Rwanda’s real-life “Apprentice” helps shape export policy

June 26, 2014

Rwanda’s real-life “Apprentice” helps shape export policy

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In the international TV reality show “The Apprentice,” ambitious contestants pit their wits against a business mogul to win a chance to work alongside him and make their fortune.
But in a real-life version, bright young Rwandan graduates are handpicked to advise and shape government policy to help turn one of Africa’s smallest countries into an export-driven Switzerland of Africa.
“We came here as fresh new graduates,” says Patrick Manirampa, beaming confidently in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM), where he works. “It was a golden opportunity.”
He is one of the eight graduates selected for a scheme known as the Young Professional Programme which seeks to educate, train and build the effectiveness not just of the individual but of the government institution to which he or she is attached.
These Young Professionals are currently integrated into three different institutions in Rwanda: two in MINICOM, four others work in the Ministry of East African Community (MINEAC) and two in the Private Sector Federation (PSF). The Programme is funded by TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) as part of the different funding agreements it has with these partner institutions. Patrick, and fellow Young Professional Jonas Munyurangabo, are enjoying the first formal jobs of their young lives and have helped shape trade policy at both the national level and at the negotiating table with large trade blocs including the East African Community (EAC), European Union (EU), Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the United States of America (USA). They also monitor trade flows in and out of Rwanda and work to design programmes to improve Rwanda’s trade balance.
“We’ve come to understand that there is a need to reinforce not just individuals but the institutions themselves,” says Mark Priestley, TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) Country Director. “Strengthening the private and government sectors is part of our approach to help Rwanda prepare itself for EAC integration and to take advantage of it.”
The approach aims to reinforce the widespread use of Technical Assistance (TA) with homegrown talent that will learn on the job, build a stronger, lasting institution and be in place long after the TA has moved on to the next consultancy.
“Before, experts used to come to the ministry and advise us and then leave. After they went, there was nothing left. But now they leave behind people to take over that work without having to hire anyone else. We are doing it,” says Jonas.
MINICOM is at the heart of Rwanda’s vision of taking advantage of EAC integration and the seamless trade it promises by turning the country into an export-led economy of high-quality goods in niche markets.
Patrick and Jonas’s work is overseen by a TMEA-funded international trade economist also working in MINICOM, who steers their work and mentors them in the background for the day when he leaves and they fly solo.
“We fear the day he (the TA) goes, but we know we will be okay. We have been learning on the job. It’s so inspiring, you learn without knowing that you are learning and find yourself doing things on your own,” Patrick says.
Among the many things they have learned in the first few months, is how to analyze trade data, conduct value chain analysis, and are now responsible for reporting Rwanda’s quarterly trade performance.
“We look at Rwanda’s exports and try to match them with potential new markets. We’ve been looking at potential markets in Nigeria, Qatar, Oman, and South Sudan,” Patrick says.
As a result of their work, Rwanda organized a Trade Mission in Turkey, a country with fast-growing links to Africa. “The minister read our report and appreciated it. He needs proof in statistics to direct our country’s approaches. We give those to him.” Jonas says.
“When we attended that meeting, we knew we had to fly with our own wings to defend the legitimate interests of our country,’ says Patrick. “And we did.”
Are they helping to build the Ministry of Trade and Industry? “Oh yes,” says Patrick. “And not just the unit where we work. I’m in the External Trade Department, but already the Internal Trade Department is asking me for help and guidance.”
Their monthly trade performance report is a must-read across Ministries. Their “action plan” to increase domestic production and exports landed on the Prime Minister’s desk. The Turkish Trade Mission was a direct result of their analysis.
“We definitely make an impact,” says Jonas. “If you look at the work we deliver you will see that we are very useful. Numbers on their own mean nothing without interpretation, and that’s what we have learned to do, and to provide.”

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