Is Rwanda’s economy the envy of Sub-Sahara Africa?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 March 2013

rwanda economyWith a strong fiscal and monetary policy management and governance performance last year, the Rwandan government is showing that it is prepared to take difficult and painful decisions to get the country out of poverty.

The latest IMF figures show that poverty in Rwanda declined from about 57 percent in 2005/06 to below 45 percent in 2010/11. Income inequality also declined quite significantly.

Can Sierra Leone and Liberia learn from the experiences of the authorities in Rwanda in managing their economy?

Over a decade ago, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Liberia, Somalia and a few other African nations were described as ‘failed states’, after years of internal wars, which reaped apart their governance structures.

The ensuing breakdown in law and order, the destruction of civil infrastructures and the many years of political instability that followed, brought misery for millions of people, as poverty and the pace of economic decline accelerated.

But with the help of the international community – especially the UN, the World Bank and the IMF, green shoots of hope began to emerge. The economic and public sector reforms introduced in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda have started to pay dividends.

Today, none of these nations can be described as failed states. But the risk of returning to political instability and chaos is ever present. The gradual economic and social transformation that has taken place, is giving hope for a brighter future.

But what is obvious is that the pace of progress is different across each of these nations, and the green shoots of hope must be delicately nurtured, especially in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Poor governance, corruption, public sector mismanagement and the absence of a clear vision for sustainable industrial development are prolonging the pain of poverty and economic insecurity in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

According to the latest UNDP Index of Human Development 2013, Sierra Leone, once classed as third from the bottom of the list of poorest countries in the World, has now moved up the ladder to tenth position from the bottom.

Out of 187 countries, Sierra Leone is now ranked 177. This is encouraging and much more needs to be done.

The Report also classed Sierra Leone amongst the group of African nations that have made the most improvement in human development, since 2000, including; Angola, Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania.

And there ends the similarities.

rwanda economy1Take a cursory look at developments in Rwanda, it is easy to see that although Sierra Leone and Rwanda have been grouped together in the same class, in terms of levels of improvement, the two countries are poles apart with regards economic prosperity, social progress, and law and order.

Countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia must learn from Rwanda’s systems of state governance and public sector leadership. Rwanda’s economic progress must be the envy of Sub-Sahara African nations.

(Photo: Market in Rwanda)

On 28 November 2012, when the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded its assessment of Rwanda’s government performance in managing the country’s economy, this is what it said:

Rwanda has been an economic success story. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaged above 8 percent per year in the last decade; inflation has been subdued since 2009.

Foreign reserves have been kept at adequate levels; poverty based on the household living conditions survey declined from about 57 percent in 2005/06 to below 45 percent in 2010/11; and income inequality declined notably.

Macroeconomic developments have been generally favourable this year. The Rwandan economy grew by 8.6 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2012, driven by the construction and services sectors.

Headline inflation declined to 5.4 percent in October 2012, mainly in response to slowing import prices for food and petroleum products, while core inflation was down to 2.5 percent.

Technicians inspect beer bottles on a conveyor belt in a brewery in GisneyiExports of goods and services have remained strong in 2012, as rising mineral exports and markedly higher tea prices have more than offset lower prices for a number of traditional exports, including coffee.

Meanwhile, imports have increased rapidly, driven by higher imports of capital goods and materials for the construction sector.

Aid delays have resulted in lower official transfers. As a result, the current account deficit (including aid inflows) has widened and, for 2012, is estimated to reach 11.3 percent of GDP.

Fiscal consolidation continued in the July 2011-June 2012 fiscal year. The overall fiscal deficit (cash basis, after grants), was 0.7 percent of GDP lower than targeted, as a result of greater-than-projected revenue and lower spending.

The higher revenue reflected higher income tax revenue due to unexpectedly large clearance of arrears, as well as higher revenue from taxes on goods and services and international trade (boosted by higher imports).

On the spending side, higher-than-budgeted current spending, mainly on wages and salaries, was more than offset by under-execution of domestically-financed capital expenditures.

The monetary policy stance has been tightened since mid-2012, following an extended period of accommodation.

Against a background of rapid growth in broad money and credit to the private sector in the first half of the year, the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) raised its key repo rate (policy rate) in May 2012 by 50 basis points (to 7.5 percent) and increased the use of repo operations to mop up excess liquidity.

As of end-October, the exchange rate had depreciated by 3.7 percent since the beginning of the year.

The macroeconomic outlook remains generally favourable, provided delays in budget support disbursements are temporary.

rwanda4For the whole of 2012, real GDP growth was projected at about 7.7 percent, compared to the first half of the year, because of weaker agricultural output and lower-than-planned government spending, caused by delays in some budget support disbursements.

Growth is expected to be sustained at 7.6 percent in 2013, driven by an expansion in services and construction, and to stabilize at around 7 percent over the medium term.

Inflation is projected to continue its convergence toward the authorities’ medium-term target of 5 percent per year.

Risks to the outlook arise mainly from possible cutbacks in aid and a more challenging global environment.

Staff estimates indicate that a prolonged delay in the delivery of budget support could lower growth in 2013 by 1½ percentage points and possibly more, depending on the magnitude of second round effects.

So what is the IMF Executive Board’s assessment and recommendations?

Executive Directors of the IMF commended Rwanda’s strong economic performance in the last decade, including under the PSI-supported program.

rwanda3Sustained rapid economic growth, relatively subdued inflation, and a sharp decline in poverty and income inequality have been underpinned by sound and inclusive policies supported by the donor community.

Although the outlook remains favourable, it is subject to highly uncertain prospects for donor aid and the global environment, while the export base is narrow and poverty needs to be further reduced.

Directors therefore stressed the importance of maintaining sound economic management and the momentum of structural reform, and promoting regional stability.

Directors considered the overall stance of fiscal policy to be appropriate. They welcomed the steps taken to address delays in budget support, including identification of contingent spending cuts, and urged a cautious execution of fiscal policy to take into account available financing.

They underscored the importance of prioritizing spending and minimizing recourse to domestic bank financing.

Directors called for stepped-up efforts to strengthen the domestic revenue base and reduce the aid dependency.

They encouraged the authorities to reform tax policy and revenue administration, in line with the recommendations of a recent IMF technical assistance mission.

Directors welcomed the steps the authorities have taken to strengthen public financial management and debt management capacity.

They noted the authorities’ planned issuance of a euro bond before end 2012, and agreed that the bulk of the proceeds should be used to retire shorter term external debt to help preserve debt sustainability.

At the same time, Directors stressed the need to maximize the use of concessional financing.

Directors supported maintenance of a tight monetary stance to contain inflationary pressures. They welcomed the central bank’s adoption of a more flexible reserve money, targeting framework to improve liquidity management and the effectiveness of monetary policy.

They commended efforts to improve the functioning of the foreign exchange and money markets, and encouraged greater exchange rate flexibility to protect against external shocks.

Directors welcomed the authorities’ efforts to increase financial inclusion by strengthening financial intermediation in the rural areas.

They noted that the risks and challenges stemming from the rapid expansion of local savings and credit cooperatives and the growing exposure of banks to the real estate sector, call for strong financial sector regulation and supervision.

Directors encouraged the authorities to continue their efforts to improve the business environment, strengthen competitiveness, and broaden the economic base.

The ongoing work on an ambitious new economic development and poverty reduction strategy will be important in this regard. Directors emphasized that the strategy’s targets should be realistic and consistent with available financing.

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