Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, is known for its notorious traffic jams. At times, a three kilometre journey can take more than an hour. One cannot walk despite the beautiful weather year around due to safety issues. However, the city is bustling like any South Asian city due to multiple economic activities. New constructions are popping up in many places and the emergence of a middle-class that can spend has a visible presence. However, a city like Nairobi can learn much on urban development from other cities in South Asia and Africa. Six-lane highways with nice dividers, for instance, might look good, but in terms of practicality, if there are no well-planned feeder roads, it will only lead to bigger traffic jams, as all the cars that whiz through these wide roads get stuck as they try to get in or out of feeder roads.
In Kathmandu, while the roads from Tinkune to Maitighar have been widened, our planners seem to have forgotten to add bridges and for the movement of vehicles to and from feeder roads. In Kigali, Rwanda, even though there are no six-lane highways, they have been able to build more two- and four-lane roads so that there are more than three or four options to get to a particular destination. This meticulous planning, based on a 50-year master plan, has been able to keep Kigali’s traffic manageable, despite a 10-fold increase in vehicles in the past four years. Furthermore, the discipline enforced by the law also helps. Once, in Kigali, a police officer was busy handing out speeding tickets of $40 and he told us that he had already finished three receipt books of 50 tickets each by mid-day and would probably hand out 200 tickets by the end of the day. He then told us that this would contribute to deterring speeding on highways. Enforcement of the law, thus, is important. In many parts of South Asia and Africa, red lights only seem to be a suggestion to stop; it is rarely enforced as law.
Rwanda is mostly identified with one of the worst genocides in the last decade of the 20th century. More than a million people died in 100 days between April and July of 1994. Yet, the country has chosen to look forward, rather than to look back. Today in Rwanda, no one’s identity card carries their ethnic identity of being either a Hutu or a Tutsi. Discussing identity can land you in prison. The country has progressed by putting behind its bitter ethnic divide. However, in neighbouring Burundi, politics based on identity and ethnicity is still popular and despite having more people and resources, Burundi lags behind in economic development and the people are poor, irrespective of ethnicity.
In Nepal, back in August, certain ethnic groups enforced a banda in eastern Nepal to protest against the unification of Nepal by Prithvi Narayan Shah around 240 years ago. That was the time when I tweeted about how Shakyas must have been chased out as Chhetri kings in Kapilvastu to become traders in Kathmandu. How do I protest against this? Neither the poor nor the rich get impacted by ethnic identities. Look at how inter-caste, inter-community and inter-nationality weddings take place. It takes place either when you are completely financially sound or financially unsound. For economic development to take place and poverty to be eradicated, towing the politics of ethnicity does not lead anyone anywhere. Development can be delivered by looking forward and not looking back. Rwanda’s transformation teaches lessons to many countries on how shunning the ethnicity-based identity discourse can help lift more people out of poverty.
Report after Report
One commonality I observed across the South-South nations is that institutions, whether they are established for business purposes or for activism, all function in the same manner. They are more about producing reports and recommendations, for which more reports have to be written. Wherever we see more signboards of INGOs and NGOs compared to businesses, we know there is a booming business of report writing there. Most of these countries compete to have the highest per capita reports in the world. In sectors where market forces welcome new entrants, there have been better results. So telecommunications, the internet, and other similar businesses have done well as there is no funded activism in those sectors. Meanwhile, health, education, irrigation, and agriculture suffer due to excessive dominance by donor agencies. Farmers running a small dairy suddenly do not know whether they are running a project for an NGO or doing business as no sooner do they begin to be successful, report writing agencies start to flood in. In these countries, the people who are the most educated and exposed to new things are busy writing more reports and no one is interested in implementing them. Writing reports is easy but implementing them is difficult. This report-writing mania has to end.
There are many areas where different regions in the South can share experiences with each other, through platforms that will promote the exchange of ideas and help to learn from each other. Last week, in this direction, the Nepal Economic Forum signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research in Rwanda. Now, it is time for delivery.