To maintain the momentum of the ongoing development of the city and surrounding areas, the City of Kigali has recruited the services of Sehoon Oh, the former mayor of South Korean Capital, Seoul as an advisor in economic development. Sehoon served as mayor of Seoul between 2006 and 2011. During his tenure, the city registered significant development and was ranked as one of the most developed cities in the world. Sehoon who will be in Kigali for the next six months spoke to The New Times’, Collins Mwai on what he brings to the city. Excerpts below:
On the commencement of your time and duties in Kigali, what impressions did you have of the city and the country?
My first impression of Kigali is that it is like a blank canvas. It has so much potential in the future. It is possible to make whatever you want of it. The government has very ambitious but realistic goals and plans in terms of Smart City and Kigali is at the centre of the plan. I think the infrastructure is not enough but it is a work in progress. After 10 or 20 years, this city can be the hub of the East African region.
ICT is very important in the process; at first I did not understand why the government had prioritised ICT before other infrastructure projects like electricity. But I later came to understand that the government’s ultimate goal is to use ICT as a driver to the ambitions.
What are your terms of engagement with the city management?
I am from Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica) volunteer. I first came to Rwanda last year in August with three other advisors. My role is to advise on economic development.
Do you have any specific strategy that you plan to advocate for during your time here?
I am interested in the strategic development of the city. About a month ago, I presented a proposal to the Mayor of Kigali, Fidele Ndayisaba. It was about brand strategy which I think is very important for now because if government can achieve the ambitions outlined in the master plan, branding will have a synergy effect on economic development. I think it is very important because as the government pursues success in ICT and other development, it is important to create the right perception about a country and a city.
So far I have already made presentations in front of high level government officials about the concept. It involves marketing the country and the city.
Is there a brand promotion strategy already up for consideration?
When people hear about Rwanda, they mostly think about the Genocide against the Tutsi which is a negative brand image. We have to work to build a new image and a perception about the country. For example if people across the world can learn about the peace building process, reconciliation and reintegration, it would be a very good image. Image is everything.
It has been 20 years after the 1994 Genocide and so much has been achieved. It is time we used some of that progress to market the country. I will keep urging the Government to work on the brand strategy; one of the brand strategies in mind is one of reconciliation and reintegration.
This country has the most unique model of reconciliation and reintegration, an example being Gacaca courts. There are other elements like Ndi Munyarwanda campaign, women empowerment.
Has the strategy been tested or used before and what were the results?
In my country, we embarked on a brand image based on our country’s technology and IT equipment production. We set out to ensure that when one hears of Korea, design and state of the art technology is the first thing that comes to mind. Our country is a country that trades much with other countries and such a brand is beneficial to the country’s ambitions.
At the beginning of my tenure in office as the Mayor of Seoul, I started a design brand image project which saw it named as the World’s Design Capital by International Council of Societies of Industrial Design in 2010. I made every effort to achieve the goal to see to it that design was incorporated by the entire city. It included formulation of policies.
Of all the city’s plans and ambitions, which one do you perceive will be the real change maker, based on your experience?
I have heard of a lot of plans for the city such as making it a financial hub or a knowledge hub. They are all desirable goals but they are a little too much of functional goals. It would be important to factor in goals of developing spirit and value among the people of Kigali. That will give meaning to all other ambitions.
Rwanda is a landlocked country without much natural resources, how do you think the nation can get ahead from a point of disadvantage?
Unfortunately, Rwanda doesn’t have as much resources as other countries in the region. It is a typical landlocked country. That means that the greatest asset is the service industry which can be exported. Among the areas in the service industry that Rwanda can and will fare well is Tourism and the MICE (meetings, Incentives, conferences and exhibitions).