The Kigali City Tower (KCT) in Rwanda’s bustling central business district is a shining example of the country’s rise from the ashes of conflict, the tragedy that killed 800,000 in the genocide against the Tutsi 22 years ago.
The elevators of the high-rise KCT are busy, going up and down without respite as the day progresses.
On the first floor, they open to the Rwanda Stock Exchange (RSE), which on any given day is a hive of activity: young men and women in red blazers indulging in light banter on the trading floor, still using marker pens and dusters on the white boards in front of the reception area.
But this stock exchange of seven staff members is on its way to becoming fully-electronic.
“By the end of the year or even before that,” says the RSE’s Chief Executive Officer, Pierre Celestin Rwabukumba, a Rwandan national, seated in one of the glass offices to the left of the reception.
At 42, Rwabukumba is perhaps one of the youngest stock exchange heads on the continent, but it does not take too long to know this is a man on a mission to contribute to the economic development of the country he came home to 12 years ago after a stint on Wall Street in the United States.
An economics graduate from the University of Buffalo in New York, he decided to return home to develop industry in his own country.
“I decided to chip in,” says Rwabukumba, simply.
And he wears many hats. Also Chairman of the East African Securities Exchanges Association, he is Co-Founder and Chairman of the Kigali Cement Company, which produces, markets and sells cement in Rwanda and neighboring countries. He is involved in investment projects ranging from real estate, poultry and agro-processing to energy.
Yet, when the RSE was incorporated in 2007, in a small office on the fifth floor of the Ecobank building, Rwabukumba was the only employee – all he had was a blank paper and a desk to start with.
“I did everything myself, I was running the whole thing,” he chuckles.
The RSE was officially launched in January 2011 when it moved to its current premises and started with four listed companies. Currently, it has seven (three local companies and four cross-listed from the region) including Bralirwa, Bank of Kigali, KCB Bank, Nation Media Group, Uchumi Supermarket, Equity Group Holdings and Crystal Telecom.
The RSE has a market capitalization of $3.6 billion. The Nairobi Stock Exchange, the biggest in the East African region, sits at $21.24 billion.
“We are small and efficient,” says Rwabukumba.
“We are young, flexible and that makes us different. We try to be as innovative and tech-savvy as possible… We have had a lot of milestones; there is a lot to be proud of.”
The RSE operates in financial markets, corporate finance, investment analysis and portfolio management, international finance and business laws. It aims to lead Rwanda to become a regional financial center.
Robert Mathu, Executive Director of Rwanda’s Capital Market Authority (CMA), echoes Rwabukumba’s optimism.
“Rwanda is a very young economy compared to the rest of East Africa. We had to start from scratch 22 years ago. The country has registered consistently high economic growth,” he says.
In addition to the stock exchange’s efforts, CMA is promoting the capital market by creating awareness among the public, also motivating institutional reforms and development.
Mathu says the services industry is Rwanda’s next avenue of growth, those like financial services, logistics, tourism and ICT.
“It is the plan of Rwanda to use the wider East African market as a platform to access long-term capital and diversify economic growth into the area of services, away from the traditional areas like agriculture,” he says.
“We need to develop skills capacity, but we have a long-term plan and are in the process of developing a master plan.”
And this fits in nicely with Rwanda’s own overall master plan.