Thinking big like tiny Rwanda

Clare Akamanzi
The CEO of the Rwandan Development Board, Ms Clare Akamanzi, last week came to Zimbabwe leading a delegation to share her country’s journey to becoming one of the most investor-friendly states in Africa. On Friday, she made a presentation to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Cabinet ministers and senior civil servants in Harare, detailing the role her organisation plays in serving investors in the East African nation. Below is an abridged version of her presentation.

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Mr President, I want to start by thanking you very much for your invitation to Zimbabwe.

We are very delighted and honoured to be here and experience your warm hospitality since coming here.

I also bring you a warm and brotherly greeting of my President, Paul Kagame, who asked me to convey to you Mr President, and you the leaders, and of course you the people of Zimbabwe, that Rwanda stands very closely with you in all the work you are doing.

And in fact he asked us to come here and share all the experiences we can share and take back all the experiences we can learn from Zimbabwe.

Mr President, I heard you for the time when you were in Davos when you were telling the world that Zimbabwe is now open for business. I sat in that room where you were being interviewed and you shared your vision of Zimbabwe, especially when it comes to doing business.

The next time that I saw you Mr President was in Kigali where you were asking me and my colleagues very specific questions about doing business in Rwanda and our experience.

The next day at 7:30 in the morning, which we think is very early for a Head of State, you were having breakfast with the private sector and telling them that Zimbabwe is open for business.

You also told me and my colleague, Emmanuel, that you would be inviting us to Zimbabwe, which we thought was a very difficult thing to do because we never travel together because we always make sure the other person is running the organisation when the other is travelling.

But this inspiration you gave our President to send both of us is consistent with your message that Zimbabwe is open for business.

And, of course, the next time I saw you was in Abidjan at the Africa CEO Forum. Again, there was a very special forum called Doing Business in Zimbabwe.

So, I have been hearing that message that Zimbabwe is open for business but I didn’t know you would act so quickly when you said you would invite us; it only took a matter of weeks and today I am not only saying Zimbabwe is open for business but clearly you mean business Mr President.

For the last few days we have been here, we have been asked to answer how did you do it in Rwanda?

How is it Rwanda is now the second easiest place to do business (in Africa) despite having a very terrible past in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis?

We have been asked how we have moved from being 158th on the ease of doing business in the world to 41st.

How were you able to do that as a very small country, landlocked, with structural challenges; how was that possible?

How we were able to involve women in our leaders, because today Rwanda is one of the top five countries in the world in terms of promoting gender parity; and we also have the largest number of women in Parliament at 64 percent.

Many times your leaders ask us how did you do this, how is it possible, how did you manage the challenges we know are clearly in Rwanda?

And I want to start by summarising three points that our President said when remembering our genocide in 2014.

He said for Rwanda to reach where we are we did three things mostly: We united our people, because we are coming from a history of division the first priority was to make sure that the Rwanda that was being built was Rwanda that was united; that everyone could see themselves in, the youths the women, the educated, the rural the urban and all those that came from outside the country to be part of the rebuilding.

So unity was very important.

The second thing that the president said was thinking big.

Even though we were coming from the lowest place you can ever imagine, even though we had a divided past even though we had many challenges such as being a landlocked country and having very few skilled people, the point was how can we aim higher? How can we achieve what more fortunate countries achieved?

The third one was accountability.

How do we put in place systems that ensure that what we want to do and the vision we have will remain accountable and our leaders will remain accountable to the citizens.

Today, we want to share with you some of the components that really show these three components. We did share many of them with you as we were exchanging ideas over the last few days.

We did see that apart from the message that we kept hearing that Zimbabwe is open for business and your vision 2030 to become a middle income country.

We also talked to a lot of you and we saw openness and a momentum for reform because you were asking a lot of questions about what you could do and how it worked in Rwanda.

We think that creates a very strong basis to reform. We also saw your infrastructure and your institutions and we thought that there is a strong basis to build on. We believe as we share our experiences you will be able to pick those that can work for you.

Our vision is very simple and also very complex and that is how do we continuously see that Rwanda is measured to become a dynamic global hub for business, investment and innovation.

How do we grow our environment so that we become competitive not just in Rwanda or in East Africa but in the world?

