May 16, 2014
Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda
April 2014 marked the 20th year since the genocide in Rwanda, in which one million people were said to be killed within a period of three months. In the past 20 years Rwanda achieved growth called an “African Miracle” with a sustained average GDP growth of 8 percent per year over 10 years. With the World Bank report "Doing Business 2014" ranking Rwanda second for the ease of doing business in Africa, it has been drawing attention as an investment destination.
JICA hosted an open seminar entitled “20 years from the genocide - Rwanda today in reconstruction – thinking about the concept of assistance and business potential under its ‘miraculous’ economic growth” on April 4 in Tokyo. Approximately 150 people, far more than the number of seats available participated, including students , government organizations, NGOs and enterprises interested in developing business in Rwanda.
Instructed by a teacher, right, trainees learn how to use a knitting machine and make knitwear like sweaters and scarves.
In the first part of the seminar entitled “20 years from the genocide, the current situation and concept of assistance in Rwanda,” following an overview of Rwanda, a panel discussion was held. It was moderated by JICA Senior Advisor Eri Komukai, who has been involved in support for Rwanda since 1995. JICA Expert Maho Harada, who worked on a peace-building project, Chihiro Shirakawa, a representative from the Japan-Rwanda Youth Cooperation, and Kaito Miwa, the co-representative of a NGO e-Education Project, participated as panelists.
Harada worked for a JICA project entitled Skills Training and Job Obtainment Support for Social Participation of Ex-Combatants and Other People with Disabilities for three years beginning in 2011. “Even after completion of the skills training, there are not enough employment opportunities in Rwanda yet. So in some cases, ex-trainees living in the neighborhood jointly set up cooperative unions to generate income, disregarding such labels as ex-governmental army, rebel group, disabled or not disabled,” she said, explaining Rwanda’s situation based on her experience. In contrast to previous projects, this one focused not just on ex-combatants with disabilities, but on people with disabilities in general. The project contributed to multiple areas: peace-building, supporting people with disabilities and skills training, and also to national reconciliation.
From left, Kaito Miwa, co-representative of e-Education Project, Chihiro Shirakawa, representative from Japan-Rwanda Youth Cooperation, and JICA Expert Maho Harada
Shirakawa’s relationship with Rwanda dates back to when she saw the movie "Shooting Dogs" in her high-school days. She joined the Japan-Rwanda Youth Cooperation when she was a university sophomore. Based on a philosophy of mutual understanding, she promotes a student exchange program between Rwanda and Japan. “In a process of trying to understand different cultures and ideas, I was able to learn how to communicate with others and gain generosity toward other cultures” she said.
Miwa sought assistance from Rwandan university students to deliver quality education in farming villages in Rwanda where teachers and educational materials are scarce, and created a DVD mainly focused on experimental science learning. Over 500 students in junior high schools and high schools have seen it. “Rwandan university students have a strong spirit of wanting to build up the country. I would like to expand this activity so that the younger generation can study using this DVD,” Miwa said.
Rwandan Ambassador Charles Murigande promotes the thriving country.
“Rwanda is advancing anti-corruption measures and improvement of the investment environment, and is attracting attention as an investing destination centered on the information and communications technology industry.” Rwandan Ambassador Charles Murigande made this statement in his keynote speech at the beginning of the second part of the seminar entitled “Business potential in Rwanda.”
He also explained the background of the growth in Rwanda as well as its objectives and targets for becoming a middle income country in 2020. More specifically, the country sets specific targets to achieve its objectives to economically grow, such as increasing the average GDP growth from 8 to 11.5 percent, reducing the role of agriculture in the GDP and increasing those of industry and services, increasing exports and so on.
Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, has the lowest crime rate in East Africa, according to the safest country list in the 2012 Gallup Global report. Based on a survey by the World Bank, its political stability is higher than that of China and India. And with its advantage of a wide range of spoken languages, namely English, French, Swahili and Kinyarwanda as well as its favorable location sharing borders with Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Burundi, Rwanda is aiming to become a financial hub for integrating East Africa. “Rwanda is a thriving, united, reconciled, peaceful and safe country,” Murigande said.
