Rwanda prepares to host its first World Economic Forum on Africa

by Methil Renuka, editor of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA* 0

There is anticipation and excitement in the air in Rwanda, as the country gears up to host the 26th World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from May 11-13.

This is the first time a WEF summit is being held in Rwanda, so work is on at a feverish pace to deliver a world-class event, to be attended by some of Africa’s richest men and women.

For now, these include Aliko Dangote, Patrice Motsepe, Tony Elumelu, Precious Motsepe, and others like Graça Machel, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Cherie Blair. Also expected are at least 10 African heads of state.

With a GDP growth rate hovering around 7.6 per cent – one of the fastest growth rates in Sub-Saharan Africa – and led by a dynamic president, Paul Kagame, Rwanda has a proven track-record. This year’s theme for WEF will be ‘Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation’, a grand nod to Rwanda’s own digital supremacy.

“We see WEF as a very important platform for business, but also business linking with government and society in general and this is a model of development that the country has undertaken for a long time. Where our country has come from has been a result of that effort. So WEF in a sense signifies or symbolises that,” says Francis Gatare, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

“We want to see that WEF in Rwanda creates the kind of energy that will [leave] a lasting impact not just in our country, but across the continent.”

Preparations are currently on at Camp Kigali, a former military facility, where the conference will be held, across its main halls and tented venues.

“We wanted to have a mirror image of the Davos WEF site, because anybody who has been to Davos has seen that it is usually in a series of tented camps, interconnected by walkways,” says Gatare.

“Even though Davos is usually snowy and cold, it will be warmer and cosy here, but that sense of a tented village; that will be the experience you will have, so for those who go to Davos often, it will be deja vu.”      

In an interview with FORBES AFRICA, Gatare shared more on what the over 1,500 delegates expected to attend WEF can gain from the Kigali edition: 

What are the key components of WEF in Kigali?

When you look at the program, it is actually very interesting as it’s almost a mirror image of Vision 2020, because it carries on from the theme discussed at WEF Davos, which was the Fourth Industrial Revolution. So the key theme is the Africa industrial revolution. In the Rwandan context, it has a very strong focus on transformation of human capital of the continent, and of Rwanda; it has been the pillar of our development. The number one resource is the capacity of our people to develop the country. This means education, health, entrepreneurship, and also other forms of inspiration to galvanise the creative energies of the population. You will be hearing a lot about innovation entrepreneurship and that resonates well with what Rwanda stands for and how we see our country transforming, particularly on the ICT platform.  

We believe strongly in Rwanda that as we get into the industries of the future, it’s very important to transform the industries of today, and there is no bigger industry of today as agriculture. There’s going to be a big discussion on transformation of agriculture. And that’s very important for us as a country, so when you look at where Rwanda has come from, over the last 20 years, we have come from a predominantly handout-driven economy to now a predominantly self-sufficient economy in food security and now as a net exporter of food crops, [such as] beans, maize or cassava; there is a surplus that Rwanda is able to export to neighboring countries, coming from a situation where Rwanda was receiving handouts from the international community. So transformation of agriculture is important so that the lives of people involved in agriculture are also touched in a positive way.

The last aspect featuring a lot in this WEF is financial services. Every economy is fueled by access to finance. And Rwanda has been implementing several programs to increase access to finance, to the extent that a survey earlier this year put access to finance in Rwanda close to 80% of the population. This is very significant. But we want to see access to finance increasing to 100% of the population but also to all segments, whether its women, youth, and entrepreneurs in urban and rural areas, so society can access this fuel for the economy called finance. So there will be a lot of discussion around finance and access to finance as an engine for growth. 

What else can delegates expect?

Rwanda has been at the forefront of championing the transformation of visa requirements. Rwanda was the early champion of providing opportunities for all African travelers to get visas on arrival. So you can expect to see the smoothest immigration process that will facilitate first and foremost African travelers to have an experience entering an African country as they have never experienced before. All African travelers don’t have to apply for a visa; they will get it on arrival. And this is unprecedented, as many of the things businesses complain about is the number of visa requirements. We have implemented this policy for the last two years, but many people don’t know about it. So we are hoping people will get an opportunity to experience this. There are many travelers who go through the unnecessary process of looking for an embassy and applying for visas, and they don’t have to do it. Even those who require visas – some of the international travelers with non-African passports – can do it online, and immigration guarantees you a response in 24 hours. 

How will you be showcasing the country?     

The other aspect to WEF is the cultural experience our guests can anticipate. For many WEF guests, it will be the first experience of Rwanda, and we have put together a package of opportunities for them to stay an extra few days and visit our country, and the various tourism attractions, and see the mountain gorillas, experience the canopy walks of the Nyungwe national park, and the Akagera national park for the safari experience, and also to interact with people. There will be events in different parts of Kigali, including car-free zones filled with young, creative people. Y ou can have WEF anywhere, but in Rwanda, we make sure the experience is different.

The country is currently remembering its genocide victims; is there now a conscious attempt to move away from the perception the world has about Rwanda and its genocide?

The genocide happened, it’s real. A million people lost their lives, and the survivors who lost their loved ones cannot forget that, nor can the country. This is why remembering is important. In fact, for the whole three months, from April to July, is remembrance, because of what this country has gone through. We have no intention of erasing the memories but what we have intention is that our country will not be a hostage of those memories. They become memories that give us strength, we want to take the lessons that make us stronger people and stronger countrymen, and leverage that for the future. We don’t want the world to forget the genocide, but we don’t want to see Rwanda as a country of genocide. A lot of brave people stopped the genocide, that should not be forgotten, when the world was paralysed with inaction, Rwanda stopped the genocide; a lot of sacrifice as a result. That has given people a certain amount of belief in themselves, but also opened their eyes to the reality of the world’s expectations. Since then, the government and individual citizens have been responsible for the transformation; this country could have been a failed state like some of the failed states you see around, but individual and collective actions have transformed this country. Those are lessons of the genocide, but also new stories of Rwanda. When you look at what Rwanda is championing, whether it is gender-quality or ICT or access to healthcare, all these are stories that the world should know about. We want the world to connect with us at the individual level; we are not the killers that committed the genocide, nor the victims that suffered at the hands of the killers, but we are individuals with personalities, and we want the world to connect with us that way.

Interviewed in Kigali by Methil Renuka, Editor of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. Subscribe today by contacting Shanna Jacobsen: [email protected]