Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa is excited. In his office, that looks over all Kigali, the chairman of Rwanda Investment Group (RIG) explains that it has taken time but things are beginning to take off.
And Rujugiro has every right to be excited. Not yet two years old, RIG has made steps in Rwanda’s private sector that one could only have dreamed of a few years back.
RIG has to date committed Frw500b to investment in the country. The company, created in September 2006, is investing in extraction of methane gas in Lake Kivu, silk and cement production, maintenance of Kigali industrial park and peat extraction.
RIG’s first project was the acquisition of the only state owned cement factory in the country. Last year the company turned a profit of Frw1b.
Not so long ago, limited to agriculture and trade there was little prospect for Rwanda’s economy.
For it to grow something had to change. Believing that this something was quite simply working together, Rujugiro initiated RIG (though he is reluctant to take all the credit) and is today one of its majority shareholders with 20 per cent of the issued share capital.
RIG consists of 42 shareholders (companies, individuals and institutions) who have pooled resources to make investments that would have been inconceivable as individuals.
Perhaps most significantly, as President Kagame pointed out the launch of the capital market, RIG represents the first major departure from the norm which saw most companies in Rwanda operating as family or individual businesses.
Shared ownership of productive assets proves, as RIG has shown, that investment in Rwanda can take the economy to the next level.
“We needed to develop trust,” Rujugiro points out one of the major challenges the initiative has faced. “It was difficult to convince people to dig into their pockets.”
“The key is changing people’s mentality,” Rujugiro adds. People, perhaps unsurprisingly, have looked to short term profit, reluctant to wait five years to reap the benefits of their investment.
But there are signs of change.
John Kayihura, head of Rwanda Tours and Travel Association, who is witnessing growth within the tourism sector, believes that the security and stability of the country are the root causes of this change.
“Despite a lack of infrastructure, the country is very well organized and this gives people confidence,” Kayihura explains.
Rujugiro believes that security is the most important issue for investors. “Up until 1994, the level of security here was very low.”
Rwanda now enjoys the basic conditions for financial investment: political stability, law and order and transparency in business.
“And potential,” Rujugiro adds, acknowledging the endless opportunities of a virgin economy.
Claire Akamanzi, the deputy director general at Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA), explains: “The nature of the country is such that demand levels are very high, while the levels of production are low so you still have lots of products in demand while suppliers are few.”
Kayihura enthuses that in the tourism industry in particular “lots of Rwandans are getting involved and acting creatively.” Tour companies are being set up and hotels built.
What’s more the government, realizing the value of the private sector, is doing all can to promote investment. (See incentives)
The launch of the capital market last month will in time undoubtedly accelerate progress.
“Raising funds is one of the biggest challenges that business people have faced,” says Akamanzi.
Francois Kanimba, governor of the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR), explained that the Over the Counter (OTC) market offered a more sophisticated market for investors.
Kanimba, in an interview at his office, explained that there would be opportunities for businesses to raise money away from the banking sector which is inefficient and expensive.
“The stock exchange market is a very important tool or platform where one companies can raise money,” Akamanzi explained.
The OTC quite simply provides a place for investors and business people to meet and do business.
Perhaps most importantly as Kayihura pointed out the OTC has provided the “stamp of approval” for investors; it has legitimised Rwanda as an investment opportunity.
Beyond securing funds, there are of course other obstacles to overcome.
Energy costs and availability, transport infrastructure and a shortage of skills are not, as Akamanzi points out, things that can be righted over night. Measures are in place – energy projects are being explored, the transport sector is being aggressively promoted, spending on education is increasing – but it will be some time before their impact is felt.
Rujugiro however stresses the importance of taking things slowly. “We can’t enter into everything at once.” It is more important that things are done slowly and efficiently.
With little experience of a private sector, it’s important to tread carefully. As Kayihura stresses, “we cannot afford to make mistakes.”
But as attitudes change and ideas multiple we can expect to see things really taking off. RIG is paving the way for others to follow.
“I see improvements every year,” Rujugiro beams, “it can only get better.”
Indeed he has every reason to be excited.