Rwanda seizes opportunity to sell itself at Chogm fest
The Rwandans were determined to put to maximum use their invitation to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), and the meeting of business leaders and captains of industry – the Commonwealth Business Forum – that immediately preceded Chogm.
President Paul Kagame was in Kampala at the invitation of the Commonwealth Secretariat as an observer during the opening ceremony of the Chogm heads of government summit which took place over the past weekend in the Ugandan capital and which was opened by British Queen Elizabeth who was accompanied to Uganda by her husband Prince Philip.
Mr Kagame, who was accompanied by a forty-person delegation of Rwandan businesspeople and administration officials charged with promoting business in the country, was to give a keynote address during the business forum.
In his speech, which was at a dinner in Kampala’s landmark Sheraton Hotel, Mr Kagame unveiled a number of policies and actions Rwanda is taking to become a more business/investor friendly place. It was a speech at the end of which the President was to receive a long standing ovation from the approximately 1000 people in a marquee specially prepared for the business forum. Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, was one of the speakers at the dinner.
For starters, President Kagame said, Rwanda is prepared to scrap work permits for foreign professionals working in the country as a means to retain more of them. “The need for professionals remains a challenge for Rwanda, East Africa and Africa. We lose professionals as soon as we make them and then borrow to fund foreign expatriates who effect little technological transfer and leave after their contracts are up,” he said.
“It is up to African governments to work out policies to attract and keep professionals,” added President Kagame amidst bursts of applause. The Rwandan president clearly was the star attraction at the three-day business forum. Mr Kagame added: “we should not begrudge those of us looking to better themselves elsewhere but we should provide incentives for them to stay here. We in Rwanda are removing work permits and restrictions on professionals coming to work in Rwanda.”
The President proceeded to lay out his vision of what will work for Africa to get out of its cycle of poverty and dependency. “We see a continent powered by knowledge, innovation and competitiveness, with science and technology as a driving force,” he said.
The audience hang onto Mr Kagame’s every word as he continued: “we envisage a situation where it is recognized that business creates wealth while governments provide support. This is the partnership which will save this continent from poverty and aid dependency.” Among other things that Rwanda is pushing is for border posts to be open 24 hours a day so as to increase intra-African trade.
Members of the Rwandan delegation that accompanied President Kagame to the business forum did an impressive job of selling this country to members of the Commonwealth.
The delegation included among others State Minister for Industry and Investment Promotion Vincent Karega, Rwanda Investments and Exports Promotion Agency (Riepa) head Francis Gatare, Private Sector Federation chief Emmanuel Hategeka and the Federation’s chairman Robert Bayigamba and captains of industry and business who included Bralirwa Director Door Plantenga and BCS Managing Director Gerald Mpyisi.
All these people had one message for their audiences: come to Rwanda, we are ready for business! Each and every one of these individuals, regardless of whether they are government employees or not, were talking up the prospects of Rwanda as a business destination and they were talking like a team.
Ms Plantenga, who is the Chairperson of the Rwanda Manufacturers Association, outlined challenges such as a small market, power that fluctuates, a long distance from the sea and a few others. “But the returns of doing business in Rwanda are good, and with the good political will prevalent in the country, the general safety, and solutions to problems of power such as the methane gas project underway in Gisenyi, opportunities can only be many in Rwanda,” said the Bralirwa director.
Asked during one question and answer session what the government of Rwanda had done to make the country’s citizens share its vision, Mr Karega touched on a number of points such as the Rwandan administration’s emphasis on being seen to be accountable to its people.
“First of all in Rwanda we have what we call Imihigo,” he said and went on to translate what that means in English. “Leaders at all levels pledge themselves to reach certain goals, or achievements which normally entail service provision,” he said.
“If we say there will be water in such and such a place, it will be there. If we pledge a hospital, it will be there. If we say a school will be here or there, we make sure it will be there. And should we fail to provide what we pledged we would, we apologize to the people,” the minister said amidst a burst of applause.
Mr Karega continued, “Public money is not stolen and the people have come to expect members of the administration to act honorably and not steal it.”
The Rwandan delegation left most people who witnessed it at work wowed.
“Surely the Rwandans must be the most focused of all,” said a Ugandan businessman after one of the presentations. “I mean, look at how they go about their work, as a team. And who else but the Rwandans will you see pulling people to their presentations or enticing them to go listen when their president is speaking?”
Rwanda has applied to join the Commonwealth – a grouping of 53 independent states that are former colonies of Britain and that together have 2 billion citizens – about 30 percent of the world’s population.
The core advantages of a country like Rwanda joining the British Commonwealth are among others its principle to foster international peace, and the opportunities in business and trade that 2 billion people represent.
A highly placed government source told Focus, just immediately after the business forum, that Rwanda was virtually assured of joining the club.
“We have fulfilled every requirement and from the look of things we are all but certain of being admitted to join the Commonwealth,” said the source who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject.
There is a precedent for countries that aren’t former colonies of Britain applying for and joining the grouping. One of them is the Southern African nation, Mozambique.