Who remembers the "Tell Sid" campaign? In the mid-1980's the government launched the brave new world of Thatcherism and share ownership for the masses with a campaign to sell shares in British Gas. Each evening a cartoon advertisement told viewers to tell Sid (who never actually appeared) about this wonderful opportunity. Two recessions, several get-rich-quick schemes and a couple of financial crashes later where has the economy ended up? Quite.
So the opportunity, recently announced by the Rwandan government, to sell off its shares in the Blararwa brewery makes a good story. The brewery is 75% owned by Heineken who certainly seem to be reaching parts of Nyamirambo that other brewers don't. The other 25% is being offered to the public. The company will start trading on the Rwandan stock exchange in January. The exchange currently has all of two companies on its list, one of which, the Kenya Commercial Bank is offering loans to its customers for the share offer.
The government hopes to raise $29.5m from the sale. Given figures released recently by the UN (see Some Numbers) saying that 77% of Rwandans spend less than $1.25 each day, the share issue makes for some interesting arithmetic about how much the rest can afford to spend on shares. In a population of 11 million people, even if the 23% of the population who don't get a mention by the UN share their brewery equally, it looks as if they can afford to spend at least $11 each day.
Whether the new rich in Rwanda will fare better from their brewery than we did from British Gas remains to be seen. Given the choice of being poor and being poor, I think I would rather be poor and own a bit of a brewery than a bit of a pipeline.