The war against COVID- 19 is far from over but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We will eventually get rid of the virus but some things will never be the same. Our consumer behavior and business models will inevitably undergo a series of modifications to keep up with situations dictated by the unfolding circumstances.
It’s almost a month since the lockdown was instituted in Rwanda and an extension is looming. At some point, restrictions will be relaxed but opening up the economy will be a gradual process. When temporarily closed businesses open their doors again, we will notice something new about their modus operandi.
Individual countries are taking measures to slow down the spread of the highly contagious disease with varying degrees of effectiveness. Some countries will flatten the curve and eventually contain the virus before curves peak in other countries. The timeline of this process depends on their response, compliance and enforcement, among other things.
The restoration of normalcy will not be seen until the lethal virus is mitigated at a global level and precautionary measures are taken to counter a possible fresh wave of infections. Some states may be steps ahead but as the saying goes, we are as strong as the weakest link. The need to put our differences aside and coordinate our efforts is a lesson we are about to learn the hard way.
Rwandan authorities acted swiftly and grabbed the bull by the horns before the situation got out of hand. As it is the case elsewhere, difficult decisions were made.
Our passenger planes will probably stay grounded longer and our borders are likely to stay closed over an extended period of time. Whether we like it or not, our movements will be monitored closely in a foreseeable future.
Yes, cargo aircrafts, ships and inter-state trucks will be moving but there is need to reconsider our dependency on imported goods. Time has come for us to prioritize made in Rwanda products and pump the little air we can gasp into our deflated local businesses.
As mentioned earlier, this pandemic will come to an end and things will get back to normal. When that happens, we will play soccer again. But before we lace up and take to the pitch, we should question our spending on imported balls from abroad. With our support, local entrepreneurs who have already started making leather balls will step up their game and deliver products that adhere to international standards.
We have all the raw materials we need. Appropriate policy-making and political will has already been demonstrated. We can undoubtedly improve the quality of made-in-Rwanda soccer balls and everything else. Embracing our own products will spark the much-needed economic stimulus plan.
The balls that inspired me to write this article were made by artisans plying their craft at the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center, located in Kayonza District, Eastern Province. These artisans are doing a good job of transforming available resources into marketable products. We can take it from there.
A made-in-Kayonza soccer ball is an example used for the sake of this discussion. The call for embracing locally-made products applies across the board. The ongoing crisis has made us unleash our creativity like never before. While staying at home, we have found ways to stay motivated and productive. We have created offices, classrooms, chapels, gyms and amusement parks in our tiny houses. We can capitalize on that momentum, accelerate our recovery and bounce back stronger than ever.
Our creativity comes a long way. The Kayonza-based artisans mentioned above were inspired by their own children’s invention. African kids have been making their own soccer balls for generations. Materials used vary from region to region. In most places, kids use leaves, worn out clothes, nylon and fabric. Making balls out of recycled materials is a skill every rural African boy develops at a tender age. Poor families in African villages may not be able to afford the best gear but that doesn’t prevent their children from reaping the benefits of participating in sports.
From non-manicured grass pitches to dusty or muddy patches of unleveled ground, kids across the continent enjoy playing soccer anywhere, with or without shoes. In most cases, goal posts are improvised.
Rural Africa has never experienced shortage of soccer balls but Kayonza women saw the need to improve the quality of their balls. They came up with an advanced version of home-made balls which are fancier and bouncier. Their spherical shapes, weight and material composition form a product which is a step closer to the specifications required by the sport’s global governing body.
When this crisis is over, corporations should consider placing orders of branded balls for the benefit of kids in our communities. Their involvement will improve quality of the made-in-Rwanda balls, contribute to the development of the game, create jobs and build their own brand loyalty. I am an old man who is still consuming Sprite because when I was a kid, someone distributed free Sprite-branded basketballs in my community. Kids may not have purchasing power today but winning their life-long loyalty starts now. Marketers take note.
While visiting impoverished parts of Africa in 1994, Johann Olav Koss, founder of Right to Play, saw an Eritrean boy turning his shirt into a ball within seconds. Driven by the urge to play, the boy in question took off his shirt, rolled it up and tied its sleeves to form a roundish object. When he threw it on the ground, a group of friends joined him and the game was on.
More than a quarter of a century down the line, we should be able to take our talent to the next level — on and off the pitch.
The author is an adventurer on a mission to discover what Rwanda has to offer. Follow his awe-inspiring journey on Twitter @ExposureRwanda