Rwanda leading the way for Africa

Published by Sunday Independent
On 10 October 2016 saa 02:09
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For a country that has grown its tourism by 22 percent since 2013, Rwanda is still moving more aggressively than ever to be competitive, writes Victor Kgomoeswana.

Johannesburg - I will have to get used to being green with envy. Business keeps bringing me to Rwanda, exposing me to the progress this country has made in the 22 years since that gruesome genocide that lasted for 100 days, starting on April 6, 1994.

Not long ago, in mid-May to be precise, I was in Kigali to attend the World Economic Forum for Africa. My astonishment with the efficiency of the visa-on-arrival self-help tablet terminals at the airport was well documented.

For a country that has grown its tourism by 22 percent since 2013, reaching about 1.2 million tourists this year, and expecting to hit 1.39 million in 2018, Rwanda is still moving more aggressively than ever to be competitive.

When I landed, this time to attend the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF), I was disappointed not to see the tablets that I had used to apply for my visa in five minutes in May.

They had been replaced with humans behind counters because “they made the application too slow”, as the young man at the visa payment counter told me.

Five minutes? Too slow for a foreigner to apply for their visa on arrival? But this was Rwanda.

Here, everything should be done more quickly, bellows President Paul Kagame - at every opportunity he gets. He wants bureaucracy buried in his country.

If a tourist is paying $30 (R416) to get into your country, expediency pays off.

For its 1.2 million tourists this year, the country would have raked in $36 million!

Time feels more precious than money out here, or the World Economic Forum would not have named Rwanda the seventh most-efficient government in the world.

Kagame wants the tourist in the country and spending money, not shuffling papers to get a visa.

Rather let them in and watch them pay $1 000 for two hours or so with mountain gorillas in Musanze, in the north of the country.

At the swearing-in ceremony for five new ministers recently, Kagame was quoted as saying that instead of losing too much time on bureaucracy, public representatives should prioritise serving the people, above all else.

He dispensed with the swearing-in formalities of all five ministers in 36 minutes. Except for the master of ceremonies, those who attended said that there was no speech.

In May, when I last visited, the Kigali International Convention Centre, the five-star Marriott Hotel and the Radisson Blu had not yet opened.

Who would have thought that Marriott International’s first hotel in sub-Saharan Africa would be in Rwanda?

The one distinguishing feature of Rwanda is that change is visible every time you visit.

Instead of basking in the glory of his country’s accomplishments, the president almost always dismissively pushes for the next milestone.

Adding 8.5MW of power to his rural electrification project, from sign-off to switching on the $23 million solar farm, took a mere 12 months.

If you work with President Kagame, you had better not miss deadlines! This culture rubs off on those who work with him and those who invest in the country.

For example, the global room-sharing service Airbnb had enlisted about 100 homes in Rwanda, when the AHIF came to Kigali on October 4 to 6.

In spite of the measly uptake by the property owners of Rwanda, Belise Kariza, the chief tourism officer at the Rwanda Development Board, announced at the AHIF that they had met with the representatives of Airbnb to customise the service for Rwanda.

This disruptive service sends some tremors among the hotel groups, but Rwanda does not toy with efficiency, not even to protect loyal investors.

MTN, a loyal investor in Rwanda since the mid-1990s, gets fined each time its network drops calls.

Hotel operators were told unflinchingly to up their service quality, before the African Union Summit after complaints about hygiene during the World Economic Forum for Africa.

Nobody is spared, and nor should they be.

Africa needs tough leaders to take it to its rightful heights of global economic grit.

Rwanda and Kagame need to be emulated for their successes, instead of endless research and analysis for excessive originality.

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A hotel in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. Picture: Frank Nyakairu.