“We started from nothing. We started to create value out of nothing,” said Rwandan President on Wednesday during a high-level conservation on partnerships in Africa at the World Economic Forum on Africa here.
He added: “We felt we had lost something, we had to regain the future.” President Kagame was speaking during in a conservation that brought together former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who is also patron of the Africa Governance Initiative, and Howard Buffett, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation in the United States.
President Kagame said Rwanda had reached where it was in terms of progress after the country, a member of the East African Community, realized that financial resources and people had to come together
He said investments also made a huge impact in the transformation of the country, adding that partnership with various stakeholders, including the civil society and the private sector, was also of paramount importance.
“Partnerships with the civil society and the private sector have played a very big role towards the transformation of Rwanda,” said President Kagame.
“As we were building on the mindset we had, we also realized that partnership and integration for a small country like ours was very important,” said the Rwandan leader.
As the tiny east African country was becoming a digitalized country, Preside Kagame told his audience at the Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village that when the country started investing in the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) “people thought we were crazy.”
“People started wondering why we were not investing in sectors such as agriculture,” said the President, however, adding that ICT has created linkage to other sectors and investment in the ICT was at an advanced stage.
He concurred with observations by Blair that Rwanda needed aid from donors but he said the country should be allowed to participate in how that aid was being used.
The former British Prime Minister and Buffett concurred that Rwanda has made remarkable progress in the past 22 years.
Buffett, one of the American billionaires, said his Foundation was working with 44 African countries but Rwanda has emerged as an incredible partner.
“Rwanda is a true partner. They (Rwandans) have skills and good policies. The country has made good changes and huge success,” said Buffett to a thunderous applause from the audience.
Oliver Cann, Director of Media Relations at the World Economic Forum, which is hosting its African edition here, says the positive rating by multiple international indexes such as the World Bank’s Doing Business report also made Rwanda more attractive as a conference host.
“The infrastructure is in place, the policies are in place and there seems to be a very good environment for innovation and entrepreneurship,” adds Cann.
Over the last three years, Rwanda, a country recovering from the 1994 genocide, has started to welcome a new kind of tourists—conference delegates from across the world.
According to figures from the Rwanda Development Board, there has been steady growth in the number of visitors and consequent revenue.
In 2015, conference visitors were estimated at about 26,000, a 36 per cent increase on the previous year when about 19,000 conference delegates were hosted.
Significant investments have been made in world class facilities such as the Kigali Convention Centre set to open next month and will probably host the African Union summit in July.
The international standard venue valued at more than $300 million (about 600billion/-) features a five star hotel called the Radisson Blu with 292 rooms, a conference hall that can host over 2,500 people, several meeting rooms and an office park.
“In the past five years, we have seen accommodation double from 4,825 rooms in 2010 to 8,200 in 2014,” says Belise Kariza, Chief Tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board, adding: “Today there are a number of international 4-5 star hotel brands currently under development.”
She says in the next five years, Rwanda will have an additional 1,000 high-end rooms on the market.
The private sector in Rwanda and beyond also brought international hotel brands with the latest entrants, including Marriot Hotels, Radisson Blu Hotels, Sheraton, Golden Tulip, Kempisnki and Zinz, among others.
RwandAir is also playing an important role in connecting Rwanda by introducing new destinations, increasing its fleet and expanding code sharing agreements with other airlines—all in efforts aimed at improving the country’s accessibility.
To achieve this rapid progress, says an article in the latest edition of Inzozi, the public and private sectors have invested in facilities needed to meet and surpass world standards.
For example, says the RwandaAir inflight magazine, the Kigali International Airport was upgraded, visa policies and procedures were eased and services such as WI-FI in hotels and public transport have been introduced.
At the end of African Nations Championships, the Vice-President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Almamy Kabele Camara, said Rwanda had surpassed its expectations and that CAF would not hesitate to bring another tournament to the country.
With so much progress already made in such a short space of time, it’s no surprise Rwanda is quickly becoming one of the major conference hubs in East Africa and across the continent, writes Inzozi.