Mainstory: Rwandans in the Diaspora and national development

RWANDA is one of the countries in Africa and the rest of the world that has historically had a sizeable number of her citizens living in the Diaspora.
President Paul Kagame at the Diaspora convention in United States in 2006. (File photo)
President Paul Kagame at the Diaspora convention in United States in 2006. (File photo)

RWANDA is one of the countries in Africa and the rest of the world that has historically had a sizeable number of her citizens living in the Diaspora.

However, in recent times, the Rwandan government and the several communities that make up the Banyarwanda Diaspora have been engaged in activities that are geared towards the country’s development.

Categories of the Rwandan Diaspora

Rwanda’s Diaspora is composed of a number of categories of Banyarwanda and all these have had a historical role to play in the country’s social, economic and political developments.

These categories of the Banyarwanda Diaspora according to Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Charles Murigande in his address on December 27 during the national annual dialogue at the parliament building in Kimihurura are composed of the following grouping:

The Banyarwanda, who became nationals of neighbouring countries like Uganda and Congo, as a result of the arbitrary nature of drawing colonial boundaries by the Belgians.

The above category includes sections of Banyarwanda living in Uganda and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Another group is that of the Banyarwanda migrants of colonial times.

These went to neighbouring countries such as Uganda to look for work or as a result of colonial oppression rule. The other category, according to Murigande is of those commonly known as the ‘fifty niners’.

This was a group of Banyarwanda who were forced to flee their home land to neighbouring countries as a result of the 1959 ethnic cleansing and Genocide.

Murigande stated that most of these who were regarded as refugees, returned to Rwanda following the liberation of the country by the Rwandan Patriotic Front/Army from the government that had carried out the Genocide in 1994.

However, he added that a number of these due to different reasons did not return to the country and continue to constitute part of the current Rwandan Diaspora community.

The other and most recent category of the Banyarwanda living in the Diaspora is made up of people who belonged to the defeated Genocide government.

These upon defeat forced a massive number of the citizens to flee with them to the neighbouring Zaire then under the late dictator president Mobutu.

Later on, many of these Rwandans returned to their home country but several who committed Genocide crimes in the country still remain at large in foreign countries. These also according to the Minister, are part of the Rwandans in the Diaspora.

Contribution to national development

The Rwandan government, through the Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA) has made tremendous effort to attract Rwandans in the Diaspora to invest in their country.

This according to Clare Akamanzi, RIEPA’s deputy director general in charge of investment promotion is out of the realisation that the Diaspora community has a lot to contribute to national development.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Akamanzi says a number of Banyarwanda in the Diaspora have already invested in different sectors of the economy.

Some of the areas that they have invested in include Information and Communication Technology ICT, the Health sector, and tourism among others.

She cited people like Antoine Bigirimana, an ICT expert who has set up a company called E-2. The company aims at developing ICT soft ware in the country. There are others who have set up business opportunities geared towards providing jobs to many Rwandans.

According to Riepa, some of the members of the Diaspora have already taken steps towards investing in the Tourism sector. This sector is one of Rwanda’s leading foreign exchange earner for the country.

According to Akamanzi, other Banyarwanda in Diaspora especially those in North American countries like Canada have invested in this sector.

Akamanzi strongly believes that the country offers a lot of potential investment revenues for the Diaspora community.

In addition to this, she contends that many of the Banyarwanda out there have love for their country which is derived out of patriotism.

Many of these have been attracted back into the country through talking to a number of Rwandan government officials, including attending Diaspora conventions addressed by the Rwandan President Paul Kagame and others organised by RIEPA.

Indeed RIEPA has been at the fore front of ensuring that the Diaspora makes a contribution to national development. This according to Akamanzi has been a focus point for the organisation in the last one year.

Murigande revealed recently while addressing members of Diaspora in Parliament Rwanda receives about $60 millions from Diaspora remittances.

Challenges

Rwanda Diaspora Investment (RDI) is group of Byanyarwanda based in United Kingdom and has been at the forefront in marketing Rwanda’s image to western countries.

