#Re-ImagineRural (Part 2)

#Re-ImagineRural (Part 2)

__Do you see what I see? An incredible business… Wow!

When President Paul Kagame asked me to participate in a ceremony to name 23 baby gorillas a few days ago, I thought it was cool, and it earned some bragging rights for my youngest daughter amongst her animal-loving schoolmates…”My dad went to name a baby gorilla!”

I was grateful for the honor, and fully appreciated its importance from a conservation point of view. I did not realize at the time, however, that it would lead to one of the most profound entrepreneurial discoveries I have ever observed.

As we set off, I was initially a little disappointed to learn that I would not actually get to see any of the baby gorillas. I even wondered if it was such a smart idea to attend a ceremony whilst others discussed serious agriculture issues.

As our helicopter landed near the foothills of Volcano National Park which is home to the Silverback Mountain Gorillas, I realized we were entering a small town with beautiful homes and neat homesteads. I was surprised by the size and relative prosperity of the community and remarked about it to one of my colleagues.

It certainly looked more prosperous than communities around any game reserve I have ever seen in Africa, including Victoria Falls and Livingstone. This really raised my curiosity.

As we disembarked, I realized that the entire community appeared to be walking in one direction by their thousands, waving and singing.

“Where are they going?” we asked.

“To Kwita Izina. That is what we call the gorilla-naming ceremony,” one of the hostesses explained. “We expect 60,000 people.”

“For the naming of a baby animal?!” I exclaimed, totally shocked.

“Is there nothing else they can be doing?” I asked. “Surely they have seen it before.”

It was clear they were excited and happy.

“Sir, the people of this community know every one of the gorillas in that forest. And when a baby is born, they celebrate like it’s a human child “

As our vehicles drew through the excited crowds, something else caught my eye. There were also hundreds of foreign tourists of different nationalities and races, including westerners and Chinese.

“What is that the children are singing to the tourists?” I asked.

“Welcome to Rwanda. Thank you for visiting Rwanda!” one hostess explained.

“For these children and their parents, those tourists represent school fees and income for their community,” another added.

“These baby gorillas are at the center of the economy of this region. They are the source of income. For these people each of these baby gorillas is worth more than 1000 cows.”


Then I added: “Wow! I get it!”

Then another of the many hostesses and guides who joined us on the trip added something which blew my mind:

“The government distributes 10% of the revenue earned from the tourists who come to see the gorillas directly to the communities around the park.”

“Do you know how much they got last year?” I asked.

“Between two to 10 million US dollars.”

“Wow!” again.

“Yes, they get the money, and it is used to build things like schools, clinics, homes, roads and sanitation. The hotels are also built to service our gorilla industry.”


She continued to explain: “These baby gorillas that you’re going to help name bring big money into the community!”

“I imagine there is no poaching?” I asked.

“No, sir. This community seriously guards and defends the gorillas and their habitat.”

Finally, I whispered: “If I could take my gorilla with me, I wouldn’t have to work again.”

“But you have more animals than we do, where you come from. Surely you can do the same with your lions and rhinos?” she asked.

By the time the minister responsible for the development of the tourist sector made her speech, it was like attending a Warren Buffett shareholders’ meeting. She proudly reported the state of the “gorilla-driven” business, declaring that Rwanda had earned over $400m from tourism.

There was thunderous applause.

And when she said they want to double it to $800m, the “shareholders” of this remarkable venture cheered even louder. These were so-called ordinary people who understood the value that comes from conserving their environment and its wildlife.

#Entrepreneurship is a mindset! We’ve talked about this time and again.

This is entrepreneurship by a government that implemented an inclusive business model to protect an endangered animal.

As I flew back the capital, Kigali, I thought about my baby gorilla and his family. He is safe because the people will protect him.

“What a wonderful gift from God,” I thought to myself. “All we have to do is protect them, and stay out of their way. They are like a beautiful annuity business that gives ever-increasing returns year in and year out.”

I tried to think of a better business model, and I could not!

There is no African country which does not have a similar gift, be it a rare animal or even a location.

In 2015, tourism in Africa was worth about US$39.2bn. It could be worth 25x that amount!

__All we have to do is protect our animals and our environment. Then tourists will come and spend good money having a great time. If we look after these animals, we can earn more money than we make from almost any other industry just now!

“Visit Africa!”

In 2016, global international tourism revenues were about US$1.34tn! But Africa’s share (using 2015 AfDB figure of US$39.2bn) is a miniscule 2.93% of that.

As a point of comparison, France earned US$51.21bn (2017) and Greece US$16.88bn (2017).

It makes me want to cry…

But this is not a time for self-pity or bitter criticism. It’s not my way. We need “fast follower” entrepreneurial nations.

What stops other African countries from adopting the Rwanda model?

“Visit Africa!”

Yeah, on this trip I think I discovered the most profitable business in Africa! You can make money from it all year round, for years. But we cannot do it alone.

We need an inclusive partnership with the communities that live near these animals and in these spectacular locations. Let’s give them at least a 10% share and show them the benefits.

As I wrote in Part 1, bringing innovative ideas to rural areas is one of the key frontiers of African entrepreneurship. Do you see what I see?

