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One More Reason to Drink Coffee

The 1994 Rwandan genocide is notorious, rightly so, for being among history’s worst atrocities – a vivid and horrific example of human savagery. Much of the discussion of this genocide focuses on the failure of western governments to intervene to prevent it.

The genocide has ended. And although Rwandans are still among the world’s poorest people, there’s now a spark of hope. This spark is commerce, in coffee. Hutus and Tutsis butchered each other ten years ago; today many of them are working together to produce coffee for world markets. See this story.

The story linked to above, and this one (as well as several others that I’ve read) emphasize the role of ‘fair trade’ policies and marketing, as well as of efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development to help lubricate this particular wheel of commerce.

My priors lead me to suspect that any commercial advances in Rwanda rest more on genuine changes in the investment climate there – on more-secure property rights, on a firmer commitment to long-term integration into the global economy, and on increasing prospects for lasting peace – than on grants of $$$ and ‘expert’ advice from western bureaucrats and moralizers. But perhaps in this case USAid assistance and ‘fair trade’ agitation did prove to be crucial.

Whatever the reason, it’s heartening to see the seeds of commerce sprouting in Rwanda, for no matter who or what planted these seeds and supplied them with their first drops of water, only the sustained growth of commerce will turn Hutus’ and Tutsis’ energies from conflict to cooperation – from predation to production. And sustained growth in commerce won’t happen without secure private property rights, freedom of contract, freedom of trade, and the free market that these blessings generate.

Thanks to my wife, Karol, for the pointer.


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