Why Rwanda is warming to World Economic Forum

Over the weekend, Camp Kigali was a hive of activity in readiness to host the World Economic Forum for Africa which is set to kick off on Wednesday this week. The forum will convene over 1500 delegates from Africa and beyond under the theme 'Connecting Africa's Resources through Digital Transformation.'
RDB's Gatare speaks during the interview with The New Times. (Timothy Kisambira)
RDB's Gatare speaks during the interview with The New Times. (Timothy Kisambira)

Over the weekend, Camp Kigali was a hive of activity in readiness to host the World Economic Forum for Africa which is set to kick off on Wednesday this week. The forum will convene over 1500 delegates from Africa and beyond under the theme ‘Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation.’

In the build up to the conference, The New Times Collins Mwai caught up with The Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Development Board, Francis Gatare for insights to the oncoming forum.

Below are the excerpts:

Is Kigali ready for the Forum?

The process to host the world economic forum is not an overnight event; it is a process that started about 2 years ago. When Rwanda was approached to host the forum and accepted, we were ready. From the highest levels of leadership in the country, a commitment was made that Rwanda would be ready to host.

From that time, the process to put in place mechanisms to host the forum has been unfolding rather than readiness to host it.

The theme is somewhat complex to an ordinary audience, what are some of the deliberations that will be held under the theme?

The overall theme for the forum for this year actually started during the World Economic Forum held in Davos in January, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

When the theme for World economic forum for Africa was being streamlined, there was an understanding of the over arching theme for the forum. It sought to inform how Africa can participate in The Fourth Industrial Revolution. It came down to what is the underlying mechanism that Africa can actually participate in the Fourth Industrial revolution as whole. Africa is 54 countries, a fact which is sometimes forgotten and seen as an entity.

The first question was how Africa can be brought together to participate in the revolution as a whole.

This brought up the issue of integration of Africa’s resources. The continent is endowed with resources and yet continues to lag behind in development. We need to connect those resources. We can connect resources such as financial, human capital, knowledge. There is also the issue of how to connect Africa’s resources. There will be discussions around general infrastructure to connect Africa through movement. But also when we talk about industrial revolution, it is actually a digital revolution. The question is about how to create an ‘Africanness’ of a market through integration of people and resources to harness the digital revolution.

To what extent did Africa’s current affairs shape the theme and subjects to be addressed at the forum?

The deliberation around the formulation of the theme and agenda was informed by what is already going on on the continent. For example, in the East Africa region, the initiative around the Northern Corridor project such as the efforts that have gone to creating the Single Network Area and cross border infrastructure project to make it easier for people to trade. Since then there has also been revival of the central corridor and more broadly there has been discussions around the tripartite countries of East African Community, COMESA and SADC coming together.

At the continent level, the African union has been borrowing what has been happening at the regional level such as the initiatives started by Rwanda that allows visa on arrival for African passport holders. All such initiatives and developments are present all across the continent and to a great extent will shape deliberations at the forum.

The forum comes at a time when the African continent is struggling with a range of issues ranging from insecurity, low intraregional trade to high cost of doing business. Do these get addressed too?

The World Economic Forum principally is a forum for business, the approach to many of the discussions is a business oriented one. What is an opportunity for business? What is ideal for business? With that you have the private sector on one hand and the governments on the other deliberating on a range of aspects. There will be a number of ways African issues will be discussed at the forum.

The first one is the current and emerging business opportunities that investors can tap into at the moment. The other will be looking at the risks, underlying and emerging, and how they can be mitigated by both the private sector and governments through policy. The third is the policy instruments that are required for the partnership to happen. This is where some of the broader issues are discussed.

With that nothing is left on the table unaddressed.

What are the profiles of the delegates flying in for the forum?

There are three types of profiles: From the global level there are multinationals who are mostly represented by the Chief executives and vice presidents of the African region. Then there are continent wide firms represented by their CEOs or their owners and there are regional and national ones who are also represented by their principals.

Usually most multinational parties come with subordinates, for example someone who specialises on Africa and the Middles East and technical staff. The continent ones also bring along about three to four staff members, the regional ones have two to three staff members.

That said, do they have decision making capacities that could see deals struck at the forum?

The people participating at the forum are people who are mostly taking strategic decisions on behalf of their companies in terms of collaboration and cooperation and are prepared to commit their firms. There are also people who understand operational details of their respective firms which will enable them engage other parties at the forum.

For the list of participants, I notice European, American and Asian Governments will be represented at the forum.

The world is fast becoming globalised and interlinked. There are no markets that can work in isolation any longer. Whatever is discussed in the context of Africa is very relevant for other regions as well. Companies that are global are very keen to know what is happening in Africa. It is also for factors such as global competition.

NPD Contraco workers fix traffic lights on a road leading to the Central Business District in preparation for the World Economic Forum. (T. Kisambira)

Others want to understand the emerging opportunities for their governments or for firms in their respective countries.

Participants at the forum do not only talk about business because business takes place within political context.

They talk about issues of governance, security, geopolitics all which interested people from all across the world.

From your experience participating in such forums in the past, what are usually some of the outcomes from the World economic Forum on Africa?

The outcomes are of two shapes, one is from the perspective of the host country and another from the participating members.

Members that come to the forum are usually not attending it for the first time. They might have ongoing discussions and deliberations with other partners some of which are in the process of maturity. Those usually want to use the opportunity to have face to face meetings to further their discussions. They have some concrete expectations to get out of the forum. These ones usually have meetings at the sidelines of the forum.

There are others who do not have a specific deal to take forward and they know who are the firms playing at each level across the value chain. In their strategic thinking they are usually seeking partnership at some point in the chain. They know who is coming and they have made appointments to meet with them and they have studied their companies’ profiles. Their expectation will be finding partners to do business with.

The third is people who are establishing contacts and still in the process of throwing the net out there. These are firms seeking to brand themselves and in the process of creating awareness. They will brand themselves through ways such as hosting side events including lunches and dinners.

From the host country’s perspective, there are several layers. For us, many of the global business leaders may be coming to Rwanda for the first time. Many would not have come to Rwanda; the forum is the reason for them being here. For us this is an opportunity to for us to let them know more about Rwanda.

From a general perspective, it is important to link with them as individuals, corporate and citizens of their respective countries because each of them has a wider network or other relationships that may have something to do with our country. It is important for them to know the new Rwanda also to give insights to the country given our previous history and bad publicity in the past.

Organisations like ours, The Rwanda Development Board have an opportunity with this network to reach them in a manner we would not have been able to if we were to try to reach out to them individually. We are putting up a number of platforms to be able to reach out to them.

We will be featuring in the programme for a number of sessions, a number of leaders in the country led by President Paul Kagame will feature in a number of sessions which will communicate aspects of Rwanda to the audience.

We also have some side activities to speak to them and present activities for business, tourism, trade and investment to them.

We also have about 84 business and government officials that are going to be participating all who will be making direct contact with individuals and corporations.

Some have business proposals they are seeking partnership for, others are businesses seeking markets and others will be seeking networks to grow relationships.

Not to mention all the business that the delegates bring during their stay here.

For Rwanda, most may ask, what’s in for the country?

As a country, this is a big opportunity. We are bringing in over 1500 delegates all who have huge spending capacities. Though the period is short, all the hotels in the city are booked and many of them booked days in advance and will stay days after. All this is injection of money into an economy. There are also other services like the airline, transport, financial services which will also be busy at the time. For Rwanda which has been working to be a top conference destination, you will never know how good you are until you host such a demanding conference, it is the absolute test.



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