By David Himbara
The word “Banana Republic” is applied to two ways. First, Banana Republic is a clothing chain of stores that is part of Gap Inc. This group of which the Banana Republic is part is massive. In 2014, the group’s total assets were valued at USD 7.6 billion. The group’s net income in 2014 was USD 1.2 billion. That is not a bad banana republic at all — its net income was almost the same amount as Rwanda’s domestic revenue which was in 2014/2015 RWF 997.4 billion or USD 1.3 billion.
The second sense in which the term “banana republic” is applied means a country that is a major exporter of bananas. This used to be negative, but not any more. This is a good business.
Banana business is massive — Banana exports totaled US$11 billion in 2015.
Rwanda does not fit into either category of “Banana Republic.” Rwanda is neither in fashion business as the Banana Republic of the Gap Inc., nor is it an exporter of bananas which is an enormous industry valued at USD 11 billion a year.
Rwanda is in fact a huge importer of food including bananas — not an exporter of food.
Rwanda’s food import bill is larger than its imports of capital goods, and is double the import bill of energy products, as indicated in the above table. Out of USD 2.3 billion Rwanda spent on imports in 2015, nearly USD 700 million bought food — including bananas from Uganda. This is insane.
Did I hear that one of the reasons General Frank Rusagara was imprisoned was that he called Rwanda a Banana Republic? If Frank said it, he was mistaken. Rwanda is far from a Banana Republic — such a status does not happen by accident, it is earned.