products are rarely visible at the intersection.
Linger in the crowd with me for a few minutes when the local police are around, and this is what you will see: with empty hands, these women run to each car that pulls up, asking if the occupants would like to buy their fruit. If they find a potential client, they dash back through a worn-looking door, tucked back in the shadows beside the more-established shops. A few moments later, they emerge again, running with fruit in hand, hoping to make their sale before the buyer loses interest and drives on. Along the way, these women often glance over their shoulders for the police.
This is not how it used to be. At one time, the side of the road at this intersection 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.
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.
In Rwanda, in other words, the streetside “lemonade stand” wouldn’t be considered an iconic and positive image of the youthful entrepreneur—it would be disorderly conduct, plain and simple. And yet the Rwandan government is in favor of youth entrepreneurship. Highly in favor, in fact. Rwanda is the site of one of the most extensive efforts to promote youth entrepreneurship in the world—since 2009, all secondary school students have been required to take a six-year course in entrepreneurship, with equal weight as their other principal academic subjects. And just like their other subjects, this course is examinable on the high-stakes national examinations that are popularly seen as determining access to university—and therefore to “good” jobs.
Youth entrepreneurship promotion in Rwanda, however, can sometimes seem like a contradiction in terms. Efforts toward self-reliance meet regulations that present significant barriers to small business start-ups. At the same time, rote learning in schools with an emphasis on examinations often seems incompatible with independent problem solving. Cultivating entrepreneurial creativity may, in other words, conflict in real ways with the simultaneous emphasis on introducing controls to regulate an orderly process of development, and with the widespread perception that school is more about acquiring credentials than capabilities.
And yet this delicate, tension-filled balance of creativity, credentials, and controls is in fact just what the Rwandan government hopes to achieve as it works to harness the population’s entrepreneurial initiative in service of national development. And Rwanda is not alone. A number of former developmental states with strong traditions of state regulation and strategic economic planning—such as China, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan—are pursuing goals essentially along the same lines. Like Rwanda, these states are all involved in attempts to transform their educational systems in order to promote qualities like creativity, independent problem solving, and entrepreneurial initiative while still retaining a strong state role in a regulated process of economic growth.
Since Rwanda has explicitly adopted Singapore as a role model, this similarity is no coincidence. In an age when these very states play such a key role in the world economy, a consideration of the economic and social ideals that are being produced in countries as distant as Rwanda and Singapore is both timely and globally relevant. In this book, I argue that Rwanda’s experience with entrepreneurship education provides insight into a “post-developmental” approach to governance that is rising on the world stage, promoting an ethos of regulated self-reliance and envisioning the ideal citizen as a sort of orderly entrepreneur.
The purpose of this study is neither to praise nor to critique the post-developmental style of governance. My objective is to bring together a set of ideas that will make it possible to discuss what is happening in such disparate parts of the world, countries that—while they will likely never share a single form of government—nonetheless may be developing a recognizably similar style of governance. I also seek to make available my observations of the underlying processes at work in the cultivation of the orderly entrepreneur in one particular context—among Rwanda’s youth studying in or near the country’s capital, Kigali. For young people, not surprisingly, have their own perspectives on the policies that are intended to shape them into orderly entrepreneurs, and it is their interpretations and reinterpretations that will help determine the eventual significance of these governmental strategies.
As a dual Rwandan-American citizen, business owner, friend and advocate for young people in my Kigali neighborhood, and as a mother, I also hope for the best possible future for Rwanda’s youth. May this book provide insight into their abilities, their aspirations, and the challenges they face, in order to inform continual refinement of the policies intended to support their efforts.