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Rwanda The Emerging Economy To Watch

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The tiny East African nation has proven to be a role model for the continent.

During her November 2018 visit to Rwanda, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva described the country as one that has enjoyed impressive growth and often has bold ambitions.

In recent years, at business summits across the world, it’s not uncommon to hear such praise about Rwanda. Various speakers have singled it out as one of the emerging economies to look out for in terms of investment opportunities, value for money and economic growth.

The statistics explain why Rwanda has become Africa’s poster child for progress. The country has reduced reliance on donations and currently, domestically funds about 84% of the budget up from about 36% two decades ago.

In the last fiscal year (2017-2018), the economy grew by 8.9%.

Barely 24 years after the horrific genocide against the Tutsi, when the East African nation lost over a million lives and the devastation left a trail of trauma and economic ruin, its achievements have often been described as miraculous.

At the center of the tiny country’s recovery is President Paul Kagame, who led the revolt that ended the genocide.

Kagame has led his country from penury to prosperity. His government has co-invested alongside private capital to reduce risk and create a more appealing proposition.

For instance, when one of Africa’s leading telecoms groups, MTN, was keen on entering the Rwandan market in 1998, the government boosted their confidence by purchasing a 20% stake in the company.

This was driven by an ambition to not only attract the firm to the country but to ensure citizens have access to affordable telecom services. Years later, the government offloaded its stake in the firm through an initial public offering, allowing citizens to be part of a meaningful income-generating firm.

MTN is just one example of the strategic approaches taken by the Kagame-led government. The same has been replicated in multiple sectors, including finance and agriculture.

The last two decades on the Rwandan economic front have also been characterized by improving the investment ecosystem to create interest from the international and local business community.

While most would concentrate on the odds against the country, such as its small size, and its landlocked location, amidst a volatile region, Kagame sought to give investors every reason to put their money in Rwanda.

In a continent that has always been associated with corruption, the Rwandan government adopted a zero-tolerance stance on graft.

This was paired with the improvement of service delivery across all sectors, eliminating the need for bribes to access public services.

READ MORE | Paul Kagame: ‘Together Is When We Are Going To Succeed’

The most recent Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International placed Rwanda as third least corrupt country in Africa.

The reforms have for the last two decades addressed challenges that have often kept investors up at night. Steps that are cumbersome in countries across the world, such as business registration, were eased to a six-hour activity, while tax declaration and registration were simplified to online processes.

The World Bank ranked Rwanda 29th globally in its 2018 Ease Of Doing Business Report and put it second in Africa. The index tracks business efficiency across the world.

Many African economies are known for distinct exports or income streams that have remained unchanged for years. Rwanda chose a different path by embarking on a concerted effort to diversify exports and revenue streams.

This approach has seen services become the leading driver of gross domestic product growth  in the last three years, taking over from agriculture.

Diversification has been achieved, in part, through an increased focus on tourism, driven by initiatives such as the Meetings Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) strategy which in less than five years placed Rwanda among the top conference destinations in Africa.

In May 2018, the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) ranked the capital Kigali as the third most popular conference and event destination on the continent, after Cape Town in South Africa, and Casablanca of Morocco.

The ranking considered as the country’s capacity to accommodate international meetings and events, together with landmark infrastructure such as a modern airport and a state-of-the-art conference center.

The country has projected doubling revenues from conference tourism.

READ MORE | A Country On A Roll

According to Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the country collected a total of $42 million from 192 conferences in 2017 and was projecting $74 million in 2018.

The diversification strategy has opened up investment opportunities for local and international investors (Marriott, Radisson Blu, Park Inn, Serena among others) and created thousands of jobs in the hospitality industry.

The Rwandan media was in November abuzz with news that all hotels in the country’s capital were fully booked for conferences during the month. Conference organizers and tour operators were also said to be stretched to capacity.

Statistics from the RDB indicate there were about 10,488 hotel rooms in the country in 2017, while aviation traffic is expected to grow to about 1,151,300 in 2018, from 926,571 in 2017.

The trend is expected to persist going forward. Rwanda will by the end of 2020 have a new modern airport located in the Bugesera District, a 25-minute drive from the capital.