He went on to discuss its favorable business environment. For example, a fiber-optic network covers 98 percent of the country, and a 4G network will become available this year. Also, it only takes 6 hours to register a business. In addition, overseas investment contact is integrated into the Rwanda Development Board for the maximum convenience of investors.
From left, Atsushi Ikeda, director, Trade and Economic Cooperation Department of Japan External Trade Organization, Hidekazu Tanaka, CEO of Rexvirt Communications Inc. and Yoshiaki Kawashima, CEO of Mi Cafeto Co., Ltd.
At a panel discussion moderated by former chief representative of the JICA Rwanda office Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Yoshiaki Kawashima, CEO from Mi Cafeto Co., Ltd., Hidekazu Tanaka, CEO of Rexvirt Communications Inc. and Atsushi Ikeda, director, Trade and Economic Cooperation Department of the Japan External Trade Organization appeared as panelists to discuss business opportunities in Rwanda.
Tanaka of Rexvirt Communications, which has jointly developed software with a Rwandan IT company since 2011, talked about the ease of doing business. “Geographical distance does not matter when there is a good communication infrastructure. We can check what they do in Rwanda on a real-time basis while in Japan. Rwandan people are diligent and it’s good for software development.”
Kawashima of Mi Cafeto, known as “a coffee hunter” for going around coffee farms across the globe, participated in a basic information collection survey by JICA on Rwandan coffee in 2013. Going forward, he plans to provide training on coffee cultivating skills such as pruning, harvesting to Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers dispatched to Rwanda. Based on his experience, Kawashima said, “The Rwandan people are aspirational and when they learn something, they put it in practice straight away. However, because of a habit from colonial times, they consider coffee farms as places to work but not as businesses, so whether we can change the coffee producers’ minds is the key.” He also added, “Rwandan people like chai (tea) and don’t have a custom of drinking coffee. Unless they drink coffee themselves, they cannot make tasty coffee,” and he said it is necessary to promote the domestic coffee market.
Agaseke, traditional Rwandan baskets. The baskets in the photo are designed with a motif of the Rwandan national flag.
Atsushi Ikeda, director, Trade and Economic Cooperation Department of the Japan External Trade Organization, is in charge of export marketing for African-made goods and is providing support to business matching between Japan and Rwanda. Giving the example of Ruise B Co., Ltd., in Shizuoka, Japan, an importer and seller of Rwandan baskets, he talked about an importance of matching the Japanese market’s “needs” and Rwandan “seeds.” In the venture's early days, there were problems such as products not being delivered on time, or even if they were delivered on time, coming in the wrong size or with the wrong design. However, through efforts including hosting a workshop on site or creating a detailed manual, they were able to import and sell the goods. “We need to see Africa as individual countries, not lump them together,” Ikeda emphasized.
Although the seminar exceeded four hours, active discussion continued to the end, and the participants continued their individual questions to Murigande and other presenters even after the seminar. Participants had comments like, “The economic growth is far more than I imagined, and I felt the potential of Rwanda as a hub of Africa” and “It was surprising to know that Rwandan people have a similar spirit to the Japanese. I see the potential for human resource development” and indicated that the seminar was successful in sending a message of the great potential of Rwanda.
To provide assistance to Rwanda, which aims to become an IT nation, JICA has dispatched an expert to the Ministry of Youth and ICT and has continued to give policy-making advice toward its national ICT strategy since 2001, as well as invited administrative officials to Japan and supported them in obtaining master’s degrees in the information technology field. JICA will also continue to focus on infrastructure development such as transportation, electric power and water supply that form the basis for economic growth in Rwanda, and on agricultural promotion, as well on as human resource development that supports sustainable growth in the country.