Suddenly a lot of Rwandan manufacturers are smiling all the way to the bank! They have a lot of local customers streaming to their products who used to go for Ugandan brands. Now that the Ugandan competition currently is out of the picture, local brands are filling the gap, big time!
The Speranza Waragis in addition to their established market segments now are enjoying the gap that was Ugandan Waragi’s. The Bralirwa and Skol beers are quenching thirsts that Nile Special, Bell and others used to. Inyange and Sulfo products are filling shop shelves where they used to compete with Ugandan-packed milk or Ugandan manufactured juices. It is the same with a whole range of goods from across the border.
Rwandan manufacturers are happily taking advantage of a gap that’s opened up since March this year when entry into Rwanda of heavy commercial trucks from Uganda was restricted. The reasons for that restriction are a topic for another day. Right now, am just happy for local firms.
In Rwanda, we tend to give little thought to such things as what impact does it have on fellow Rwandans if I choose to buy foreign instead of local? In other countries, it is a huge deal whose products one puts in the shopping basket. In economically advanced countries, even when one buys a foreign brand, say a beer, that brand will have a factory where people consume it. It will employ locals. It will use locally produced raw materials, and the like.
In Rwanda, we’ve never developed this mindset. Here you will consume something and never wonder in what way it benefits the local economy. Take a Mukwano manufactured cooking oil. It will be imported straight from Kampala, go to the supermarket shelves, and not a single Rwandan ingredient will be in it. There won’t be a single plant in the whole of the country to make a licensed Mukwano product.
They do everything in their Kampala factory and truck the goods to Rwanda.
Naturally, we’ve been at a disadvantage in relation to neighbours that enjoy bigger markets that translate into more efficient economies of scale. Uganda for one has long enjoyed a big favourable balance of trade with us. Ugandan economists earlier this year calculated that their country exported close to $182 million – in the half of a fiscal year, they estimated – to Rwanda.
The quantity of imports from us in the corresponding period added up to a positively puny $21 million.
Now smart Rwandan manufacturers are working fast to make use of the sudden windfall that’s come their way.
On the other hand as a consumer, I have learnt to ask myself: why didn’t I buy more of the local brands before? Yes, I did buy local, but still, I persisted with buying more foreign stuff even when equally good local products were right there on the shelves.
I question myself: am I, and so many other Rwandans hopelessly entrenched in mindsets that goods from elsewhere are better, merely because of that? How did we become like this? Is it that those of us that grew in other countries became attached to products from those countries? This possibly is the answer.
It comes from a mindset that we need to discard. Everything our neighbours can do, we can do equally well. We need to change and help put more money in the pockets of fellow Rwandans. This is not a jingoistic call to completely boycott imports. It is a simple observation, to emulate how elsewhere people favour that made by their countrymen and women before all else. That’s the only way national industries grow.
But mentalities are the hardest things to shake off!
I know people for instance that still are trapped in the mindset that there is “no excitement” in Kigali; that the better nightlife is to be found in Kampala! I laugh.
This topic is particularly relevant as we enter the festive season. None other a newspaper than The New York Times late last year was proclaiming the Rwandan capital’s night entertainment scene as “red hot” and, “buzzing with trendy bars and clubs” as it describes the trendiest spots in the city.
Why should it take foreigners from thousands of kilometres away to see that which is right under our noses? Surely what song would you better dance to than a hit by Bruce Melody, Meddy, Sintex, Oda Paccy or the others? I can’t think of better by East African counterparts.
There is a lot that’s great that fellow Rwandans make, right here home.
Let’s put it into our New Year’s resolutions to consume more from ours.
Shyaka Kanuma is a Kigali-based journalist