Clarence Fernandes, who has wrapped up a working visit to Rwanda, is the Co-Chairman, Travel and Tourism Committee of the Indian Merchant’s Chamber. During his mission to Rwanda, Fernandes who also doubles up as Chairman of Rwanda Renaissance, an organisation set up to enhance trade and investments between Rwanda and India, talked to Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah of The New Times about his perception of Rwanda’s investment drive and prospects.
Is this your first visit to Rwanda?
No. The first time I visited Rwanda was during the East African Community (EAC) Investment conference in mid 2008, that was held at Kigali Serena Hotel. That was the first time I had a taste of Rwanda. It is this particular event that eventually led to arousing my interest in Rwanda.
Why this passion on Rwanda? Why not any other country?
It has something to do with the first visit that I mentioned earlier. I am talking about the warmth, the hospitality, the friendliness of the people, the cleanliness of the city. The overall impression made a lasting mark in my mind. I must add that I got this kind of impression that contrasts with the general view out there that Rwanda is a dangerous place to visit.
Is it correct to say that it is about the first impression having a lasting impression?
Absolutely. It made me develop a much stronger bond with this country. Later on, I managed to bring an investor who visited to have a first hand account of opportunities that this country offers. This particular prospecting investor was so amazed by what he saw.
Let us talk about this particular investor. Did the deal go through eventually? Are you in a position to share with our readers such details?
This particular investor wanted to partner with a leading local private university. However, the deal was never concluded. The most important thing is the overall impression that this particular investor got after his visit. Being an educational investor, he looked up to having a presence in Rwanda after having invested in several African countries such as Nigeria.
How about your interventions on investors eyeing Rwanda at a personal level?
I have very good experiences dealing with Rwanda. I have spoken at commemoration programs back at home in Pune in India on invitation by the Rwandan High Commission. I also invited a student of School of Finance and Banking (SFB) Dianne Mukunda to visit India through our local chamber of commerce in which she was guest speaker of an event organised by our chamber. 15 countries participated.
She had a very interesting five day program visit to India where Rwanda was able to stand out from other countries that sent representatives for the finance and banking conference that targeted the youth.
What is your profession?
I am a marketing and public relations consultant. I have done consultancies in Africa and India. I have worked for the Indonesian Tourism Board and Singaporean Tourism Board as well.
I have worked in Hong Kong too. I have also managed to work for some European clients within the hospitality sector. I worked for Gold Hotels a German brand. My focus right now is to engage Rwanda as a country client.
I will now ask you to dwell on in your own opinion on areas which Rwanda needs to work on in order to attract more investors. In other words, what is the other side of the coin when we are talking about Rwanda as an ideal host for investments?
Rwanda cannot be said to be heaven on earth. These are areas which one can highlight to policy makers to work on. In order to make this place better.
To be honest I have not had any negative impression.
Not entirely negative. I am talking about other issues surrounding investment promotion to Rwanda.
In that respect, I think education is an issue. I am talking about workforce development. I am informed that this is a work in progress which is quite a welcome gesture. I am impressed by the levels of collaboration between Indian companies and Rwandan interns. For instance, Rwandan students are interns in leading Indian companies such as TATA. In the same breath I happened to have an opportunity to visit Akila Training Institute which is now expanding. This is good news. This particular expansion of such an institute will have practical courses in hotel management which is very good news. The same applies to the ICT courses which will equally emphasise on practical training. This is the kind of positive approach needed to tackle challenges within the provision of skilled manpower for investors. The same story goes for Rwanda Tourism University.
Going forward, what are we likely to see from your end?
I am currently looking forward to getting a mandate from Rwanda in order to work fully on getting investors to come and see. I am visiting the entire country in order to acquaint myself with its terrain.
Once you have that mandate, how many investors are you targeting to entice to invest in Rwanda?
It will be a systematic and gradual engagement.
I am asking such a question due to the fact that people out there are already interested in Rwanda.
You are right on that one. It is a sort of a movement of getting investors to come on the ground. In India, the momentum has picked up. There are examples such as Punj Lloyd which is a huge infrastructural development company. The same applies to Jain Systems that does irrigation works.
So from your efforts what are we likely to see?
I will mostly work through networks in my capacity as a chamber of commerce official back at home. I will try to push Rwanda’s case within such networks. There are so many things to be done. If I do that there are chances of bringing top Indian decision makers to visit Rwanda some time next year. That is a major project for me. Another thing to do once I have the mandate is to have some presence for Rwanda in Mumbai.
Be clearer on the sort of thing you want to do. We know that India is very large and does it mean that you want to represent Rwanda in Mumbai or larger Western India?
I am talking about western India. I have the backing of the western Indian Chamber of Commerce. Through that chamber, so much can be done. However, in order to make a lasting impact it has to be done systematically.
Tell us more about your chamber of commerce
The Indian merchant’s chamber is a 104 year old leading chamber of commerce and Industry. It is the only chamber that has Mahatma Gandhi as its honorary member. It was set up during the British colonial days in India for the Indian business community to enable the community to have a common voice.
When you go back home, what do you intend to do more precisely?
Especially in your capacity as a public relations professional.
Apart from what I have told you, I will also write articles about this country. I see Rwanda has tremendous potential. There is a sizeable Indian community coming up here. So I will talk about all these things.
In conclusion, what do you have to say?
It is very clear that Rwanda’s stand is very strong. The country is progressing in the right direction. With its broad based policies, along with coordinated approach, I have a strong feeling that Rwanda will most likely actualise its transformational agenda. I enjoy visiting Rwanda. Several of my friends who visit Rwanda think the same about this country. There are so many areas of engagement with Rwanda as a country.