On Monday, August 3, Rwanda’s largest cement manufacturing firm will start trading its shares on the Rwanda Stock Exchange. The company will list 100 per cent of its shares constituting 703,219,520 shares. Of these some 344,575,560 shares or 49 per cent will be available for trading through free float. Each share costs Rwf120 and an investor can buy a minimum of 100 shares. The free float shares are owned by AGDF Corporate Trust, Rwanda Investment Group, Rwanda Social Security Board and SONARWA Holdings. The remaining 51 per cent is owned by South Africa’s Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC). The New Times’ John Gahamanyi interviewed Albert Sigei, Cimerwa’s Chief Executive Officer about the listing and the future prospects for the cement industry Excepts... 1. You joined Cimerwa in the midst of some challenges; how has the journey been so far? It has been a very exciting time and a very interesting one as well. When we began this year nobody predicted that we would have a global challenge (Covid-19) with many effects as ones that we’ve seen in terms of impact on families, businesses, change in supply chains and so forth. It’s been a bit of roller-coaster with a mix of challenges and excitement at the same time. I came in January this year. Coming to Rwanda is another experience for me. I am happy to report that we are bouncing back very well. 2. Cimerwa is making its stock market debut; how significant is this to the company? Coming on the exchange is an opportunity to strengthen Rwanda because we are offering an opportunity to investors and Rwandan citizens. It is important because it will enhance the profile of the company. Our trajectory in terms of production and profitability is steep. So, going to the exchange will help us build on the base where we are. 3. You are taking some unfamiliar approach; why? We are taking what we call listing or introduction. In an Initial Public Offering (IPO), you take this approach if you are going to do fundraising, bring new capital into the company and that, of course, comes with new shareholders. In our case, we are listing existing shares. There’s no capital raising that the company is doing. We are putting all our shares on the stock exchange but 49 per cent will become what we call free float. Free float means that those shares are available for trading on the stock exchange on a daily basis. 4. How can Rwandans buy these shares? If you want to buy shares, simply contact your preferred stockbroker and show your expression of interest in buying shares. The minimum shares one can buy is 100 and the price is Rwf120 per share. 5. Some analysts suggest that this may not be the right time for investors to take the risk in equity stocks, given the volatility in the markets. What gives you the confidence to list on the Rwanda Stock Exchange? The cement business is a long-term investment. Just to give you an example, the plant that we have cost about $160 million. You spend that money knowing that the heavy machinery will be in place for decades. I am optimistic that we will overcome Covid-19. Rwanda’s per capita consumption of 57 kg of cement is very low compared to countries like Tanzania where it is 170 kg, Kenya 170 kg and South Africa 250 kg. We like to look at this positivity. We have gone into the construction phase, as a country, working towards Vision 2050, high-quality life for all. We are very ambitious with government projects like Bugesera airport, power plants and road projects. Also, urbanization is just under 20 per cent. The ambition is to reach 30 per cent. What that means is that there’s demand for residential houses. All these point to a very strong demand for cement going forward. So, for us and with our shareholders we look at these issues with a long term eye. We are also lucky to be in a country with very sound macroeconomic fundamentals. If you look at it in terms of the ease of doing business, in terms of political stability and so on the long-term prospects are really good. 6. What is your assessment of the cement industry? We went into lockdown on March 22 and there was no activity from that date. In April we had very little sales. I’m very happy to say that we had a strong rebound as a business. The month of July has been the best in terms of production and sales. We are close to 100% of desired capacity. We have confidence as a business. We have got capable leadership in terms of shareholders and other stakeholders. The cement sector has been growing at 10 per cent over the last several years. The sector will continue to grow. Cement is linked to all the essential services because if you talk about health, you need hospitals, if you talk about education you need schools, if you talk about food you need water treatment plants and facilities for food production. 7. Cimerwa has been in the subject of public scrutiny, in part because of selling expensive products and the inability to satisfy the demand for cement. I am glad you asked this question because it gives me an opportunity to correct some misconceptions out there. About the issue of price, today the selling price in the market is speculative. People are selling a bag of cement at Rwf12,000, Rwf13,000, or even Rwf14,000. That is unacceptable. It is mostly traders who speculate and we are working with relevant authorities to see how we can collaborate together to stop this unacceptable behavior. Second point, our price to the market is Rwf9,500. 8. What causes this gap? The gap between our prices and what the traders are selling in the shop is simply a factor of taking advantage of the current situation. About satisfying the local market, let me start by sharing the size of the market. Rwanda’s cement market is about 800,000 tons per annum. The market is expected to grow by close to 10 percent. Our capacity is 600,000 tons per annum. So we do not supply the whole 800,000 because it is more than our capacity. The balance comes from imports and competitors from outside the country. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused challenges. At the borders, trucks are delayed. So the proportion of imported cement has been reduced and that is why there is strain in the market. When Rusizi District was on lockdown, more than 400 of our staff stayed in the factory. In spite of the challenge of raw materials coming in very slow, we have managed to increase production. 9. What kind of opportunities are there in the region? It is good that we are part of regional integration. One of the advantages that Cimerwa has is its location. Our priority remains Rwanda. Should there be more than enough cement in Rwanda, the next question would be how we can strengthen Rwanda further by bringing in foreign exchange revenues. On account of our location, we are very strategically located to tap into markets like eastern Congo and Burundi. 10. Anything else you would want to tell us? What I can tell our stakeholders and readers is that Cimerwa has been part of Rwandan society and has done a lot. We are excited that we are strengthening Rwanda. I want to urge the investing public and institutions to buy shares. With Rwf2,000 you can own a piece of Cimerwa. The interview was transcribed by Ange Iliza.