Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda, is a small, landlocked and densely populated country of just over 13.5 million people, situated in the Great Rift Valley of Central Africa.
Bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda is known for its breathtaking scenery, and its mountain gorillas are a particularly lucrative tourist attraction.
Over the past 28 years, the country has faced many challenges, including its history being marred by the Rwandan genocide of 1994 during which some 800,000 of the Tutsi minority ethnic group, and some moderate Hutu and Twa, were killed in 100 days.
Despite having to recover from this and more recently from the Covid-19 fallout and the repercussions of the war in Ukraine, Rwanda is one of the most successful and fastest growing economies in Africa, says Florida Kabasinga, founder and managing partner of Certa Law and Rwandan member for LEX Africa.
“Rwanda is the cleanest country in Africa, and we are the most secure, we have a stable government and a parliament that has the biggest majority of women in the world. And, next to Botswana, it has the best anti-corruption regime in Africa. So, we have a lot of things that are going right in this country.”
She says Rwanda’s opportunities are many and varied. “We have special economic zones where manufacturing happens in this country. This is a small country, but we are surrounded by big countries like DRC, and we have Burundi next door, so there are opportunities to tap into those markets.”
She says Rwanda is also leading the charge in manufacturing vaccines in Africa, and a plant was set up in the country a few weeks ago with French company Biotech for this purpose.
Rwanda also has a vibrant tourist market. “Our mountain gorillas bring in a lot of money, and the Akgera national park is a popular tourist attraction.” She says tourism is supported by the country’s hospitality industry, which includes hotel chains and restaurants.
A partnership deal was also announced by Arsenal Football Club and Rwanda Development Board (RDB) this month. The three-year deal will see all Arsenal teams displaying ‘Visit Rwanda’ on the left sleeves of their shirts during match days.
“RDB also has a partnership deal with Paris Saint Germain football club in France,” says Kabasinga.
Favoured conference destination
Rwanda is also becoming a favoured destination for conferences, with those attending invariably extending their stay to see more of the country, which feeds into tourism. “It is attracting this business because of the cleanliness and security profile of the country,” says Kabasinga.
“The hope is that most international conferences that are coming into Africa will come here.” She says, in June this year the country hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2022 in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, attended by some 29 heads of state.
MWC Africa, the African continent’s most influential connectivity event will also be held at the Kigali Convention Centre from 25 to 27 October.
In addition to facilities such as the National Financial Centre and the Rwanda Convention Bureau, Rwanda has provided incentives for international companies to have their regional headquarters in the country.
“One of the areas where we are shining is that we are rated as the number one country in Africa for ease of doing business. The Rwanda Development Board provides central registration for companies, which only takes about six hours.”
In addition, the Kigali Arbitration Centre, is one of only two in the region that is doing well, the other one being in Nairobi. “I think that ours is more advanced than the one in Nairobi,” says Kabasinga.
“With more people coming in to do direct foreign investment we need to have an ADR regime that is robust.”
On the infrastructure side, the country has an excellent road system and an efficient airline, Rwanda Air, which has partnered with Qatar Airways. They are building a large airport in the east of the country that is going to be an African hub, says Kabasinga.
“It’s difficult to travel internally within the continent and Rwanda is making it easy to do this, by connecting cities all over Africa. Most African countries are landlocked like Rwanda, and we are aiming to link all those countries.” She says Rwanda Air is now buying cargo planes that will connect what is being manufactured there to other countries, and to ease transportation between countries.
“In the past, not many years ago, to travel from East to West Africa, one had to fly to Europe before making the connection. The hope is that this will never happen again in Rwanda.”
Rwanda is also at the forefront of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and when the government puts a priority on something they lead by example, says Kabasinga. “They are putting in place infrastructure that is going to assist the free trade area.”
Rwanda’s mineral resources include cassiterite, coltan, gold and nickel. It also has precious stones such as amphibolite, granite, and quartzite. It also produces about 9% of the world’s tantalum, which is used in electronics manufacturing, and it is home to two refineries of gold and tin.
