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COLUMNISTS

RWANDA is open for BUSINESS
By Ato Bob

Rwanda Investment Seminar ‘not just gorillas in the mist’

 

Confident reformer Rwandan President Paul Kagame has tackled every holy cow of economic policy to ease the entry and operating costs of business. (Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters)

Introduction

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name of the country Rwanda? I should not be the unspeakable evil of genocide that Rwandans overcame by sheer heroic determination. It also should not just be the idyllic image of gorillas in the mist.

If this is the case, please continue reading and stand corrected.

 

You don’t know about the ‘never again’ which remembers the genocide but has also reverberated and instilled the ‘we are all Rwandans’, providing the basis for a common attitude towards development of the country?

You don’t know Rwanda has more to offer than spectacular nature and the most surprising animals of the world?

You don’t know that Rwanda had sustained growth of 8.8% year-on-year GDP growth since 2005?

You don’t know that their GDP growth rate is the highest among African economies and neighbouring countries?

 

You don’t know that Rwanda is a top global reformer of business regulations in the World Bank ‘Doing Business Survey 2010’ and 2nd in 2011?

 

You don’t know that Rwanda is the only African country with an effective zero tolerance for corruption?

Well there is more you should know and if you were at the Rwanda Investment Seminar held on Friday 23rd September in The Netherlands, you would know the above and more!

Please read on and be informed!

 

Purpose, place and participants

 

The Rwanda Investment Seminar was an initiative of the Rwanda Embassy in The Hague, which under the leadership of its current Ambassador, who was appointed just over a year ago, has been conducting a sustained campaign of lifting Rwanda’s profile in The Netherlands. The seminar was jointly organized with the Rwanda Chamber Foundation (RFC). This is an independent private organization, set up with the objectives of the promotion of Rwanda as a good professional and growing business environment and the assistance to (potential) investors during their first steps in or their investigation of Rwanda. The main purpose of the seminar was to create more awareness among the Dutch business community of the multiple investment opportunities available in Rwanda and attract potential investors to Rwanda.

 

The seminar took place in ‘Castle De Wittenberg’ an exclusive location set in the up-market villa area of Wassenaar, the posh town bordering The Hague and dotted by residences of Embassies and International Organizations.

 

Just over a hundred participants, mostly Dutch businessmen and a handful of women as well as representatives of   Dutch Government ministries and institutions attended the gathering. The Rwanda Government had also sent a four person delegation representing some key departments and organizations.

 

Programme, speeches and presentations

 

Mr Folkert Casterlein of the Rwanda Chamber made opening remarks and acted as a MC together with his colleague Mr Robert Hek. They introduced the programme of seven different clusters, dealing with the Rwanda Investment Climate, Agriculture, Dutch business in Rwanda, Energy and Infrastructure, the Rwanda Private Sector, Investment Opportunities and finally Dutch Foreign Policy on Development. See: www.rwandachamber.org

 

H.E. Ms. Immaculée Uwanyiligira, the Ambassador of Rwanda to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, in her assertive and decisive but also charming manner, welcomed the participants and challenged them to take advantage of Rwanda’s positive investment climate, attractive opportunities, poised to become the gateway to East Africa. She mentioned that Rwanda did not only have a thousand hills, but also a thousand investment and business opportunities. The Rwanda envoy also drew the attention to the fact that Rwanda was included in the recent Dutch policy of reducing the number of partner countries from 33 to 15 and stressed that the convergence of policy of both countries should lead to fruitful cooperation. Further she introduced three highly informative publications which were given to each participant. See:

 

  • “Discover Rwanda”, an attractive colourful tourism guide, produced by Your World Publishers in collaboration with the Rwanda Development Board; see: www.discoveryourworld.info
  • “A strategy to enhance Dutch FDI in Rwanda” published by the IRSP (international Research by Students Programme), a well documented study written by six students; www.irsp.nl or www.clio.nl
  • “Investing in Rwanda – An Overview”, a handy detailed summary of the various sectors where investment is needed, issued by the Rwanda Development Board. www.rdb.rw

 

H.E. Frans Makken, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Rwanda gave an overview of the investment climate of Rwanda and set this within the regional context. He praised the decisiveness of policy and the efforts to be in line with the Accra Agenda, as well as the effective local revenue generation (taxes). He told the audience that the Dutch (new) development cooperation policy concentrating a.o. on food security including agriculture, water, justice and private sector development including economic cooperation fitted well in the Rwanda policy and opportunities. He also described the economic reality being that 50% of the budget was provided by donor money and given the current poverty situation, advised that a policy on rural development was needed.

 

Mr Sven Piederiet, CEO of the BRALIRWA Brewery, of which 50% is owned by Heineken and the largest taxpayer in Rwanda, painted a very positive picture of doing business in Rwanda. He mentioned the clear political roadmap laid down in ‘Vision 2020’ towards Rwanda becoming a middle income country and praised the support of the Rwanda Government.

