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.
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.
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
Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market
While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.
The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.
This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.
“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”
The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership
The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.
The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.
In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”
Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.
“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.
So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”
-Samantha Todd; Forbes
Roadmap For African Startups
Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, explains how African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise.
Does impact investment favor expats over African entrepreneurs? If so, how can it be fixed?
There is a growing recognition all over the world that investment is not a fully objective process, and is biased by the homogeneity of investors, networks and distant locations.
A Village Capital Report cited that 90% of investment in digital financial services and financial inclusion in East Africa in 2015-2016 went to a small group of expatriate-founded businesses, with 80% of disclosed funds emanating from foreign investors.
READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine
In a similar trend recognized in the US over the last decade, reports that only 3% of startup capital went to minority and women entrepreneurs has triggered the rise of new funds focused on gender and minority-lensed investing.
There has been an explosion of African startups all over the continent, and investors are missing out by looking for the same business models that work in Silicon Valley being run by people who can speak and act like them.
In South Africa, empowerment funds and alternative debt fund structures are dedicated to investing in African businesses, but local capital in other African countries may not also be labelled or considered impact investing, but they do still invest in job creation and provision of vital services.
There is still, however, a several billion-dollar financing gap of risk capital in particular, which local capital needs to play a significant part in filling. And of course, African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise and engage investors convincingly of the growing and unique opportunities on the continent.
What are the most exciting areas for impact investing and social entrepreneurship today?
After several decades of emergence, the most exciting areas are the explosion of new products, vehicles and structures along with the mainstreaming of impact investment into traditional entities like banks, asset managers and pension funds who are using the impact lens and, more importantly, starting to measure the impact.
At the same time, we’re seeing an emergence of partnership models, policies and an ecosystem of support for the work of social entrepreneurs, who’ve been operating with insufficient capital and blockages in regulation for decades.
The 2019 OECD report on Social Impact Investment mapped the presence of 590 social impact investment policies in 45 countries over the last decade, but also raises the concern of the risk of ‘impact washing’ without clear definitions, data and impact measurement practices.
In Africa, we are also seeing National Advisory Boards for Impact Investing emerge in South Africa and social economy policies white papers being developed; all good news for social entrepreneurs.
What role does technology play in enabling impact investing and social entrepreneurship?
The role of technologies from the mobile phone to cloud services, blockchain, and artificial intelligence is vast in their application to enhancing social impact, improving the efficiency, transparency and trust as we leapfrog old infrastructures and create digital systems that people in underserved communities can now access and control.
From Sproxil (addressing pirated medicines and goods), to Zipline (drones delivering life-saving donor blood to remote areas of Rwanda) to Silulo Ulutho Technologies (digitally empowering women and youth), exciting new ways of addressing inclusion, education and health are possible, and applications are being used in many other areas such as land rights, financial literacy etc.
While we have seen a great mobile penetration, much of Africa still suffers from high data costs, and insufficient investment in education and capacity to lead in areas of the fourth industrial revolution, with the risk that these technologies could negatively impact communities and further drive inequality.
Towards One Africa
In the alphabet soup of regional African trade blocs, will the AfCFTA ease the cost of doing business on the continent?
Ghana has been named the host of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) following four years of talks to form a 55-nation trade bloc. It will be the base for the AfCTA secretariat.
The opportunities for Africa with this new trade bloc are immense. The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that the AfCFTA will create the world’s largest continental free-trade area, provided all 55 African Union (AU) members join, and has the potential to create an African single market of 1.2 billion consumers whilst eliminating about 90% of tariffs on goods over the next five years.
So far, 44 African countries have signed up for the historic agreement, the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization.
READ MORE | Amid Trade Wars, What Africa Must Do
The AfCFTA is expected to boost the economies of African countries through employment creation and the promotion of made-in-Africa goods. But Kayode Akindele, a partner at TIA Capital, a pan-African investment partnership focussed on credit-based investing across sub-Saharan Africa, is not opening up the bubbly just yet.
“We already have ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] which doesn’t seem to be working and so why don’t we sort that out first before we enter a continental trade agreement for Africa?”
And he is not alone in his concerns.
“There are other factors we need to also consider. Firstly, with the implementation of the AfCFTA, goods made in other continents could be disguised as made-in-Africa to qualify for duty free treatment. There could also be a reduction in government revenue and also this trade bloc also threatens the profitability and survival of infant industries,” says Vincent Acheampong, an economist based in the United Kingdom.
Of the regional blocs in Africa, including EAC (East African Community) and SADC (Southern African Development Community), the ECOWAS has some way to go in terms of performance, according to Muda Yusuf, the Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in an interview with CNBC Africa. But he believes there is still reason to be optimistic.
“A continental trading bloc is going to build on the success of the regional blocs like ECOWAS and other blocs across Africa. So, this integration is going to build on those blocs. In terms of performance, of course ECOWAS is the least performing because East Africa is doing very well and South Africa is doing far better also. But there is no perfect time for things like this, what is important is for us to get a conviction that economic integration will work for us and also if we can get our institutions to make it work,” says Yusuf.
Amongst the many challenges of the ECOWAS is its failure to implement its vision of a single currency, the ECO, which is part of its plans to make Africa a more integrated continent. That vision has been postponed several times by the 15-member group with the newest target date set for 2020 although most experts believe the date to be unrealistic.
The success of the AfCFTA requires not only a trade policy but also a manufacturing agenda, competition, industrial policies and property rights to work well according to Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, in a statement at the launch event that took place in Niamey, Niger.
READ MORE | Trade Wars: We’re Next, European Investors Fear
The ninth edition of the flagship Assessing Regional Integration in Africa report (ARIA IX) stipulates that AfCFTA’s success will be due to its ability to actually change lives, reduce poverty and contribute to economic development in Africa.
In support of the new trade bloc, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo pledged to donate $10 million to the AU to support the operationalization of the secretariat of the AfCFTA.
Although the AfCFTA will be economically transformative for Africa in the long-term, the immediate benefits will be restricted due to the macro-economic uncertainties of regional trade.
“Most African countries are currently not producing the goods and services that their neighbors import, as a result we do not trade a lot with each other. It is easier for an African country to trade with a country in Europe than a country that lies right next to it and these low levels of intra-African trade need to be addressed before we can reap the full benefits of the AfCFTA,” says Acheampong.
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