With reset bilateral relations, the hill country of Rwanda is attracting fresh interest from French business.
In May, French President Emmanuel Macron’s two-day trip to Rwanda was hailed as historic in helping reset relations between the two countries.
During the visit, Macron acknowledged France’s role in the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 that left over a million dead. “France has a role, a history and a political responsibility in Rwanda,” he said in a landmark speech delivered at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in the capital, Kigali.
But Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame insisted the visit was about “the future, not the past”. “France and Rwanda are going to relate better to the benefit of our people, politically, economically and culturally,” he said.
Testament to that is a rising French business interest in Rwanda. In the new suburb of Rebero, for example, the Vivendi Group has established a cinema hall, a games center and has plans for a Universal Music Studio. Its internet and media businesses, Canal Box and Canal Plus, is a household name in Rwanda. The group’s business, Bolloré, specializes in warehouse, logistics and customs clearance services.
Roger Nkubito, Bolloré’s General Manager in Rwanda and Burundi, reveals the company has been investing further in the country.
“Obviously, every investor wants to associate with a country that is politically stable. Without good politics, it’s always hard for investors to make quick investment decisions,” he says.
Nkubito admits that the revitalized bilateral ties have inspired the business community from France to do business in Rwanda.
“French companies at this moment are asking whether there is a possibility to have a double tax avoidance agreement signed between the two countries. That wouldn’t have happened without the two countries making efforts to talk to each other,” he asserts.
Nkubito says Bollore Logistics has now set aside $15 million to expand its reach in Rwanda.
“We are investing in the Kigali Economic Free Zone. We have completed the first phase of the project – a big modern warehouse with 10,000 square meters, which has cost us $7 million. The second phase will begin at the end of this year,” he explains.
A few kilometers away, another French firm, Duval Group, has committed millions to set up one of the largest shopping malls in the country.
Duval Group, a family-owned business which already has operations in Cameroon, Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast, is one of the latest French players in the Rwandan market.
The company is partnering with local businessman Vicky Murabukirwa for various planned investments.
“We are investing in Rwanda because the political landscape is conducive, the IT infrastructure is advanced, and there’s security. These are some of the key things that have attracted French investors here,” Murabukirwa says. On the cards for the
group is a property complex
that will comprise duty-free shops, a four-star hotel, a hypermarket, a food court and other entertainment facilities.
Rwanda is positioning itself as an international financial center and has been working over the years to market itself as a hub for meetings, conferences and events.
According to reports, last year alone, French businesses invested $6.8 million in Rwanda.
“We have a long-term strategic vision towards Rwanda. Beyond Inzovu Mall (the real estate project), we are exploring opportunities in microfinance and insurance sectors,” Eric Duval, the Group’s Founder and Chairman, tells FORBES AFRICA.
BY JULIUS BIZIMUNGU