Five years ago, John Migambi, 28, was working in the marketing department of one of the Rwandan distilleries. His job was basically to convince customers to consume the company’s products.
But he would be fired in 2015 because of poor returns mainly due to the negative perception associated with Made-in-Rwanda products.
Many thought locally made products were of poor quality.
But after losing his job, he says, he could not just quit. Instead, he realised that Made-in-Rwanda manufacturers in general were faced with a market that harboured this bias.
He also knew that public perception about Made-in-Rwanda products has far-reaching impact on the country’s performance overall.
“That’s how I embarked on a project aimed at showcasing the beauty of Made-in-Rwanda products. I wanted people to understand that Rwanda has a lot to offer,” Migambi told The New Times.
In 2016, the Ministry of Trade and Industry conducted a survey (PDF file) with the purpose of measuring the success of the Made-in-Rwanda policy that had been rolled out a year earlier.
The study found that most consumers preferred local products but hesitate to buy them due to concerns over quality – just like Migambi’s experience shows.
It emerged that nearly 65 per cent of respondents buy locally made products because they want to promote them but the quality and availability still proven to be a challenge.
The survey also sought to know whether the Made-in-Rwanda (MIR) policy had changed perception of locally made products, with 89 per cent of respondents saying it did.
Théoneste Ntagengerwa, Spokesperson of Private Sector Federation, said that MIR campaign has been effective in twofold.
“When you see how investment has shoot up a few years after the campaign, it signals improved perception of Made-in-Rwanda among investors, they now trust the market,” he told The New Times.
Rwanda’s registered investments rose by over US$500 million to US$1.675 billion in 2017, up from US$1.16 billion in 2016.
In Migambi’s case, after five years, he is “proud to say that my project is becoming effective.” When he started out, only 10 manufacturers agreed to exhibit with him, now he works with more than 200 local manufacturers whose market went beyond borders.
On the aspect of quality, Rwanda Standards Board has increasingly been issuing quality certification for more local products.
Recent figures show that at least 39 product certifications have been issued in recent years, as well as 268 product re-certifications and 555 system certifications.
‘Long journey ahead’
Despite this progress, a significant number of consumers, especially in rural areas still hold a negative perception about locally made products.
For 30-year-old Alexis Ngabonziza, who has been running a construction company in Kamonyi District since 2016, quality is not his biggest challenge.
“All the equipment that I use are imported, very expensive yet mostly of poor quality,” he said, calling on government to find a way of subsidising producers like him who mostly use imported machines.
He added: “I commend the efforts that have been put in (promoting Made-in-Rwanda) so far but we can be able to reduce prices with more support.”
PSF’s Ntagengwa agrees that there is a lot that still needs to be tackled, including working on changing the mindset of people who still think that locally made products are necessarily inferior to imported ones.
Made-in-Rwanda policy was adopted in 2015 seeking to boost the country’s efforts toward economic transformation through enhanced competitiveness and local industrial growth.
The main objective is to address Rwanda’s trade deficit and create more jobs (PDF file) for a largely youthful population.Follow AngeIliza