Lessons from a week on Rwandan upcountry roads

As I briefly mentioned last week in this space, I was on the road for quite a while as part of a team that was charged with amplifying the message that Rwandans should invest in the stock market by, for example, buying the shares that the government of Rwanda owned in the country’s oldest financial institution, I & M Bank (formerly BCR).

As I briefly mentioned last week in this space, I was on the road for quite a while as part of a team that was charged with amplifying the message that Rwandans should invest in the stock market by, for example, buying the shares that the government of Rwanda owned in the country’s oldest financial institution, I & M Bank (formerly BCR).

The message we were taking to Rwandans across the country was on one part, financial literacy regarding how stock markets work, but also explaining the vision of the Rwandan government to expand financial inclusion by divesting from certain companies where it held shares so as to let individual Rwandans take charge and play a role in the same investments. It is indeed a very commendable move by the government to gradually transform the general population into investors in some of the biggest companies around like MTN, Bralirwa, Bank of Kigali and now I & M Bank.

As we moved around from district to district I was mentally taking notes on various things that my senses managed to capture. One first destination was Rubavu at a Dian Fossey hotel. Just before the session, I took my camera and took some shots of birds. Rwanda is a great birding destination and sometimes the birds are just right there at the hotel in the tree! I wonder whether the hotel bothers to mention this little fact to those who choose to stay there.

In Rubavu and Rusizi districts, you easily see how powerful integration (not just EAC) is for you see citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo freely moving around and even investing in these border towns. Some came to listen in and see if they should buy shares in a Rwandan bank. Others am told simply bank in the Rwandan banks because well, it is safer than on the other side of the border.

The whole exercise had us moving to Rubavu, Karongi, Rusizi, Nyaruguru, Huye and Muhanga districts before returning to Kigali city. The roads to and from these places are all well paved and the turns and twists around the hills slow you down enough for you to enjoy the beautiful scenery but also to avoid that speeding ticket. The traffic guys seem to have done such a great job that drivers now know all the places where it is foolish to go past the speed limit.

We spent nights in different hotels barely staying in one place twice (almost felt like the life of a fugitive) and this too taught me something about the hotel industry. It appeared to me that the chorus of cashless Rwanda has paid off as all the hotels we went to (not big fancy ones) allowed guests to pay using their plastic cards. People like Lucy Mbabazi who have sang this song for years deserve a holiday by the beach.

It was disappointing though that some hotels were not serious about the need to have internet connection for guests. At one of the hotels in Rusizi, the gentleman at the reception simply told me the internet was “not working today.” I wanted to ask whether the internet has days off like the staff but I was too tired to be stubborn.

There was one where after checking in, I had to go to the reception and ask for toiletries. I later realised that whoever did the plumbing had not done a decent job and for some reason the curtains were not big enough, so I had to make the weird choice between which part of the room should be visible from outside. To the folks at the Rwanda Hotel Owners’ Association, there is still work to do.

My general assessment was that many budget hotel owners were not serious about the hotel business. It appears the hotels are more of a store for their wealth than a profitable business where guests are assured of getting value for money. Just like we were carrying out financial literacy for those wishing to invest on the Rwanda Stock Exchange, hotel owners need more lessons on customer service and the trends in the hotel industry.

Lastly, I think Rwandan roads should be marketed as a tourism attraction on their own. The roads give you that feel of being in car commercial. Driving through Nyungwe forest is always breathtaking. Your phone connection even disappears so you can bond with nature. If you have a camera, carry it with you and capture some shots. Rwanda is a beautiful country.

 

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