The Rwandan Investment and Export Promotions Agency (Riepa) has been given the task of selling ‘Brand Rwanda’ to the world.
The campaign is part of the country’s move towards becoming a middle-income economy by 2020.
Vision 2020 seeks to raise Rwanda’s per capita gross domestic product from a paltry $230 today to $900 yearly by 2020, in an effort to reduce the percentage of the population relying on agriculture from 90 per cent to 50 per cent.
Already the country is on course towards becoming an information-rich, knowledge-based economy. The main sectors of the economy are being modernised using information and communications technology (ICT). The ultimate goal is to develop Rwanda as the regional services hub; an African ‘Singapore’. And, a comprehensive development agenda—Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) has been developed and adopted as a path out of abject poverty.
The Ministry of Trade, Commerce, Investment Promotion, Tourism and Cooperatives through Tourism office (ORTPN), Rwanda Bureau of Standards, Rwanda Investment and Export Promotions Agency (Riepa) and other institutions in the ministry have been tasked to achieve objectives set out in EDPRS. Tourism is among the most important sectors of the Rwandan economy.
“We aim to make tourists stay in Rwanda longer, while we exploit Rwanda’s untapped wealth, as we hope they can spend much money here and expand our economy,” Rosette Rugambwa the director general of ORTPN says. As part of their endeavour to increase tourist activities in the country, ORTN recently launched birding in Akagera National Park and Nyungwe Forest National Park.
A typical bird watching trip to Uganda and Rwanda takes a minimum seven days at a cost of $3,900. In the past a bird watchers paid for one single bird watching trip which combined Rwanda and Uganda-but tourists spent a big part of their time and money in Uganda.
Rwanda now wants to take a share of that money on October 20th ORTPN with its partners launched bird watching as an alternative attraction to high-end- tourists who made tourism the third highest foreign income earner for Rwanda at $34 million in 2006. ORTPN states this is one way of attracting specialist visitors to Rwanda to achieve the targeted 70,000 tourists by 2010 and spending $100m.
Now, as part of the government’s ambitious Vision 2020 scheme, Reipa has been asked to market Rwanda as a product to international investors and tourists. Vision 2020 aims to increase the country’s income both on a national and individual level, and turn Rwanda from an agricultural-based economy to a knowledge-based one – within the next 13 years.
The task is immense, but exciting, said Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency’s Claire Akamanzi: “We are very optimistic, and see this challenge as the culmination of our first seven years of existence. If we are to achieve Vision 2020 then attracting investment is crucial.”
She said: “Our strategy lies in exploiting what makes Rwanda unique. We have a very reliable infrastructure, zero tolerance to corruption, and a peaceful and secure environment.
We are branding Rwanda as a country with values; integrity, efficiency, a hard-working and honest population. Rwanda has substantial assets, not least peace and security in the entire country.
You can leave your car outside and it won’t get broken into.”
Investments have been trickling in gradually - the latest major entrants being international equity and commercial banks opening up regional offices in Rwanda. Just arrived are Ecobank and Access Bank, two of Africa’s biggest banks. The next to arrive will be Barclays.
Akamanzi is not perturbed by Rwanda’s disadvantages as a small land-locked country with a young economy, lacking any major natural resource apart from human beings. “Rwanda’s geography is a blessing,” she said, “placing investors at the intersection of French- and English-speaking Africa and affording new opportunities for trade in high-value, low-volume, transport-sensitive products like flowers and fruits. We want to distinguish ourselves in regard to regional integration through this perfect location with access to both East and Central African markets.”
Riepa has a daunting task in expanding the agricultural sector, which is responsible for a large proportion of Rwandan exports. About 90 per cent of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. Tea and coffee account for more than 80 per cent of total export revenues.
Akamanzi said: “We are encouraging farming of flowers, fruits and vegetables to balance the delicate nature of horticulture. We are working with Ministry of Agriculture to look for ideas of diversifying agricultural production and value addition, we are also in talks with a major horticultural investor, and this will go a long way in improving the farming sector.”
The job of attracting investors to Rwanda is not for Riepa alone, everyone from diplomats to tourists has a role to play. The brand-building goes all the way to the top; Rwandan President Paul Kagame has made it his primary objective on recent trips to China, the UK and the US.
Riepa gives a figure of $470m for total registered investment in 2005, with 500 new investments since 2001. Kigali City is a hive of construction, thanks to increased jobs in the formal employment sector.
But Riepa’s efficiency has been disputed by a World Bank report placing Rwanda 158th out of 175 in terms of ease setting up investments. Akamanzi said: “The World Bank uses blanket criteria in determining the conditions of investing. Some of these, such as our dependence Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, are beyond Rwanda’s control. Matters are not helped by the fact that many Rwandan businesses are not registered with Riepa. The World Bank did not consider these dynamics and have produced a worst case scenario.”
Even so, Riepa is working to rectify the major issues raised by the World Bank. “This year we have revised our operations, and sent an Action Plan document to the cabinet.
We are also undertaking several reforms to make the business sector more accountable, part of which is introducing a business registry agency to speed up the documentation process.”