To be continued. . .


Author:Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.

11 Replies to “#Re-ImagineRural (Part 2)”

  1. Afterthought 1.
    I urge governments in Africa to immediately give 10% revenue earned from natural resources directly to the communities in which they are found. They can set up small “Community Sovereign Wealth Funds” to manage these funds.

  2. Afterthought 3.
    I could have chosen to write about the importance of conservation or the environment, but I chose not to, because this is a platform for entrepreneurship. Our wildlife is a huge industry. We are only scratching the surface at the moment. Earning foreign exchange is a huge issue for African economies.

    If we simply ensure that we look after lions, cheetahs, gorillas, rhinos and elephants (and all the other special African creatures, great and small) we can earn huge money from them.

  3. Afterthought 5.
    The hospitality industry is huge and exciting. It has so many different types of opportunities. If you are in this sector, please tell me what you are doing. Market yourself in one paragraph.

    This week, for example, during the AGRF conference, every hotel in Rwanda’s capital was full as 3,000 delegates arrived to discuss progress in African agriculture. As we have all learnt to expect from Rwanda, it was a spectacular conference, attended by presidents, former presidents, ministers, donors, banks, policymakers, farmers, civil society and technology groups in agriculture.

  4. Afterthought 6.
    When we are not “wired” to see things through the economic and entrepreneurship lens, it is easy to miss real opportunities to advance our countries. Tourism is like a blank cheque from G-d. It is a hard currency earner which can help us pay for medicines, machinery, and raw materials for other industries.

    The true capital has been made for you, and the operating cost is peace and a smile of welcome.

  5. Afterthought:
    As an entrepreneur I would like you to do an exercise to evaluate your country’s key tourism assets.
    You should do this exercise even if you are not in this sector.
    It is important that you evaluate what you have as an “entrepreneur”, and not as a social or political commentator.
    I know you love your country, but this is not the purpose of this exercise.
    If I gave you a $1m to invest [on my behalf] in this sector where would you put it, and what return could I expect in dollars?
    Don’t rush your reply, because you will not be taken seriously!

  6. Reflection:
    Many years ago I was at a business conference in Germany, when I found myself speaking casually to one of the most brilliant industrialists of his generation: Juergen Schrempp, who ran Mercedes Benz.
    On realizing that he had travelled in Africa, I asked him what was the most interesting [business] opportunity he had seen:
    “Lake Malawi”, he replied without hesitation, before adding “what an amazing asset. They should be earning hundred billion a year from it already. It has nothing to do with any minerals.”

    He said it with such passion, and then left.
    I was deeply troubled in my spirit, as I wondered what he had seen.

    What he said has always come to me, when I see a natural wonder in Africa:
    I once flew in an aero plane at low altitude following the course of the Congo River. I had my hand held over my mouth all the way, totally stunned by what I was seeing—it’s majestic beauty!
    “What an opportunity! Oh my goodness!” I kept shouting in wonder:
    “Imagine what a generation of entrepreneurial leaders will one day do with this…”
    #Perhaps you are the one?
    I will know by the way you comment… if you will comment by complaining about the bad leaders you think exist, then it is not you!

  7. Rakel Mwix,

    You are a great inspiration and learning alot from you.When I was told that my daughter would have an entrepreneurship tour at the Liquid telecom in Kenya so many things went through my mind. I didn’t know what it would entail. I didn’t have an idea of how much impact it’d have on her life. It’s now four months down the line and trust me her life has had a drastic change. Suddenly she became business oriented. She began to think about how she would transform her ideas into income generating projects that would not only be an advantage to me but also to her and the society. After the tour I went on a medical camp with her and since she doesn’t know any clinical stuff I decided to let her help in the kitchen. She became a ‘chef ‘ . People got to enjoy a good meal after a long day and she got a good pay out of it which she helped in paying her french language lesson fees. My business of hand woven mats has been thriving because she has learnt different patterns and also the man supplying my threads decided to give me a discount.My customers have been enjoying good prices which has even brought more customers. She bought herself a laptop for school using the mats’ money. When she joined campus she had to think of a way to still make income because she calls herself an entrepreneur. So she decided to start selling clothes at an affordable price because people tend to exploit students. So far her business is doing really good and her customers are satisfied and so am happy because she is doing well. She created a whatsapp group where she informs her customers when she has new stuff. I don’t think she would have achieved all this on her own. The tour to Liquid Telecom gave her the psyche and motivation. It changed her mindset completely. This week she will start selling popcorns and still thinking about many other things. And I know that her businesses will thrive because with hard work, determination and a positive attitude all is possible. Thank you so much Dr Masiyiwa for that opportunity that helped her realize that there’s so much she could do and get a blessing out of it. Thank you and God bless you.

    My reply,
    It also inspired me. It really is a beautiful story.
    She is a natural entrepreneur and if she manages to acquire skills in her area of passion, she will go on to become one of the greatest entrepreneurs in Africa.

  8. Dear Strive, greetings!!! I have noticed that all of our problems have their roots in the spirit realm. We started prayers every month. Many pof thosewho had problems on life have their lives changed!! From October, we are holding these prayers every Friday!!!

    Than you do much, you are an inspiration to me and the members.

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