Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma came calling to Rwanda to sign a deal to boost its digital economy.
When a Chinese billionaire comes calling, for two consecutive years, it means serious business.
On Jack Ma’s November trip to Rwanda, he announced a first-of-its- kind-in-Africa deal with the Rwandan government.
The Alibaba Group, one of the world’s largest e-commerce businesses that Maco-founded and chairs, has established an electronic world trade platform(eWTP) hub that will enable Rwandan products to be sold in the Chinese market and boost cross-border trade.
Ma, with an estimated net worth of $34.4 billion according to FORBES, called Rwanda “a great country that walks the talk” at the launch of the hub at the Kigali Convention Centre. The mood was euphoric as Rwandans took to Twitter with the hashtag #Rwandaworks.
“It’s a great honor for myself and Alibaba to be able to partner with Rwanda. People ask me, why Rwanda? There are so many countries in Africa. It’s so difficult we have a lot of criteria to pick a country to be an eWTP hub. My answer is why not Rwanda?” said Ma.
“When I first came here, I was shocked by its safety, cleanliness and by its power to embrace change. Last year was my maiden visit to Africa, I realized that it is so different from what I thought. I said if every country in Africa was like Rwanda, how powerful Africa would be.
“Rwanda is making things happen. Most countries talk about supporting
small businesses, young people, farmers but very few of them take action…
This is why we came here. When other people complain, we take that as a great opportunity. What impressed us is not only the products you have but also the government’s efficiency.”
He said he was proud to know Kagame. The leader, in turn, also paid tribute to Ma, whom he referred to as “my friend”.
He commended Ma for looking at Africa differently.
“Jack is a believer and in most cases, he believes correctly,” said Kagame.
The eWTP partnership covers tourism, capacity-building and e-payments as the primary areas of cooperation.
It ultimately aims to enhance the capabilities of small and medium enterprises to produce and export quality, globally-competitive products while supporting the development of the digital economy in Rwanda.
Products sold on the platform will initially be handicrafts and coffee, which is Rwanda’s third biggest foreign exchange earner after mining and tourism.
The platform presents an opportunity for Rwanda’s coffee producers to access the Chinese market whose coffee consumption is growing at 15% per annum.
On the platform, Rwandan coffee farmers will be receiving $12 per $16 sold, which is significantly higher compared to other markets like the US where they normally get $8 per $16 sold.
The deal will also attract high- spending Chinese tourists.
Players in Rwanda’s business community, especially in the trade and tourism sector, call the deal unprecedented and overdue.
Abdallah Bawazzir, Director General of New Dawn Associates, says: “We’ve been having issues as far as e-commerce is concerned. We’ve had promises from other big entities which come around and nothing really tangible comes of it. Alibaba having done this in China, I’m sure they are very much capable of doing this in Rwanda.”
Ephraim Rwamwenge, Chief Executive Officer at Rwa Business Group, adds: “One of the challenges that plagued our export markets such
as China, which is a massive market, is access. It was next to impossible to find customers to take your products but thanks to technology, it’s now cheaper to do business across borders.”
- Steven Muvunyi
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