Monday, August 25, 2008

5th night in Kigali Monday the 18th of August

Monday morning, On the Agenda: School for Finance and Banking in Kigali and Ministry of Finance.

Eva began teaching yesterday. Her first class was scheduled in the morning in a large lecture hall for 438 undergraduate business students. Unfortunately, the students came to class expecting an exam. The student representative had to break the news that there would be a guest lecture instead, with the exam postponed for a week. Students were understandably furious. Half or more walked out. The instructor failed even to introduce Eva by name. Paul came in a bit later to observe and missed the initial events. What he saw was a typical undergraduate group, with most of those sitting near the front focused on what was being said while most of those sitting further back could be found reading a book or chatting with a friend or wearing iPod ear buds (and presumably listening to music).

The language skills varied a lot. Few could have a conversation; most did not understand what the questions were that I posed or what we were talking about. However 50% of the students were present and interested. When Eva showed them the picture of Stanford University they all jumped and 280 of them gave her all their attention. Stanford, California! Wow! Afterward 50 students gathered around the teacher and wanted to chat about this and that and about Stanford University. These guys are hungry and eager to get ahead.

At lunch, we met Andre and his wife Mathilde, Andrew and David at Novotel, where expats and ministry and NGO people commonly meet. We were trying to get a program for Paul. Getting a program in Rwanda, it seems, happens when you are in the country and not before. And plans are constantly changed and revised up to the very last minute. Someone from the Blair consulting group revamping government work claimed that this could be explained by people’s lack of vision and inability to set their won priorities. When a superior – particularly a minister – says that something should be done, subordinates put everything else on hold to do it immediately.

In the afternoon, w
e visited the head of the MBA program, Mr. Satya Murty, an Indian from Southern India and a professor of management, in his office. While there, the head of the marketing department, a woman who had an MBA degree from UC San Diego popped by to talk to us. She recounted the challenges of teaching classes and grading with 400+ students, the resistance of students to unscheduled extra activities, and the difficult of teaching students to think for themselves when their early schooling was based on rote memorization. She explained how a poorly planned guest lecture program could disrupt an already overburdened system.

In the afternoon, Monday, we were taken to the chief economic advisor at the Ministry of finance, Dr Jean Francois Ruhashyankiko both a Belgian and Rwandan citizen. He has a PhD from Harvard and had Elhanan Helpman as one of his advisors. He told us about the economy, that 57% of the people lived in poverty and 37% in extreme poverty (less than 1800 calories per day). The national budget is 600 billion RFR, or about US$1.2 billion. The revenues come about 50 % from taxes and another 50% from outside donors. The main taxes are VAT, PAYE (personal income tax) and a small corporate tax. Trade taxes are relatively high, Jean Francois admitted, largely because they are easiest to collect, but these will become lower due to the emergence of the East African Market.

Rwanda has a nearly balanced budget, unlike Kenya and Uganda. Rwanda has just opened their stock market. They hope that companies might cross list their companies. Paul asked, where the capital come from. It seems there is much more cash coming into Rwanda than official figures show. It is thought to come in the form of cash brought on flights into the country and to be present even in poor areas of the country. Savers are believed to horde their capital because there is no good mediator to match capital owners with projects. With a new government sponsored equity capital type of set up, they hope investors will be more willing to invest in entrepreneurial projects. (In a follow-up discussion, Paul expressed skepticism, emphasizing the role of scale in auctions and exchanges and suggesting that a Rwandan market would be far too small to thrive.)

The growth rate of Rwanda forecast for this year is around 8.5%, due in large part to non-repeatable agricultural improvements. Jean Francois also told us that in contrast to many other developing countries, Rwanda has been hit less hard by the fuel and food price hike. They are exporting tea and coffee among other products and have benefitted from the increase in international agricultural products.

Later on that afternoon Eva went off teaching her evening classes around 5.30. This group was the part-time evening group. I asked how many of them worked during the day. Very few did and many of the women were home taking care of children and household. Did they think they would get a job after graduation? Few thought so. Where would they prefer to work, in the private sector or in the government? Many said they wanted a secure salary and since working in the small private sector meant fluctuations in salary, they were going for security rather than possible wealth, although they agreed that wealth does generate status in Rwanda.

These students as well as the morning students filled in the Distributive Justice Vignette study the last 30 minutes of class. It was easier to explain to these students how to fill it out than to the morning students. In the back of the class the head of the HR department sat and listened.

8PM we were taken out by David, Andrew, and Andre to Flamingo – their favorite Chinese restaurant. But after a very long trip on very bumpy roads we found out that the restaurant was closed. So we went to a Greek restaurant that also was closed because by then it was already 9ish. Finally we had our dinner at a french/thai/african place run by French speaking patron around 10.30. We fell into our beds and slept like clubbed seals.

One thing is clear, we are hosted by a very nice, energetic group of young intelligent people although mostly men for some reason!

Monday was over.