Calm and clean Rwanda Is Worth every penny

Published 8 years ago

I missed my flight from Nairobi to Kigali. The airport shuttle should have taken no longer than thirty minutes on a Sunday morning, but Kenya’s First Lady had made plans for a charity marathon in a city that is already notorious for its traffic jams. Two and a half hours later I arrive at check-in.

Fortunately, I am not the only one. Also turning up late are two representatives of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) – the Rwandan government entity in charge of business and investment.  I had a meeting scheduled at their offices the next day; now we have an opportunity to discuss doing business in Rwanda over an airport lunch and afternoon tea. “If you bring all your documents I can issue your business license in six hours – one day at the most,” says Kellen Abatesi, the official responsible for business licenses.

Her colleague, Karim Tushabe, is calling Kigali. Unimpressed by the handling of our flight rescheduling, he senses room for improvement. “It will damage the image of RwandAir and our country,” he says with concern.

At Nairobi airport I get a first taste of Rwanda’s widely praised central business administration. Effectiveness and an eye for detail are high on the list, and this does not go unnoticed. The World Bank ranks Rwanda third on the continent for ease of doing business, following Mauritius and South Africa. Last year, this small country was the best global reformer regarding business regulations. It is one of the safest countries on the continent, with a low level of corruption; worthy benefits for any investor, especially with a stable GDP growth rate of about 8.8 percent.

Arriving in Kigali from busy Nairobi is rather like a spa experience. The city is spread across a number of picturesque green hills; the streets are calm and extremely clean. The RDB has arranged a meeting for me with Remote Partners, a project management firm that assists foreign investors through planning and implementation. It is led by two dynamic young men from the US and Israel. They have seen numerous firms come to Rwanda and do extremely well. “Rwanda has introduced and clinically operated an ecosystem very conducive to investors,” Trevor Green, the CEO of Remote Partners, tells me. “Not just in regard to minimizing investor hurdles, but also looking at institutional credibility. “

Also creating value for industrial firms are Rwanda’s Special Economic Zones. Each area is physically secure and administered by a single body, the RDB. It offers reduced tariffs and infrastructure services, with many plots still available.

Green is of the opinion that investing in Rwanda is, above all, a powerful business strategy: “It makes total sense to invest in Rwanda,” he says. “The ease of doing business here makes it the perfect lab for multinationals moving into Africa. But increasingly, I believe that companies could not opt for a better location for their headquarters or manufacturing. Not only do you have the East African Community with a single market of 150 million people on your doorstep, but investors can use Rwanda as a strategic corridor to Central and West Africa.”

In Green’s opinion, energy, infrastructure, and agriculture are the top investment sectors in Rwanda. The country needs 563 MW of electricity, but only 120 are currently produced. It imports over 50  million eggs every year from Uganda alone, I am told. Estimated ROI in Rwanda? Fifteen to twenty percent.

Philip Lucky, a Senior Information Officer for Investment Promotion and Implementation at the RDB, suggests that investors will do best in telecommunications, the service industry, tourism, agriculture, real estate, mining, and energy – in that order. He finds it difficult to keep the list short.

As always, Rwandans seem overly ambitious in their endeavor to be at the top. The fact that they are surrounded by regional giants DRC, Tanzania, and Kenya does not intimidate them: “We want to become a food basket in the region,” says Philip Lucky. “Horticulture, tea, coffee, dairy, and maize corn flour do very well, and we have plans to start flower production.”

As for Trevor Green and his colleague from Remote Partners, Rwanda is a long-term choice. And although English was made an official language alongside French, they want to stay ahead of the game and are now learning the local language, Kinyarwanda.




Harnet Bokrezion is a senior international development consultant, the founder and CEO of Africa Business Jumpstart, and a Partner for Africa at Strategic Business Alliance (SBA).