Small. Mountainous. Genocide. Kagame.
These four words describe what comes to mind whenever someone thinks of Rwanda, the Central African country in the volatile Great Lakes region.
But you may as well add excellence to the above.
Having gone through the debilitating genocide that wiped about 1 million of its population in 1994, Rwanda has made a remarkable recovery, leaving in its wake a number of other African countries that went through turmoil brought by civil wars of the 1990s – Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Burundi, Somalia – a time when Africa truly showed its dark side to the World.
While most of the countries above are still crawling out of their wars, Rwanda is flying, aiming to be a prime destination for investments in Africa.
Many analysts portend that the remarkable recovery of Rwanda is down to good leadership and focus on excellence under the country’s leader, President Paul Kagame.
The country’s rise after the genocide and attention to detail can be compared quite well to Japan.
Coming out of the Second World War in 1945 defeated and humiliated, Japan focused its energy on rebuilding its infrastructure and industry, and by the 1970s was already a leader in many industries including electronics and the car industry.
Globally competitive, leading in region
The pull for investors into Rwanda is not without basis. In the 2015 version of the Global Competitiveness Index by the World Economic Forum, Rwanda improved its world ranking to 62nd position, up from 66th in 2014.
In Africa, Rwanda retained the 3rd position and was the most competitive in the East African Community. Labour market efficiency and institutional pillars were the main strengths of Rwanda ranked, where it ranked 9th and 18th in the world respectively.
The country was among the top 10 in the world in a number of critical parameters: starting a business (2nd), government spending (4th), friendly foreign direct investment (FDI) rules (5th), procurement of advanced technology (5th) and burden of government regulations (6th).
Below we highlight some of the key sectors that Rwanda is focusing on to be Africa’s premier destination.
Taking advantage of its location in the centre of Africa, the country aims to be an important manufacturing hub in the Central Africa region. As a manufacturing hub, Rwanda offers easy access to western Uganda, northern Tanzania, eastern Congo, Burundi and other export markets.
According to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the country offers good opportunities for production of construction supplies, pharmaceutical drugs and agro produce.
The Special Economic Zones, launched in 2010 through a policy document by the Government, offers investors in the manufacturing sector a number of incentives to investors in these zones to increase the country’s exports.
Currently, investors in pharmaceuticals, packaging, electronics, and construction supplies, food and beverage and heavy industries have opened shop at the Kigali SEZ.
However, beyond the SEZs, the country is a significant producer of cement (Cimerwa, majority owned by South Africa’s PPC Group, inaugurated an expanded plant to produce 600,000 tonnes in 2015), food and beverages (through Bralirwa, a subsidiary of Heineken Breweries, which also bottles for Coca-Cola; Inyange, a dairy processor; and a local subsidiary of Belgian company, Skol Brewery, among others).
Other manufacturers include the Sulfo Rwanda group, a conglomerate that manufactures a range of fast moving consumer goods, including food products.
A new player has also joined the electronics-manufacturing scene in the country. Positivo BGH has a deal to supply the Government with 150,000 computers annually, but with the goal to target the regional market with computers, mobile phones and tablets.
Rwanda has invested aggressively in its road, air and water infrastructure to improve access in the mountainous country and ease connection with the region and Africa.
On road transport, the country has connected all the major towns and cities with high quality tarmac roads. The country’s main Kigali International airport has undergone major upgrades recently with new apron, three taxiways and hangar but is over stretched currently.
Other airports include Kamembe International in the southwest and Gisenyi to the North. The Government plans to build a new airport southeast of Kigali. The planned Bugesera International Airport is expected to be the main gateway into Rwanda in future.
To boost its capacity in the railways transport, the country plans to build two standard gauge rail routes, according to the RDB - one through Dar-es-Salaam in neighbouring Tanzania and the other through Uganda and Kenya through Mombasa.
The country has also invested significantly in the government-owned RwandAir that currently flies into several African cities including Johannesburg, Nairobi, Lusaka and other destinations including Dubai.
The airline is currently increasing the number of destinations following the expected receipt of new aircraft, including A330-200 and A330-300 Airbus wide body aircraft in September and November that will boost its routes beyond Africa into Asia and Europe.
Tourism and hospitality
Rwanda’s tourism potential and unique assets including the mountain gorillas, volcanoes and game reserves are a rare gem that has drawn tourists into the country.
The country is proud of its mountain gorilla heritage, even going to the extent of having a gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita Izina that celebrates the rare primate. This year’s event was in September 2.
The country has also set its eyes on boosting the conference tourism side of the equation, taking advantage of its central location and peaceful environment to attract conference organisers from the private and public sector.
This year the country has played or is set to play host to some of the most important conferences in the region, including the World Economic Forum on Africa, Aviation Stakeholders Convention, African Union Summit, Global Africa Investment Summit and the Africa Hotel Investment Forum.
But it is in the entry of global hotel chains that Rwanda gets a special mention. The country hosted the African Union Summit at the newly opened Kigali Convention Centre.
The Centre is a new conference focused facility that enables Rwanda to host for the first time, 5,000 delegates, and will be a sure puller to the country for conference organisers.
“When you offer security and keep the country clean, every investor would find it very easy to come to invest in the country. Rwanda is not Switzerland, but the first impression that visitors and investors have of a country is very important,” says the General Manager of Hotel Des Mille Colline, Denis Wollner, in an interview with our publication.
To tap into this expected increase in numbers, Marriott Hotels has chosen Rwanda as its first location in sub-Sahara Africa, as it aims to grow into the region, opening in Kigali in August this year.
“Marriott could not have chosen a better destination for its first property in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country holds a lot of promise and this marks the beginning of an exciting journey for the hospitality sector,” the hotel’s Sales and Marketing Director Peter Mukulu told the New Times recently.
Radisson Blu, another international chain also recently opened its facility, which is located within the Kigali Convention Centre complex.
Other brands that have recently joined the industry include Golden Tulip, Swiss International. The Serena Hotels chain has been present in the country for a number of years.
Local and regional hotel chains also continue to grow and boost their capacities and capabilities. A number of international hotel chains are also lining up to join the country’s rising hotel industry.
Real Estate and Retail
Rwanda offers exciting real estate and retail opportunities that has drawn the interest of not just the Rwandan investors but also many others from Africa and the World.
“As the (Kigali) city continues to urbanize at a rate of 15% with estimates pointing to 35% by 2017 and with a growing middle class and fast growing population, the urban population is expected to grow as more people migrate to towns to take up the growing number of jobs and to start businesses,” notes the RDB.
According to the RDB, the Government has pointed out six secondary cities to act as poles for growth: Rubavu, Musanze, Nyagatare, Muhanga, Huye and Rusizi, in its quest to provide housing to its growing population.
But it goes beyond the provision of basic housing. The skyline of Kigali has undergone a drastic transformation in the last five years, with high-rise buildings and malls joining the fray.
Days are gone when the Union Trade Center used to be the main attraction of Kigali, hosting the Kenyan supermarket chain Nakumatt, boutiques, cafes and shops.
Nakumatt has three branches in Kigali. Other retailers include T-2000, and locally owned Simba and Crystal Mart.
One standout development is the Kigali Heights, a mixed-use retail and office block, which is a stone’s throw away from the Kigali Convention Centre, and is under construction.