FEATURED: Rwanda aspires to become a business and innovation hub in the next decade

RDB CEO Clare Akamanzi. Photo: Courtesy.

An interview with the CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Clare Akamanzi on the occasion of the celebration of 10 years after the creation of the board, through a merger of seven public institutions.

Looking at RDB’s ten-year journey, what did it take to get it here?

It took a bold vision by President Paul Kagame, and the entire Government, to prioritize private sector development, as the driver of Rwanda’s socio-economic transformation. 

This formed the basis for the creation of the Rwanda Development Board, as a one stop institution to provide key services, and expedite decisions affecting investors as well as reforms for a very conducive business environment.

We wanted to bring all the agencies responsible for business registration, investment/export promotion, privatization and specialist agencies which support the priority sectors of ICT and tourism as well as SMEs and human capacity development in the private sector all under one roof. This meant less legwork for investors as they had one major institution to work with, as well as time and financial savings for Government.

This vision has paid off. Today, Rwanda, at 38th rank, is the only Low-Income Country in the top 50 of the 2020 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report and is the 2nd easiest place to do business in Africa after Mauritius. Consequently, Rwanda has been recognized as the top global reformer by the World Bank with the highest number of implemented reforms over the last ten years.

Similarly, in terms of investments into Rwanda, last year we surpassed the US$ 2 billion target for the first time in the country’s history, with investments registered over US$2.006 billion in 2018 up from about US$400 million registered in 2010.

This is a sign of the continuous investor confidence in Rwanda by both local and foreign investors. Tourism has also doubled within the same period reaching over $400m today, while exports of our key products in agriculture, minerals and manufactured products quadrupled over the last decade.

As an institution, I am also proud to say that we are a competitive employer, with many talented Rwandans are aspiring to join our workforce, and be part of a unique opportunity to contribute to Rwanda’s transformation.

Rwanda’s seems to have claimed her place in the world, what did it take to achieve that?

Apart from the ambitious reforms that we have put in place over the last decade, we have done our best to showcase Rwanda to the world as the best place to invest and do business, the best place to set up a factory and sell Made in Rwanda products as well as the best place to enjoy exciting tourism offerings.

Last year, we signed a strategic partnership with two major global players, Arsenal Football Club in London and Alibaba from China.

The deal with Arsenal aims to market the country under the ‘Visit Rwanda’ brand. Through the partnership, we have been able to increase people’s knowledge and interest in Rwanda.

Let me illustrate. Since the announcement of the partnership in May last year, we have seen a lot of interest especially through our online presence:

• Within two weeks of the launch, 58 news stories reached a global audience of 1.2 billion people;

• Google searches of Rwanda in the US increased by over 1000% for keywords like: ‘Visit Rwanda, Rwanda travel, Rwanda tourism, and Kigali Rwanda hotels’.

• Visit Rwanda is now seen 35 million times each time Arsenal plays.

• Visit Rwanda social media posts by Arsenal reach a direct global audience of over 15 million people.

In the same way, Rwanda partnered with Alibaba Group in October 2018 to bring Rwanda tourism packages closer to the Asian market through Alibaba’s online travel platform, Fliggy, as well as Rwandan products through Tmall. We are selling coffee and tourism on these platforms and will soon add chillis.

We also participate in global platforms such as the World Economic Forum, trade fairs, and investments forums to Showcase Rwanda to the World.

The country is still struggling to curb the balance of trade deficit, now what is being done deliberately to improve this position?

We are exploring different ways of solving the country’s trade deficit by looking at ways to benefit from Rwanda’s strategic regional positioning in order to increase exports as well as domestic manufacturing.

Rwanda has strategic access to four countries and a catchment area of a consumer market of nearly 60 million people reachable by road, barely four hours away from Kigali in all directions.

This market has a purchasing power of US$1-2 billion in basic fast-moving consumer goods and another US$1.5 billion in consumer durables.

To maximize the benefits from this market, the Rwandan Government established Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to enhance the country’s competitiveness as a commercial/logistics hub, taking advantage of her natural strategic location through the promotion of export oriented industrial activities as well as re-exports, manufacturing and services.

Today, over 29 companies are already set up in the Kigali SEZ and others have set up in the other SEZs located country-wide, manufacturing made in Rwanda products using raw materials sourced from Rwanda, most of which is exported after.

If you look at Rwanda’s 2018 exports, a big part of that were processed products made by companies in the SEZs. For example, we have Africa Improved Foods who make nutritious foods using soya, milk, maize among other products. They buy from farmers, process then export it. Last year, they exported goods worth almost US$ 30 million.

Soon we hope Rwandan companies will also start exporting cars assembled by VW, phones made by Maraphones, pharmaceutical products made by Cooperpharma.

Lastly, we are also growing exports in Services, particularly tourism, innovation through our innovation ecosystem among others.

70% of working population in agriculture with the coming of the fourth industrial revolution and a focus on manufacturing, is there a plan to reskill this population?

In terms of creating jobs, Rwanda has been creating new jobs every year and targets to create over 1.5 million jobs over the next seven years. To achieve this, industrialization is key to absorb our youth who can move from agriculture to basic manufacturing.

A very good example is in garment-making. Pink Mango located in the Kigali SEZ will employ over 1,500 people. If we have 100 more businesses like Pink Mango in the SEZs, it would have industrial parks as the primary source of jobs in Rwanda.

We are also preparing to move further in the industrial chain in order to take advantage of the industrial revolution.  This is through investing in vocational training as well as world-class STEM education. Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, for example has produced over 100 graduates over the last 10 years.

Others training in STEM are Africa Leadership University, African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), as well as the University of Global Health University, in public health.

What are the aims/goals for the next 10 years?

RDB’s vision is to work with our partners to transform Rwanda into a dynamic global hub for business, investment, and innovation. The next 10 years will deepen this goal. We will continue to foster and fast track private sector led economic growth across all sectors, and make Rwanda every investor’s first choice. Our best years are yet to come.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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