East Africa: Kenya & Rwanda – Our departing thoughts

As we depart from our trip, I asked my classmates to share the key differences they noticed between Kenya and Rwanda. One of the most interesting things about this trip was that we got to experience two countries within a region most of us had never been to before. Seeing these neighboring countries side-by-side in a one-week period gave us the opportunity to dispel stereotypes we had about Africa and begin to more deeply understand the nuances of the economic and political landscape in each country.


“The two countries are fundamentally different in terms of state interventionism: an authoritarian, welfare driven, Singapore-like government in Rwanda versus a laissez-faire, fully democratic, India-like government in Kenya. Both approaches are interesting and seem to fit well the size, societal structure and economic resources of each country.” -Gauthier Denoyelle

Kenya is a humble yet powerful country. Rwanda is an energetic country filled with resilient souls.” -Sachi Nakano

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CBS students John Plaisted, Jeannette Paulino, Lindy Gould, and Thaiza Alvim

Kenya is strong economically, with robust technological innovation. Rwanda, despite impressive efforts, still seems to be tackling daily problems.” -Chris Pacicco

“In Kenya, the atmosphere seemed entrepreneurial and creative. Rwandans, seemed to need a bit more of a script, whereas Kenyans were more comfortable dealing with surprises. I imagine it is a function of each country’s political climate.”-Stef Otterspoor

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A tour of Sorwathe tea factory in rural Rwanda

Rwanda had to rely on higher government involvement [than Kenya] to boost economic development, given all the challenges related to the rebuilding of the country after the 1994 genocide.” -Frederico Lopes

“Bottom-up (Kenya) vs. top-down (Rwanda) economy. Seeing the two countries, visiting some of their best companies and participating in their social life made me realize how different these two countries are. On the one side, Kenya is the “classic” developing economy—chaos everywhere, traffic, vibrant community, and full of entrepreneurs that are driving the change with little guidance from the government. On the other side, Rwanda, which had to be completely rebuilt after 1994, is a country where the innovation and economy are still government-led, with specific centralized strategies to bring the best corporations to set their headquarters there.” -Davide Pugliese

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Thaiza Alvim at the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi

Kenya’s entrepreneurial scene is vibrant and startups are flourishing without heavy government oversight; Rwanda is a slowly entering this space as well, but with a much more regulated and involved government.” -Jeannette Paulino

“Both countries are committed to development for their people, and each takes a different approach: Kenya is driven by entrepreneurship, and Rwanda by government support for economic transformation. It is interesting to see those approaches on the ground—you can truly feel it everywhere you look.” -John Plaisted

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Scene from the Nyamirambo neighborhood walking tour

Lindy Gould ’19 is an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School

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