Interviews

‘We have made it easier to do business in Rwanda’

By Nicholas Norbrook

The CEO of Rwanda’s Development Board says the government-run agency is a key tool in Kigali’s drive to boost manufacturing and exports in order to reduce the country’s import bill. Modelled on the coordination institutions seen in East Asian Tigers, the Rwanda Development Board’s mission is to ensure that the myriad of economic actors and institutions are all on the same page, from overseeing public-­private partnerships to ­supporting companies, foreign or domestic.

Q: How are you positioning the country to meet the economy of tomorrow?
Rwanda has been building itself since 1994, and we have now built the platform to be able to address an ambitious economic agenda. We are a stable country, we grow at an average of 7-8% and we have tackled key economic issues such as zero tolerance for corruption. We have made it easy to do business and are ranked 29th in the world. And that is why we are thinking very ambitiously about the next phase of economic development. It is to diversify, modernise and transform our economy substantially – and that means looking at sectors that can drive productivity much more than in the past and position the country as a global hub for anyone thinking of doing business in Africa.

Q. How does that translate on the ground?
Take for example Kigali Innovation City – which we have already started building – where you have in one place research, education institutions, innovation labs and global companies setting up. For people who are thinking about setting up business in Africa, and they are doing innovation, they can come here and build their prototype in Rwanda. We call it proof of concept. You can prove your concept in Rwanda and then expand to the rest of the continent.

Q. You can prove your concept in Rwanda and then expand to the rest of the continent
When Singapore wanted to do something similar in Asia, it brought it’s courts up to international standards. Is Rwanda working on its judicial system? We have the Kigali International Arbitration Centre (KIAC). It is still young, but the goal is to build it into an institution that is trusted by the business community. It is still a work in progress. But as we build the credibility of the KIAC, we are also very open to working with international arbitration with the businesses that come to Rwanda. We have agreed to do settlements in Europe or Mauritius. So we are ambitious about building up our arbitration centre but realistic about the time it takes.

Q. Rwanda’s landlocked status makes it harder to try to attract manufacturing outsourcing from Chinese companies. Does that remain an opportunity?
It’s a challenge, but we still believe manufacturing is a very good source of employment. It is a question of what exactly we can manufacture in Rwanda, rather than whether. So we have signed with a company which is going to build laptops, a high-value product that can absorb transport costs. We also have a company which is going to start assembling mobile phones – products that can remain competitive.

Q. How are you helping Rwandan companies break into regional supply chains?
We have something called the Export Growth Facility. And the idea is to do just that. We support businesses that want to export. For example, we give them grants for marketing. If they have an opportunity to export and find new buyers, these grants allow them to go and test new markets. And for those companies that are in priority sectors, we give them interest-free loans if they have an export orientation. We also have something called the Business Development Fund, which guarantees up to 75% of loans with other financial institutions. And this is regardless of whether they are Rwandan companies or foreign companies. We help them to become successful and help them to export and expand, and also to bring foreign earnings into the country.

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