Reigning In the Investors: An Interview with the Clare Akamanzi
Over the last 6 years, investor interest in Rwanda has been n the steady increase, Business Rwanda talked to Deputy Director General of RIEPA (Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency) Claire Akamanzi to explain this change in Rwanda’s fortunes.
Tell us about the business and investment climate in Rwanda
The business and investment climate in Rwanda has been growing over time, there has been a conscious effort by government in making it very attractive in recognition of the fact that the development of the country had to be supported by a healthy private sector.
To develop a healthy private sector, government recognized that the business environment has to support the growth of the private sector. So over the past thirteen years, government has been implementing different reforms in order to make the investment climate attractive to Rwandan business people and foreign investors.
First of all as a basis for business, business people like predictability. At that we offer a guaranteed peaceful and secure environment for investors and their investments. In relation to that we also have a zero tolerance to corruption. In other countries the cost of doing business is hiked by the cost of corruption and creates a lack of certainty about government procedures and processes. In addition, we are a liberal economy and no restrictions on the level of equity holding that an investor can have in a particular project. Our legal and institutional frameworks are equally accountable for the positive business environment. We are in the process of finalizing a business law review project to modernise our commercial laws and we have institutions such as RIEPA that focuses on attracting investment and makes the journey by investor to get established in the country very short and easy.
Tell us about this year’s investment conference. What successes did this year’s investment conference score?
To be able to analyse the success of the conference we have to remind ourselves what the two main objectives of the conference were. The first was to brand the country thereby creating a positive image.
And to that extent it went very well, we had about twenty media representatives and several high ranking officials, ministers and different institutions heads who participated. Information was disseminated directly to the delegates and to the world through the media. We had about 400 local participants and about 303 foreign participants and each of those has an opportunity to become an ambassador for Rwanda.
The other objective was to show case the investment opportunities that we have. We have particular investments that were taken up directly at the conference. The school of Tourism and a hotel Resort are ready to commence. We also had different expressions of interest which were very firm in agriculture, ICT and mining.
How will the recently launched investment climate facility project improve business in Rwanda?
Well the investment climate facility project is a project supported by the Investment climate facility project for Africa which has different donors. In the Rwandan project they are going to specifically look at three areas, the land registry, the business registry process as well as the commercial district resolution. They are going to support ways of improving capacity of people working in those areas as well as look at ways of improving the system in order that will ensure proper execution of work, so it’s a very good project that will support our need to make or investment climate better.
Tell us some of the successes of RIEPA thus far.
Well first of all in terms of number of projects registered, in 2001 we had about 21 projects and by the end of 2006 we had over 300 projects and in that time we have registered about 600 billion Rwandan Francs. In terms of such registrations that have transformed into actual operational projects it has been about 50% every year and in some case it’s gone to 70% of registered projects going operational.
Apart from that we have also played a critical role in promoting the image of the country, through the different activities that we have. We have also been able to establish a very operational One Stop Centre and we are working to make better because we believe that giving a seamless service provision to investors is the corner stone of investment promotion.
Qn: Rwanda increased the number of authorized notaries from 1 to over 50. The move is said to have reduced the time to register a new business from 21 days to 16 days. How are we fairing compared to other African countries with regard to the speed of registering a business.
One good source of information in that regard is the ‘Doing Business’ Report and you will see how countries are fairing. In the last Doing Business Report of the World Bank one area that we did well is how long it takes to start a business compared to 175 economies of the world. And if my recollection serves me right, I think we were 58th which is very good. The reason is that it takes a shorter time to register a business in Rwanda with few processes and procedures.
There are so many ways this can be done, increase the number of notaries so that one notary can serve fewer people and there fore expedite the process but also some other reforms such as eliminating the 1.2% fee. It takes a maximum of 3 days to register a company in Rwanda through the one stoop centre but of course the challenge is to extend this time period outside RIEPA.
Some say the East African Community will reduce the barriers of entry to the Rwandan market and bring in a flood of regional investments. Tell us about the impact of the East African Community on doing business in Rwanda.
We have had a debate on the usefulness of joining the east African community in different forums, and we’ve come to the conclusion that there are pros and cons, but overall there are more pros than cons.
There are great benefits particularly in terms of the wider markets for a country such as ours. And for a country that is landlocked, trade facilitation that is brought by regional integration in terms if the flow of goods through the transit countries into Rwanda and regulating procedures and processes as well as infrastructure that makes it easy for the flow of goods is very useful for us.
Some of the cons that have been identified is the elimination of our infant companies in favour of goods coming from the region. That is a plausible concern but it is also an opportunity to learn how to be competitive because even with out regional integration, we want to be able to export which means our products have to be competitive.
We understand that Rwanda is now exporting ‘Agaseke’ to the world market. Tell us about this?
Personally, I think of Agaseke, is a new economic revolution. Considering the impact Agaseke has on rural women; it is breakthrough that will benefit the country and our gendar.
One key market we have is Macy’s which is a big department store in the US, and is importing the Agaseke, we are currently expanding that market. This year we would like to expand the revenue to about 1.5 million dollars from about seven hundred thousand last year and to do that we are encouraging more production. RIEPA has set up handicraft centres to provide infrastructure for the production of Agaseke. We are looking at diversifying into markets in Europe and Asia.
Are there any other products or services that Rwanda intends to export to the world market?
Our export strategy has been to diversify from coffee and tea, first of all we have to maximise what we can get out of coffee and tea, so we are looking at value addition in order to sell better priced products.
Apart from maximising our current exports, we would like to diversify into high priced products that are low volume, so we are looking at silk that is a bit expensive, essential oils, we are also looking at other expansion areas, like leather goods form hides and skins, mining, etc. We are also looking at the service centre because it is transport insensitive like ICT, financial services and air transportation. We are in the process of developing a new airport and that will support air transportation as an export.
What opportunities are there in Rwanda for investment?
We like to say that our country is still a virgin economy therefore opportunities exist in different areas. But we are promoting investments in agro-processing, manufacturing, ICT, energy, tourism, mining, the financial sector and lots of other sectors.
Suppose a business man wanted to open up a company in Rwanda right after reading this article. Who would you tell him to contact?
Very easy, contact RIEPA, we help them open a company, we help them open up the company, we help them get an investment certificate, we help them get all the other certification they need. And if they go to our website, www.rwandainvest.com they will find contacts and immediately we can start a dialog and go towards the incorporation.
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