Two important things have happened in the last two weeks that not many people are talking about in the country. At the second annual Legatum pioneers of prosperity Africa awards, Gahaya links, a local firm was rewarded alongside other five African enterprises that serve as role models to aspiring entrepreneurs on the continent.
The five companies including Gahaya were awarded USD 350,000 each. This says a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit of Africans in general and Rwandans in particular.
In recent years, Africans have seen tremendous success in the economic sector, mostly at the individual level. For this column I will dwell much on the Rwanda entrepreneurs among whom Gahaya Links, is just one of the many. We will ask, what has coused this?
What has inspired Rwandans in recent years to put a lot of their energies is seeking success like never before in the business sector. And what does this mean or should mean for most Rwandans.
Then a few days later, the governor of the central bank Francois Kanimba expressed great optimism as regards to the Rwandan economy. He predicted that it could reach ten percent growth by the end of 2008.
Apart from Gahaya links winning an award for being a top performer in doing business, there are many other success stories by both small scale entrepreneurs and large scale investors in the country.
Several Banyarwanda have grown their businesses from zero to multimillion investments in a relatively short period of time. In the last decade, a number of Banyarwanda who were refugees have had an opportunity to settle and not worry much about issues of day to day survival, have embarked on building their businesses.
This has been a result of an enabling environment created by the government. The long period of peace in the country has brought out the abilities of many and it can now be evidenced in the business world.
Top class, regionally and world competitive schools like Riviera High School and Green Hills Academy have come up in recent times and are all owned and largely run by Banyarwanda.
This says a lot about the entrepreneurial ability of a people who have decided to rebuild not only their lives, but also to see to it that their country achieves high levels of growth after a long period of conflict and uncertainty.
In South Africa, after the fall of the apartheid regime, a deliberate policy of black empowerment was adopted and vigorously pursued. It created a sizeable number of black elites in business that now own and run large scale business enterprises in the country.
Apparently in Rwanda, a country that had an almost identical system of marginalisation against some of its own people before 1994, such a policy was not pursued.
Instead, it appears the government believed that all the people regardless of what they are characterized as, did not make tangible progress in the area of economic development during tha period.
Instead there was a small clique with close ties to the dictatorship that monopolised business and grew rich. People like Kabuga .come to mind. So it was very important to create an environment where all would be encouraged to pursue their business endevours without hindrance.
Many foreign investors are now flocking into the country like never before. These range from retailers to big banks and in other service sector areas. A free trade zone is also coming up in the outskirts of Kigali. This says a lot about the direction Rwanda’s development is taking.
At the same time an opportunity and challenge has availed itself in the form of the East African Community (EAC) integration. An opportunity to access a wider and large market has been created in the form of the EAC.
So, enterprising Rwandans will have everything to gain, expand and grow their businesses. At the same time they will experience a kind of competition they may not be used to from regional countries.
The EAC also presents a challenge albeit a positive one. Many will have to change their attitudes in areas like customer care and the quality of their products if they are to remain relevant in what is likely to be cut throat regional competition. But all this will help to bring out the best in our business community.