The RDI’s Sunday Times Company secretary, Ignatius Mugabo observed in an e-mail to that Rwandans in Diaspora can do a great deal of good work in terms of promoting trade and investment between Rwanda and their countries of residence by promoting Rwanda as a tourist destination.

He however noted that the biggest problem many members of Diaspora meet currently is battling a negative attitude of some people who still think Rwanda is like Somalia; a failed state with a violent history.

The other problem is the mentality of the Rwandans in the Diaspora themselves. Many people living in various countries, having left Rwanda probably many years ago and not knowing the changes that have been taking place, still hold the same view of Rwanda being a chaotic state.

He said the general Diaspora community needs to be mobilised to think like other Diaspora communities from other countries who go to Western countries with a view of looking for capital to invest in their own country or knowledge to apply on their return.

That once Rwandans start to think this way, a lot of capital and human resources will be streaming in from outside; more than even the Foreign aid the country receives.

He said members of RDI have been to so many countries like Asia, Americas and Europe and all Rwandans they meet there hold low opinion on the possibility of investing back home.

He said $60million remitted is still wanting compared to the number of Rwandans living abroad. He said $60 million is just the amount they send to help their relatives, not for investment. Therefore, this fifure could grow even bigger.

Mugabo welcomed a special fund Murigande said would be put in place between government and Diaspora members. The fund will help to secure some government properties in case they are put up for auction.

“In fact, I would suggest that government sets up an ‘Overseas Investment Fund’ to support Rwandan enterprise abroad,” Mugabo says.

Members of Rwanda Diaspora Investment (RDI) are looking forward to starting of Capital Market/stock exchange in Rwanda.

He said many Rwandans in the Diaspora understand the operation of this type of business and they have the means to do so.

Rwanda’s Expo in UK

On October 3 last year, Rwanda Diaspora Investment (RDI) Ltd organized Rwanda Investment conference and exhibition in London. The one-day event also attended by President Paul Kagame was a success.

It was jointly organised in partnership with the Rwandan Embassy in London and Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA).

The theme was “Unveiling a New Rwanda to the World”. The event was aimed at bringing together Rwandan business community and their European counterpart to exchange ideas, discuss mutual projects and build long-term business networks and partnerships.

The expo gave opportunity to Rwandan companies and agencies to promote their products and services not only to the increasingly influential Rwandan Diaspora community, but also to EU markets, and to promote Rwanda as a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and tourist destination.

On the sidelines of the investment conference, which took place at the Royal Institute of British Architects in central London, Rwandan products and services were exposed to the European consumers.

It was attracted high-profile political and corporate leaders from both Rwanda and EU. The RDI says such conferences are dedicated to explaining Rwanda’s investment climate opportunities and incentives to EU investors, through speeches and presentations by corporate and government leaders.

“We want to position Rwanda as one of the best and well-managed emerging markets in Africa,” Mugabo adds.

“We are determined to completely reverse our country’s image here as a war-ravaged, ethnically divided and an object of charity, to a country ready and capable to conducting serious business with the rest of the world.

The October 3 event attracted over 200 people from both the UK and other EU countries attended both the conference and exhibition.

Sixteen Rwandan companies exhibited their products and services ranging from handicrafts, textiles, food products, housing to financial services.

The conference was addressed by President Kagame, Vincent Karega, Rwanda’s Minister of State for Investment promotion and Industry.

Others were Ambassador Claver Gatete, Francis Gatare, the Director General of Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA), Dr Nkosana Moyo, the Chairman of ACTIS-BCR, Michael Synider of the City of London Corporation and Sir Tom Hunter, Chairman, The Hunter Foundation.

Way Forward

There is a need to identify and involve more stakeholders in the organisation of the Expo. There is also a need to streamline communication between RDI, RIEPA, PSF and other Rwandan stakeholders.

Rwandan companies need to be enlightened about the nature of the UK/EU market. The organisation of the Expo on weekdays limited the participation of the Diaspora community; there is therefore a need that the next Expo takes place on weekend.

In light of the above, RDI has already commissioned a research project, to be carried out jointly with the London School of Economics (LSE), to look into the viability of setting up Rwanda Trading House in London.

Ends

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