While pursuing externally-driven growth, Kagame has not forgotten about the home front. This led his government to adopt a ‘Made in Rwanda’ strategy in 2016, which has reduced the trade deficit by about 36% and increased the value of total exports by about 69% from about $558 million to $943 million. Local producers have fast become empowered to produce for the local and export market.

The Rwandan leader has turned his attention to regional integration in the six-member East African Community to counter complaints about Africa’s small, fragmented markets.

The consolidated market of over 200 million citizens is more reassuring to investors and makes a business case for joint infrastructure projects such as the Standard Gauge Railway, which will connect the major Kenyan centers of Mombasa and Nairobi.

Lisa Kaestner, a practice manager for finance competitiveness and innovation at the International Finance Corporation, says: “I see Rwanda is keen on this and trying to support through the East African Community. This is one way to reduce the cost of doing business. If you look at it through the doing business lenses, all countries are trying to improve.”

Kagame’s continental mission has been evident in his various roles at the African Union (AU).

As the chairperson of the AU Reforms team, Kagame has advocated for less donor dependency and more sustainable funding by African states.

He has often challenged African countries who contribute less than 30% of the AU’s budget and turn to external donors with a begging bowl, which has been blamed for influencing the body’s decisions and priorities.

As  AU chair, Kagame has sought an adjustment of terms between Africa and the rest of the world for mutual benefit. This, he has argued, is more sustainable in the long run and presents an avenue for growth among all parties, as opposed to aid, which maintains dependence.

Months after assuming the chairmanship of the AU, in March 2018, Kagame hosted over 50 African heads of state and government in Kigali for the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

As a trade bloc, the trade agreement envisions a continental market of 1.2 billion people, with a combined gross domestic product of more than $3.4 trillion.

So far, 49 countries have signed the agreement, with nine ratifications. The development is a huge step towards encouraging industrialization and job creation across Africa.

Peter Mathuki, Executive Director of the East African Business Council, says: “The country’s leadership is on grip to lift the EAC country to middle income level faster than most African countries. The fast economic growth is premised on pillars of good governance, easy-to-do business climate and zero tolerance to corruption… Rwanda is indeed Africa’s rising star and driver for economic transformation.”

– Collins Mwai 

Economy

5 Tips For SMEs To Counter The Covid-19 Crisis

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It was recently reported by ratings agency S&P Global that the coronavirus outbreak has plunged the world into a recession. On the home front, a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in the country resulted in the President of South Africa imposing a 21-day country-wide lockdown, starting from Thursday, 26 March 2020. Combine this with the fact that the country also recently announced to be in its third recession since 1994 it’s safe to say that many businesses are beginning to feel the effects of the pandemic.

The impact of the coronavirus on small businesses is likely to be substantial, especially for local businesses who are already feeling the pinch, as financial and market uncertainty can easily translate into an emotional crisis that can overwhelm our systems. However, help is on the way as the Department of Small Business Development announced that a Debt Relief Fund has been set up to assist small, medium and micro enterprises impacted by COVID-19.

While this relief is welcomed, it is still vital for leaders to step up. The world has been through crises before, but during these significantly difficult times, the economic impact may be as severe or possibly worse. As such, those in leadership positions must use past crises as examples and apply what was learnt to keep the country on course and minimise the impact of the pandemic.

Karl Westvig, CEO at Retail Capital, has pinpointed the visible areas that are affected and outlined a few pointers to help small business owners weather the storm.

Liquidity

The first victim of panic is liquidity – banks, asset managers and funders stop lending. When they cannot calculate the potential risk, they will not lend.  Therefore, it is critical to shore up cash by drawing down on available facilities and suspending any unnecessary investments. Reduce expenses and manage cash flow daily.

Get Your Best Team on It

When a business is growing, we tend to shift our best people into roles linked to growth and new initiatives. In a crisis, these people need to move into the highest priority roles. These roles would include collecting from customers, raising facilities or engaging key clients.

Morale and Communication

People need leadership. This would include authentic and regular communication about the situation, what the business requires and how this will be achieved. You can’t control the circumstances, but you can control the response and actions. This will create more certainty.