Can we dare to dream as a country and an organisation that we can actually compete with the very best in the world?

It may sound ambitious, but when you think like that you begin moving towards a direction and it stops being something that seems out of reach.

Our vision as a country is for a private sector-led development. So what is really central for us is that private sector.

How do we make sure that the private sector is creating jobs, is solving socio-economic problems of our country?

How do we know we are achieving the goals that we want? We measure it mostly in two ways:

Firstly, we count how many jobs we are making in Rwanda. We still have a big population of our country almost half that is still dependent on subsistence farming.

So how do we create jobs where Rwandans can earn meaningful income and give products and services that are commercialised? That is really our key indicator.

The second one is addressing the trade deficit, we are still importing three times of what we export.

We have to think about financing that deficit and so continuously thinking about finding money to address our deficit issues.

So bringing more industrialisation we can produce what we usually import.

Also how do we increase the amount of exports in the country?

How do you attract investment that can shift from depending on agriculture to services and higher value skills in the country?

The Rwandan Development Board is 10 years old in September; this year we will be celebrating 10 years of existence.

But the functions that RDB takes care of are not 10 years old because government only decided to create an organisation by merging eight separate institutions.

We had an investment authority, an export authority, we had an IT authority, we had a tourism authority. The registration of business was separate from all the other organisations, we had an SMEs support and a privation organisation.

But the government noticed a problem with that. The first was that if an investor wants to start a business they would have interacted with 10 institutions and that was cumbersome for the private sector.

It wasted their time, it made them run around unnecessarily because people are different.

Some would try to have a sense of urgency while others just didn’t care and so the investor would suffer at the end of the day. We thought that contradicts our vision. If we say we want the private sector to create jobs and wealth why should we make it so difficult for them to do that?

So government decided to create one organisation, if the private sector or an investor comes they are going to interact with one organisation.

We also realised that by having so many small organisations which do a little bit of something then your success is the sum of the little bit of what they do.

So the government said we don’t want that little bit of success, we want to try and increase and get big success.But you can only do that when you have a big organisation that is stronger, empowered and can actually answer private sector questions.

The other reason why the RDB was created was to create efficiency for the government.

When the RDB was created we immediately said 30 percent of the Rwandan budget be spent on the few institutions because we were creating more efficiencies and eliminating those that were not necessary.

So after streamlining, synergies were created and duplications removed.

The other one is about harmonising; when you have many institutions dealing with the private sector they had different ideologies and systems and they were not talking to each other.

Some of them were putting in place IT systems but those IT systems were very fragmented; one of things we were told when we were meeting the officials was that Zimbabwe is thinking of integrating quite a lot of institutions and is putting in place IT systems and some of you asked instead of us having our system, is it possible to have one IT system that talks to each other?

That is something we also went through that you might want to think about.

Then, of course, there is the creation of a stronger centralised system that offers one-stop services that investors need.

Again here we did interact with some of the institutions -ZIA – and they reminded us of the challenges we used to have.

They have a one-stop centre, but some of the services are not complete at the one-stop centre.

For example, if you want to get a work permit or visa you have to leave ZIA and the Immigration takes them for processing at the immigration offices. We used to do that as well and we were criticised for creating one more stop instead of creating a one-stop centre.

Because if I still go to Immigration, but I go via ZIA that means you are giving me one extra stop; why not just give me one place I can get everything?

Today the one-stop centre at RDB is fully empowered to give a work permit, tax identification number, social security registration.We are fully empowered to that instead of referring to institutions that were doing that initially.

I want to touch on elements that are guiding principles in establishing this one- stop centre. Even though we created the RDB and a lot services that can be done by the board, we still find that institutional cooperation was important.

For example, we are in charge of negotiating all Government deals.

In the past if you wanted to invest in mining you had to negotiate with the Minister of Mining who would give you a concession, the go Minister of Energy and discuss with the Minister of Environ-                                                                                   ment.

There was no standardised system of ensuring that the government was getting a good deal.

But our institution has the responsibility, for example, before giving a mining concession, there has to be discussion with the Ministry of Mining but the investor doesn’t have to see that.

The second one is efficiency.

Always try to think like an investor. What would the investor want? What would an investor need?

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