The much anticipated World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF) did come to Rwanda eventually and as expected Rwandans did not disappoint. Months of preparation to ensure that guests leave with a worthwhile experience were not in vain although I feel it was a tough time for those who had to prepare.
You see Rwanda long understood that it can reap quite a fortune from hosting visitors who want to come around and meet other important people to talk about important things under an organised environment.
The tourism gurus call this MICE tourism and it has nothing to do with rats but everything to do with meetings, incentives, conferences and events/exhibitions.
This type of tourism thrives around having hotels that are up to standard and Rwanda has worked hard in this regard. For a long time only Kigali Serena met this description with Hotel des Mille Collines following closely behind. In the near future, brands like Marriot, Sheraton and Radisson Blu will soon have Kigali as an address.
Rwanda has managed to get here largely because, to a large extent, the country believes in the mantra of ‘build it and they will come’ something that says a lot about the strategic leadership the country has.
One of the earliest examples of this is how the country’s leadership convinced telecom giant MTN to set up shop here long before the telecom business had become the cash cow that it is now.
Besides the hotels, Rwanda fixed its roads complete with street lights and pedestrian walkways. Some of these roads are now getting cycling lanes too. Through the monthly Umuganda cleaning exercises, the locals chipped in to clear drainages and ensure that the roads last long. The government also invested a lot in ensuring that internet penetration becomes a real thing and that people can live the digital dream.
It was only a matter of time before the conferences started happening. There was the Transform Africa Summit, and the African Development Bank annual general meeting just the other day. On the sports side, the year kicked off with CHAN football tournament. Soon it will be the African Union Summit and the Africa Hotel Investment Forum.
Each of these conferences has exposed areas that Rwanda as a country needs to improve upon in order for the next conference to be a success. The reason why I say that Rwanda now struggles to do better is because so much has already been done.
Also while in other countries, hosting a major conference would come with a heavy budget of fixing roads and street lights, for the WEF, Rwanda generally just had to repaint some of the road markings for the roads were already in good condition and the street lights were working. The visitors were impressed but the residents of Rwanda struggled to see the difference.
As we used to say during cricket games, the WEF week ended in style with the Rwanda International Cricket captain, Eric Dusingizimana setting a new world record for playing in the nets for the longest time, a tortuous 51 hours!
Dusingizimana did not do this for fame or to kill boredom but to help raise funds for the construction of the first cricket stadium with real modern facilities, in Rwanda.
The business of records can be really interesting if one is following keenly. Even before Eric could finishing his batting session, three lion cubs were spotted in Akagera National Park setting a record of their own as the first lions to be born in Rwanda in almost two decades. This brings the park’s lion population to a modest 10 after seven lions were reintroduced in the park from South Africa.
Although the cameras were mainly focused around the WEF, the story of cricket in Rwanda that has grown from scratch and the conservation successes that Rwanda continues to register regarding its wildlife and other natural resources are to me the bigger stories. The City of Kigali authorities may have struggled to do something spectacular for WEF since most of it was done ages ago but the same ‘fate’ awaits Rwanda Cricket Association and the conservationists.
Soon the birth of lions will be a normal occurrence and not a big story and the cricket association that owes a lot of its rise to leadership will also find its cruising height because all this points to what Rwanda is best known for – an ever rising phoenix.