Hands-on

Events evolve quickly and every day is critical. Leaders must be hands-on. They have to be in touch with customers, suppliers, funders and staff. They have to collect data on everything – the mood, the financial metrics, even customer stories. Some of the best information is anecdotal, not just big data.

Policies

It’s tough to lead when you don’t understand all the underlying levers. These can change in a crisis. What worked in a stable environment can go out of the window in an instant. The best approach is to start again, listen to customers and then adapt your policies within your framework.

“This is not a manual on how to handle the current crisis, but hopefully, the points mentioned above can add to what you are already doing. In simple terms, it is easy to be overwhelmed, so tackle a few things very quickly and with commitment. This will create certainty and lead to action. The alternative is paralysis,” concludes Westvig.

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Current Affairs

Moody’s Downgrades South Africa To Junk

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Credit ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded South Africa to junk status on day 2 of the country’s nationwide lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic reform plans have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. The downgrade adds salt to injury for South Africa as it currently struggles with a recession it slipped into in early March.

“The unprecedented deterioration in the global economic outlook caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak will further exacerbate South Africa’s challenges” said Moody’s.

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Current Affairs

What You Need To Know About AfDB’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” Social Bond

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Landmark transaction, largest Social bond transaction to date in capital markets

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 27 March 2020 – The African Development Bank (AAA) has raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies.  

The Fight Covid-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, garnered interest from central banks and official institutions, bank treasuries, and asset managers including Socially Responsible Investors, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. This is the largest Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank. It will pay an interest rate of 0.75%.

The African Development Bank Group is moving to provide flexible responses aimed at lessening the severe economic and social impact of this pandemic on its regional member countries and Africa’s private sector.

“These are critical times for Africa as it addresses the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. The African Development Bank is taking bold measures to support African countries. This $3 billion Covid-19 bond issuance is the first part of our comprehensive response that will soon be announced. This is indeed the largest social bond transaction to date in capital markets. We are here for Africa, and we will provide significant rapid support for countries,” said Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group.

The order book for this record-breaking bond highlights the scale of investor support, which the African Development Bank enjoys, said the arrangers.

“As the Covid-19 outbreak is dangerously threatening Africa, the African Development Bank lives up to its huge responsibilities and deploys funds to assist and prepare the African population, through the financing of access to health and to all other essential goods, services and infrastructure,” said Tanguy Claquin, Head of Sustainable Banking, Crédit Agricole CIB.

Coronavirus cases were slow to arrive in Africa, but the virus is spreading quickly and has infected nearly 3,000 people across 45 countries, placing strain on already fragile health systems. 

It is estimated that the continent will require many billions of dollars to cushion the impact of the disease as many countries scrambled contingency measures, including commercial lockdowns in desperate efforts to contain it. Globally, factories have been closed and workers sent home, disrupting supply chains, trade, travel, and driving many economies toward recession. 

Commenting on the landmark transaction, George Sager, Executive Director, SSA Syndicate, Goldman Sachs said: “In a time of unprecedented market volatility, the African Development Bank has been able to brave the capital markets in order to secure invaluable funding to help the efforts of the African

continent’s fight against Covid-19. Not only that, but in the process, delivering their largest ever USD benchmark. A truly remarkable outcome both in terms of its purpose but also in terms of a USD financing”.

The Bank established its Social Bond framework in 2017 and raised the equivalent of  $2 billion through issuances denominated in Euro and Norwegian krone. In 2018 the Bank was designated by financial markets, ‘Second most impressive social or sustainability bond issuer” at the Global Capital SRI Awards.

“We are thankful for the exceptional level of interest the Fight Covid-19 Social Bond has raised across the world, as the African Development Bank moves towards lessening the social and economic impact of the pandemic on a continent already severely constrained. Our Social bond program enables us to highlight our strong development mandate to the investor community, allowing them to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Africa. This was an exceptional outcome for an exceptional cause,” said Hassatou Diop N’Sele, Treasurer, African Development Bank.

Fight Covid-19 was allocated to central banks and official institutions (53%), bank treasuries (27%) and asset managers (20%). Final bond distribution statistics were as follows: Europe (37%), Americas (36%), Asia (17%) Africa (8%,) and Middle-East (1%).

Press Release by the African Development Bank

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