The staple diet of the local population is Irish potatoes that are locally grown, as are beans and cassava. The local population don’t eat a lot of bread, or rice – which comes from Tanzania. “Being a small country, Rwanda doesn’t have a lot of agricultural land, and when we import products, it increases inflation.”
Rwanda produces flour, cement, stationary, and vegetable produce for local use and it exports tea and coffee, says Kabasinga. “We eat a lot of organic produce, including locally grown peas, beans, sweet potato, and maize.”
On the question of rainfall, she says “We have been getting rain when we shouldn’t and that has spoilt some of our crops.”
The secret of Rwanda’s success is having a stable government that has a plan and implements it, says Kabasinga. “Vision 2020 was the blueprint for laying down what the government was going to do in development in the next 20 years, and now we have Vision 2050. If you look at the blueprint you find all the things the government is doing well, including accountability.
“Elected head officials all the way from the smallest local leader have targets they have to achieve every year, and if they don’t deliver, they have to leave office,” she says.
Another important success factor is anti-corruption. Some African countries have plans but cannot implement them because the money has been stolen, says Kabasinga. “In this country if you do that you go to prison and the government goes after your properties and gets the money back.”
Being landlocked and not having many natural resources, is Rwanda’s main bigger-picture challenge. And the challenges in 2022 will be recovering from the pandemic and what is happening globally in terms of the war in Ukraine and the disruption of the supply chains that has increased prices. “Because we rely on importation,” she says.
Rwanda sustains 90% of its own budget, which give it the freedom to develop its own programmes and government goals are not interfered with, says Kabasinga. “Foreign aid comes with conditions. But when you sustain your own budgets, you can set your own priorities and invest in those.
“It also gives you the freedom to attract the right kind of investment. If you have a plan, you can go and speak to the right people to bring that investment into the country and not the other way round.”
She says investors are attracted to Rwanda for good reasons. “How many countries can you go to and know that your investment will be protected, and you won’t have to line the pockets of politicians, and that you can register a company in a few hours?
“That you can get your licences without having to knock on doors and take people out and line people’s pockets for every single service and know that you are going to be secure. “You can go for a jog in the middle of the night and be safe. There are a lot of incentives to come to Rwanda.”
On the investment front, countries like China are interested in certain investment areas and are good at it, Volkswagen in Germany will come here because they are good at manufacturing cars, and Biotech, which set up a vaccine plant in Rwanda, comes from France. “We are also partnering with Russia in nuclear power technology.
“We work with anybody, as long as they understand that we look out for our own interests as a country,” says Kabasinga.
The Rwanda economy is recovering a lot quicker than expected. There were a lot of things that were planned just before the pandemic hit and were derailed.
For instance, the government had a plan to construct many roads during that period, which didn’t happen. But this and many other projects are getting back on track, including health facilities, the construction of affordable housing and building schools nearer to where the children live so they don’t have to travel so far.
Chris Ainematsiko, associate in charge of legal compliance and due diligence at Certa Law, says in 2021 the Rwanda government streamlined the law governing trusts and how trusts are handled.
A new law on partnerships was also released late last year, says Kabasinga. “Previously, law firms like us had to register as a company and we were being charged double taxes. With the new law, Law Firms benefit in terms of taxation and they register as partnerships.”
Certa Law is a mid-sized law firm and one of the fastest growing firms in Rwanda. It was founded in 2014 and is aiming to establish itself as the preeminent law firm in Rwanda and the region.
“Most of what we do is banking and finance and ADR. We are counsel for international corporations in arbitration and represent them through the legal process,” says Kabasinga.
The firm’s other practice areas are revenue and taxation, government contracts, corporate governance, corporate and commercial transactions, employment and labour, and intellectual property.
On 19 October the firm will be launching its Certa Foundation. “We started this initiative as part of our corporate social responsibility. It has two centres, one for providing legal aid for sexual reproductive health matters, and another for law and innovation that will bridge the gap between legal education and legal practice,” says Kabasinga.
“The Certa Foundation also has labs for ADR and labs for environmental law. We will be bringing fellows on board and hosting online sessions that other law firms can join, and coffee meetings (Café Juridiques) where we get together and discuss what is trending in law.”