By David Himbara
On October 6, 2023, General Paul Kagame looked Reed Hastings straight in the face and sheepishly thanked the American billionaire for his philanthropic donations to Rwanda. Kagame explained that Hastings’ donations will enable Rwandans to finally afford buy a smartphone for 20 American dollars. There was a moment of silence with Kagame looking shamefaced – he had just exposed his own boldfaced lie of industrializing Rwanda and ending the dependency on foreign philanthropic donations.
For the past decade, he proclaimed that his Made-In-Rwanda ambition of building textiles, computers, smartphones, and automobiles was mission accomplished. So confident was Kagame that he provoked a fierce trade war with the United States in 2018. That is when Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania announced a ban on used clothing and footwear exports from the US imports.
On realizing that they would lose African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which provides African countries with duty-free access to the U.S. market for over 1,800 products, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda reversed their decision to ensure that their duty-free privileges in the US remained intact. Kagame would have none of this stating that he will proceed with the ban on used clothes despite the US threats to respond in kind by suspending Rwanda’s AGOA benefits.
It comes as no surprise that the proclamation of building textile, computer, automobile and smartphone industries was a big lie. Full stop. 🛑 Let us now see how Kagame got caught in his own trap, beginning with his begging bowl for philanthropic donations from the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Netflix. Here are Kagame’s own words delivered on October 16, 2023:
“Many thanks to philanthropic support from Reed Hastings, the Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Netflix, Rwandans will be able to acquire a new smartphone for under 20 US dollars.”
The General conveniently ignored his previous boasts about Rwanda’s rapid industrialization. When launching the Mara Phone plant in Rwanda in 2019, Kagame boasted that this was a major landmark in transforming Rwanda into a high-tech Made-in-Rwanda industrial powerhouse. This is how he put it:
“Mara Phones factory is the first of its kind in our continent. The first smartphones ever to be made in Rwanda have already rolled off the assembly line. The Mara Phone joins a growing list of high-quality products that are made in our country. Producing smartphones is not a simple matter. Around one thousand individual components are involved. The Mara Phones plant is therefore a complex manufacturing operation, requiring significant technical skills and expertise. It is another milestone on our journey to high-tech, “made-in-Rwanda” industry…The investment by Mara Phones Group is therefore in perfect harmony with our focus on science and technology as the key drivers of our economic transformation.”
A year earlier when launching what was supposed to be a VW automobile assembly, Kagame boasted:
“Some might have it difficult to believe that German cars could be built in Rwanda. Yet today the first vehicles are rolling off the assembly lines…The VW facility undoubtedly represents a new chapter in Rwanda’s economic transformation…Africa does not need to be a dumping ground for second-hand cars, or second-hand anything…Africa and Rwanda deserve better and this is one way of showing we can afford it.”
In 2017, Kagame announced that Positivo, a Brazilian company would manufacture in Rwanda 60,000 units per month of computers, cellphones and TV sets. The government was to buy most and distribute them across Rwanda to build “Smart Classrooms.” And back in 2011, Kagame announcedthat he would soon launch a laptop assembly plant to serve the whole of Africa, thereby making Rwanda a global deployment model.
None of these delusions ever materialized. Perhaps the most embarrassing self-deceptions are the automobile and smartphone manufacturing. There was never a VW plant to make cars in Rwanda. The current Chief Executive Officer of Volkswagen Rwanda is Serge Kamuhinda who previously worked in General Paul Kagame’s office.
VW Rwanda is a ride-hailing and ride-sharing popularized by Uber, Lyft, Via, and Chariot, an app-based solution offering self-driving or chauffeur-driven services.
Meanwhile, the Made-in-Rwanda Mara smartphone venture never left the drawing board. Full stop.🛑
Three years after Kagame boasted of the first Made-in-Africa and Made-in-Rwanda smartphones, the Managing Director of Rwanda Mara Phones, Eddy Sebera, exposed the big lie this way:
“We finished the pilot phase, and now we are getting ready for carrying out what we call large-scale production. We will inform you when we are ready for that.”
Liars eventually get caught, and deservedly so. As for Kagame’s industrialization, it is back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, Rwanda is open for foreign donations. Stay tuned.