Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Nope, this is not a post about the U.S. Presidential campaigns. That kind of mudslinging is not acceptable in Rwanda. But a more productive mudslinging is, and much of the population is quite adept at it:

First you start with some mud. Don’t have any? Just think back to your childhood and you will surely remember the secret recipe: 3 parts dirt; 1 part water. 
No wrestling allowed.

Then start slinging onto the wattle frame walls that you have set up.

Do a little fine tuning and touch-up, and voilĂ , soon you have affordable housing. 

This is actually the home that we built for Gasongo, the cattle keeper, immediately next to Bella and Ferdinand, but my own home on the property was built the same way: Beautiful dirt floors; richly textured mud walls; sheet metal roof that amplifies the sound of falling rain like you cannot imagine. Pure comfort and joy.

Home, Sweet Home

But there is a problem with these homes that have sometimes been described as "melting mud huts." Relatively speaking, they are actually quite expensive for those who build and live in them, requiring very substantial family resources. In time, whether it be 5, or 10, or 15 years, the elements (translate: "rain") make them uninhabitable,... and substantial family resources must again be invested to build another habitable home "from scratch." Invariably, an elderly person lives out the final chapter in a marginal, very melted mud hut, and there is virtually no wealth transfer from the older generation to its younger progeny. This must be contrasted with the enormously impactful Western norm of parents paying for an appreciating durable home (which presumably requires 30 years or more, during which the home increases in both value and equity) and then leaving that major asset to their children, thereby enabling the children to "start" (or continue) wealth accumulation where the parents left off. I realize that I am imagining an ideal Western scenario to which there are all too many exceptions, but we like to think that each generation stands on the economic shoulders of the preceding generation. In a culture in which people reside in "melting mud huts," this ideal scenario of wealth accumulation over the generations is quite improbable and the creation of a broad based middle class is a daunting challenge.

The solution? Well first of all, it is multifaceted. And secondly, it is certainly not my solution, but rather the stated goals and long term  strategies of the Government of Rwanda (GoR), which strategies include:  issuing and protecting recorded land titles at the base of the pyramid, thus increasing a sense of security to heavily invest in the family homestead; teaching and training in durable construction techniques and materials; promoting financial literacy and "saving"; and encouraging a nascent home mortgage industry.

If you would like to get deeper into this mud, please click on a great blog post written by my friend, Russell Rainey, Founder and Director of Musanze Opportunity Center: