A cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame on Monday gave a green light to local production of cannabis for export.
The drug has proved to be quite popular across the world, fetching in billions of dollars annually to investors due to its medical capabilities.
So it is a totally good and progressive decision for the government to venture in this, particularly since analysts say that cannabis will fetch over $345 billion to Africa by 2023.
But the key to being a successful venture lies in targeted and effective development of the value chain and value addition in the long term.
For years, Africa has suffered undervaluation of its raw coffee on the international market, which returns to the continent in the form of products like Nescafe which are way more expensive.
Currently, an increasing number of African countries are happy to export to the West in its raw form, there is growing evidence that a wide range of medical drugs can be developed from the plant.
It is important that Rwanda considers attracting investment not only for export but also local production for consumption.
Rwanda could potentially tap into a lucrative cannabis economy ranging from industrial processes to cannabinoid therapy and medical cannabis.
There is a need for a framework that allows the industry to grow organically while benefiting as many Rwandans as possible.
Government officials have laboured to explain that local consumption of cannabis will remain illegal, but that its production will attract more foreign investors and hence fetch more revenues. Contradiction? Yes.
This sounds like a government bent on having its cake and eating it at the same time – a mistake being done across the African continent.
The Europeans and the Americans also experienced such a dilemma previously, so we need to learn from their experience. In most American states, cannabis was put on the ballot and voted into legality, and in some European states like The Netherlands, the governments declared it legal after heavy debates in parliament.
This paved the way for heavy investments in the cannabis industry. For them, it did not make sense to call for investments into cannabis while there are laws that still consider it illegal. Simply put – you cannot break your own laws as a government.
That process is largely missing here in Rwanda and in other countries like Kenya, Uganda and across Africa.
As a nation, we need to rethink how to tap into the growing global cannabis economy that is promising jobs and income streams. We can learn from Canada or Australia (available on prescription) – they are way ahead of where we are by at least two or three years; Canada has had access to medical cannabis for three decades. We are just starting this process - and we need to make sure we get right.