A two day high level investment forum ended Tuesday on a high note with various deals having been signed which signified Rwanda’s growing position as an ideal location for investment and trade. The conference was co-organized by the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) whose Director General, Dr.Mohan Kaul, spoke to The New Times’ Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah on Rwanda’s larger prospects of joining the Commonwealth of nations. Excerpts.
So far, what have you learnt about Rwanda ?
I have been visiting Rwanda since 2007 during the onset of talks for its admission to the Commonwealth.
I have made a few observations. For instance I think Rwanda is well governed.That guarantees a good investment climate. Good governance underwrites stability.
Both government and private sector are willing to engage international businesses to boost Rwandan investment and trade.
How can Rwanda take advantage of joining the Commonwealth?
One of the things that the commonwealth does, is to provide its members with linkages to the English speaking community, which is the largest grouping in the world.
This is the reason why the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) was set up. To increase the role of the private sector within this community.
Our role is to get Rwanda into such a business club of countries which will ultimately assist it to increase its trade and investment with other Commonwealth countries.
How can the Commonwealth learn from Rwanda?
One way of learning from Rwanda is how government works with the private sector. Rwanda’s doing Business reforms is a case in point.
We are also looking at how Rwanda government is developing the country’s infrastructure which can serve as a learning exercise for our members particularly African countries.
We are also learning how Rwanda is going about establishing its several governance structures and programmes.
Lets talk Business-What has the conference achieved?
The conference attracted over 350 delegates with 120 drawn from outside. One of the achievements is that investors have actually come to see for themselves the opportunities Rwanda has to offer.
Over 35 projects were showcased for uptake by investors within the focus areas of the conference. First time investors marvelled at what Rwanda offers. This is yet another achievement.
As somebody in the world of business can you give details of deals signed that are memorable to you?
Couple of deals can be said to fit that category you are talking about. Within ICT, an Indian firm Opus Solutions that does electronic payment systems agreed to shift its Africa regional offices to Kigali along with a $10 million initial investment for its Africa gateway project.
Within real estate a housing development company will be developed by Mara Holdings on a 40 acre project for $50 million.Within agriculture deals worth over $5 million were also concluded.
Within banking , a Nigerian brand Diamond Bank has said that it is eyeing the Rwandan market. Several other prospects were also established.
Much as Rwanda’s doing business ranking is on the upswing, what needs to be done to make it even better?
Opening up more access routes is key for Rwanda’s goods and services. A lot of work has been done in that regard.
However, I must point out that within ICT Rwanda needs to work even harder to increase quality of service provisions to enable the economy actualize its dream of being a regional hub.
Opening up of the economy through ongoing projects such as the railway or new international airport will definitely go a long way in boosting its competitiveness.
Yet another aspect is deploying access to cheaper financial resources locally. When investors land here they should be able to access cheaper sources of funding for their projects. I am very sure that government is also thinking of such issues.
When the economic partnership agreement is signed between the East African Community (EAC) and European Union(EU) how is the scenario likely to play out for Rwanda now that it has joined the Commonwealth.
It is a blessing for Rwanda to have joined the EAC as regional integration is the way to go. It is thus for Rwanda’s interest to see the EAC work given its size. Rwanda’s position within the EAC can only be equated with that of Singapore within the Asian countries.
While Singapore can be said not to have any known substantial natural resource base its strong vision for its future is what has enabled it to scale to greater heights.
How can the Commonwealth take advantage of Rwanda’s tourism potential to forge a better understanding between citizens of the commonwealth and Rwandans?
Rwanda needs to increase the profile as well as its tourism opportunities within the Commonwealth. To drive home my point perhaps it is worthwhile to illustrate Malaysia’s case during the 1980s.
They had thought that they were not getting much from having joined the commonwealth. However after proactive thinking they started lobbying for some of the Commonwealth conferences to be hosted in their capital city.
This eventually opened up Malaysia to other avenues. Currently Malaysia is taken as a leading tourist destination for Commonwealth countries. That is what Rwanda should seriously consider.
The starting point should be conference tourism before diversifying to the core tourism offers. For instance Rwanda should lobby the Commonwealth secretariat to bring some of its heads of government meetings to Kigali.
You mean to say that CHOGM should come to Kigali?
Not necessarily. However I am talking about smaller meetings at ministerial levels. Such bring in say 1,000 or so participants. This is good enough as a starting point.
There is this perception that as Rwanda heads towards the presidential polls a crisis of sorts seems to be brewing. What do you have to say about that?
I have read such stories. The best solution to debunk such myths is to advise them to visit in order to verify what is happening on the ground. One thing that I need to point out is that when a country is challenging, despite odds, the established norms to soar to greater heights, there is bound to be those out there bent to resist such moves.
That is natural. So such forms of resistance cannot be taken seriously at all. These are actually distractions from the march towards greater things. We should not really worry so much about them.
What are we expecting after this meeting?
We are going to track the changes that are likely to accrue to Rwanda after having joined the Commonwealth. This will be done after 6 months.
So that means that you have a baseline report for Rwanda upon joining the Commonwealth which you will use to track your interventions?
Absolutely. As far as these investments are concerned we will do that.We do that in several ways. One way is through tracking inter-commonwealth trade which is growing steadily.
In 1997 this kind of trade was set at $2 trillion. Now it is standing at more than $3.5 trillion. By 2015 we expect it to jump to $5 trillion. So naturally, for Rwanda; which has just joined, will also be tracked in how it is benefiting from such projections.
So that brings me to another question related to the previous one. Does it mean that you have some set projections for Rwanda as a new entrant to the commonwealth? If so, can you share with the readers?
We do have that kind of data especially for our focus for Rwanda, only that I don’t have them off-head. However, a more comprehensive finding will be issued in 6 month’s from now. We will also look at long terms projection like 5 years from now.
What are your concluding remarks?
I must say that having joined the Commonwealth Rwanda is in the right path. When leading companies of the world are relocating to Kigali it is not by accident.
Certain things have been put in the right way. Expectations are high from investors and these expectations have to be sustained.