 

Mr. Alex Kanyankole, Deputy Director General of the National Agriculture Export Board, in his presentation drew the attention to not only the horticulture section, but also the floriculture, pomology and olericulture and even sericulture as well. He mentioned efforts to improve farm gate quality, setting up collection centres and contract farming. The increase of airlines frequenting Rwanda should have a positive effect on competitiveness of airfreight.

 

Mr. Paul van Apeldoorn, Chief Commercial Officer of the Rwanda Banque Populaire, of which Dutch Rabobank owns 35%, proudly mentioned that, with 1600 employees in 200 branches, they were the largest employer in Rwanda. He further said that with 1.4 mln. Customers, state of the art mobile banking and a guaranteed one hour swift international transfer his bank was well placed to serve the strongly agriculture based economy of Rwanda. He however admitted that local access to finance did exist, but was under constraint.

 

Mr. Co Meijer, of Kadaster, described the assistance of his institution to the Land Registration Reform Project, which given the extreme high population density was of utmost importance. Given his experience in other countries, he called Rwanda ‘unafrican’ in the sense that the open access, business registration in one day and zero tolerance to corruption was in stark contrast with other African countries.

 

Mr. James Sano, Deputy Director General Water and Sanitation of the Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority, described his institution and listed the investment opportunities in water supply and energy in Rwanda.

 

Ms. Aphonsine Niyigena, First Vice Chairperson of the Rwanda Private Sector Federation, which in December 1999 replaced the Chamber of Commerce, told her audience that with 4100 individual companies and 70 associations, her institution is playing an important part in enhancing private sector participation in Rwanda’s economy.

 

Mr. Joseph Mpunga, Director ‘One Stop Shop’ of the Rwanda Development Board, mentioned the regional economic cooperation institutions as the East African Community and COMESA and described the variety of measures put in place to make Rwanda as business friendly as possible. He listed the fiscal and non-fiscal incentives as well as some of the major long term projects as the Isaka railway and the Bugesera International Airport.

 

Mr. Bob van der Bijl, Managing Director of the Netherlands African Business Council (NABC), explained the importance of his institution as a vibrant link between Dutch and African companies and governments in 54 African countries. He praised the cooperation with the Rwanda Embassy and pledged the readiness of the NABC, celebrating its 65th anniversary for further assistance. See: www.nabc.nl

 

Mr. Simon Smits, Director General Foreign Economic Relations at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation and Mr. Joost Bolt, Programme Officer at the NL Agency (EVD), completed the list of presentations by providing information on Dutch Government support for export as well as the attractive subsidy programmes for private sector cooperation in particular sectors. See: www.agentschap.nl/psi

 

Closing and networking

 

The seminar closed after a general discussion, which among other matters included the decision to organize a trade mission to Rwanda in 2012. In her closing remarks H.E. Ambassador Uwanyiligira thanked all for participating and expressed the hope that a fruitful follow-up in the form of increased Rwanda-Netherlands business and investment would be the result of this seminar. She remarked that Rwanda’s success story had come from seeking the solution and power from within, which had led to the present results. Concerning the exchange at the seminar the Rwandan envoy compared it to an African traditional courtship where the families had checked each other out and the bride and groom were eagerly waiting for the next step, meaning the Dutch business community and Rwanda should be ready to engage!

 

The seminar provided ample opportunity for networking during coffee/tea breaks, lunch and the cocktail after the closing ceremony.

 

Conclusion and other matters

 

I usually end my column with a conclusion, which now compels me to say that as an admirer and supporter of Rwanda’s upwards socioeconomic spiral this seminar has come at the right time. The character of business is that, even in economic hard or difficult times, one has to keep looking for new opportunities. The almost overwhelming amount of information presented in this seminar has certainly given all not just food for thought, but also the urge to inquire and investigate further. For those reading online, you can follow the links I have provided in the article, to which I must add:  www.ambalahaye.nl  (Rwanda Embassy, The Hague)   www.gov.rw (Government of Rwanda) www.psf.org.rw (Rwanda Private Sector Federation) www.rwanda.nlembassy.org (Netherlands Embassy in Rwanda)

A discerning analysis of Rwanda’s chances to attract investors is made by Professor Roman Grynberg of the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis in the Mail & Guardian online, which I leave this to you form, your opinion.

 

The article can be read at: www.mg.co.za/article/2011-10-17-will-rwandas-efforts-attract-investors#disqus_thread

 

Last but not least, in the corridor leading to the seminar the NGO “United wisdom of Africa” had a table on which they drew attention to one of their projects: “One Bag per Child” in which they raise fund to supply primary schoolchildren with a schoolbag filled with materials. They also run a scholarship programme. See: http://uwaf.org

 

*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on atobobhensen@hotmail.com

















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