Landlord wakes you up at 5am with a sledgehammer through your wall, bang, bang, bang. You panic and hide under the bed, it must be the end of the world. One more bang and daylight comes through. It is your landlord poking through the hole. “Hello, good morning! I’m just making some repairs! I’m giving you an en suite bathroom and 3m more space!” You complain that he never told you. “Didn’t you check your Myspace or Yahoo messenger? I spelled it out clearly.” Doing the right thing in a wrong way is something Kigali City Council is accused of. It is often a criticism that they never consult enough, the alternatives routes are never provided, and no time is given to adjust to these changes. So we see businesses suffer for the “Big Picture” without time to adjust, there is massive outcry and then things die down. Policies can pass, but it is better when there is social consent and we invest fully in a new policy. One can force the bitter medicine down a child’s throat, or sweeten it. The latter is always better.
TLC is needed, talking, listening and caring. Quite often, people’s opinions are taken on board but no action is taken to alleviate the impacts. Until 100 years or so ago, there were no anesthetics or painkillers in the modern sense, operations were done without pain relief. Doctors never really thought to develop effective painkillers, the patients were told to be happy the doctors were saving their lives; a bit of pain was part of the deal. Later, doctors found that having a stable patient in an induced coma was better for the operation. Likewise, we never truly think of the costs that policies impose on people. There was no economic analysis of the impact of the Car-free Zone, they could have tallied up the worth of the businesses there and deduced the taxes paid there. They would have found it would cost millions of dollars in a country that is poor, Revenue service would be up in arms if they saw the hole in their taxes. That hole was plugged elsewhere but it was unnecessary pain, we don’t yet understand opportunity costs, every minute is money. Every business employs people, these people have families who rely on them, but the multiplier effect is never thought of.
Banning banning is the best thing Rwanda could do now, every day there are edicts banning this or that. We can’t even keep up with the bans, we just assume everything is banned. Banning the problem away, then exact a fine for an infringement, if symptoms persist then JAIL. First it was hawkers, then hookers, then hooligans, they go alphabetically. There are times when banning worked well, like with polythene and plastic bags, there was a viable biodegradable alternative in the manila paper bag. Banning plastic bags created a whole industry in brown paper bags, this was not the case in Uganda, so it failed because a lack of an alternative. There is no need to ban, we can nudge society in the right direction without the strong arm of government. Many of our social ills will require social solutions, the transition from poverty to development will put an enormous strain on the family. We will need social workers, not police, to deal with social issues. Problems like street kids will not go away if you take them away to an island, or hide them. Even if you teach them carpentry, or other skills, how can they get the emotional and social skills to stay out of crime? We need social workers and foster-carers.
Underlying issues need to be dealt with. Let’s look at Hawkers. They were told to form a cooperative, and then identify a place to have a hawkers’ market. Hawkers are by definition mobile, it is like trying to make nomads sedentary by giving them a nice patch of grass. Naturally they were put out of the way, never got clients and started moving. The underlying reason for hawking is that no shop in Kigali can offer VARIETY, QUALITY, AFFORDABILITY. The clothes shops are terrible, no choice, poor quality, and expensive. Your best chance is stumbling upon a hawker with something that takes your fancy. New clothes are overtaxed, shop-owners never band together to buy more and sell more, rents are too expensive, so hawkers are a godsend. The only thing that can get rid of hawkers is changing the way clothes are taxed, to make it viable to have megastores where every type of clothing is available. Variety, quality, affordability; is what makes hawkers necessary because the main market has failed to cater for our needs. The rewards are worth the risk of being jailed, the customers are willing to pay more for better quality. We can make clothes affordable, not secondhand clothes but brand new clothes. A shirt which costs $5 brand new in USA, is resold at $10 secondhand in our Caguwa markets. We need a trade deal that can supply brand new clothes at $3-10 like I see in UK. Banning is not the answer.