Rwanda as an investment hub, are we ready?

One of the most fascinating news that came up as Rwanda commemorated her 17th liberation day was a story from a research conducted by a renowned consultancy firm that Nairobi was steadily losing her investor preference to Kigali.This could be some hard news to grasp, given Nairobi’s economic dominance over the past many years. On figures, Kenya still dwarfs Rwanda when it comes to investment inflows.

One of the most fascinating news that came up as Rwanda commemorated her 17th liberation day was a story from a research conducted by a renowned consultancy firm that Nairobi was steadily losing her investor preference to Kigali.

This could be some hard news to grasp, given Nairobi’s economic dominance over the past many years. On figures, Kenya still dwarfs Rwanda when it comes to investment inflows.

In 2010, Rwanda recorded $380 million worth of investments according to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

This is clearly a drop in the ocean compared to Kenya’s billions of dollars worth of investments recorded in 2010.

However, the research done by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) pointing to the fact that Rwanda is becoming a destination of choice for most investors eyeing this region should be music to our ears.

Most important, this should be the strongest indicator to the fact that Rwanda’s long term vision of becoming an economic hub could be on the right track.

PwC cited economic uncertainty, increased volatility of the Kenyan shilling against major currencies, and high-energy costs as some key issues pushing Kigali ahead of Nairobi in terms of investor preference.

PwC said and I quote, "Kigali is increasingly being looked at as an ideal economic hub for the region, especially due to the elaborate infrastructure outlay for ICT compared to Nairobi."

They cited opportunities for investment in Rwanda that include value addition in cleaning coffee and the processing of hides and skins for export, tourism, construction and agro-processing, which were pushing more investors to Kigali.

Interestingly, as I was reading this news item, Claire Akamanzi of RDB was tweeting about the Chairman and CEO of Nestle visiting Rwanda to assess the prevailing opportunities, as if to confirm what PwC was reporting.

A few years ago, convincing any foreigner to visit Kigali, even on a free ticket would be as tough as convincing the Pope to marry. The call to attract investors was often greeted with open scepticism and

a clear lack of interest because of what Rwanda was best known for; Genocide.

But over the years, Rwanda has been on the fast lane of reforms, introducing good practices, policies and programs that have clearly turned tables around.

 The most vivid example is the doing business reforms captured in the World Bank annual ranking which has consistently placed Rwanda as one of the top reformers in the world.

Indeed as the latest PwC research shows, the results are beginning to show.

However, the reforms that Rwanda has carried out over these past 17 years have largely been structural in nature and helped in laying the basic foundation for a sustainable future.

Therefore, the next stage of reforming has to be one that takes in account the growing desire to see services that meet world standards.

Through adopting innovative practices, we need to add value in every spectrum of what we seek to do. That is when we will be able to meet the expectations of this growing interest in the Rwandan market.

And this should be a simpler one.

For example, while our banking sector has evidently evolved over these past years, it is yet to be connected to the global banking regime.

An investor would want to access his accounts from Hong Kong, Bangkok or New York. Here we also need to attract more multilateral banking heavyweights like Barclays, JP Morgan or HSBC into the market to sooth the hearts of these investors.

For long, we have talked about setting up an Economic Processing Zone (EPZ), which continues to drag on and yet duty free importation of inputs for production of export products, would be another key opener for this market.

For long we have talked about improvement in customer care in all services we deliver and yet our people continue to show a snail pace in hotels, health facilities, banks etc.

Investors are not only looking for opportunities but are also interested in social amenities that the country has to offer.

Our services in the health sector must be convincing or meeting some considerable degree of world standards. The quality of education for their children must be guaranteed. 

Recreational facilities should not fall short of hygiene standards. Internet connectivity must be as fast as lightning and our new proposed airport has to be a reality.

All this is achievable because the key ingredients are already in place. We simply need to change our mindsets and shift our thinking to the next stage of our development needs.

In other words, the kind of services that an investor can access in London is what we should aspire to have here. 

The expectations on this country are now high and require a lot of innovations in our plans and programs. For the past 17 years, there have not been any major disappointments and we cannot afford any for our next stage of growth.

On twitter @assiimwe
arthur.asiimwe@gmail.com