29 October 2012

Rwanda: South Africa, Rwanda in Business Diplomacy

Photo: Rwanda Development Gateway
Coffee beans: Rwanda's leading cash crop.

South Africa's envoy to Rwanda, George Twala, is a business-minded diplomat. Only days on his new assignment, he has launched the South Africa-Rwanda business forum to boost trade.

"I have extensively engaged with Rwanda ministers in the economic cluster as well as key role-players and I am encouraged by the potential business opportunities here," he said.

Twala's term will hence focus on trade rather than politics that tends to dominate international diplomacy--an opportunity for the private sector looking for investment ventures.

South Africa is the largest economy in the continent, yet is doing very little trade with neighbors. Its top trade partners are China, USA, Japan, German, UK, India, Netherlands and Switzerland.

Rwanda's developing mining sector could benefit extensively from trade links South Africa--the world's top producer of gold, platinum, rhodium, chrome, manganese and vanadium.

Rutonga Mines, where South Africans are major investors, is an indication of what the two countries can do together.

Rwanda has 17 registered South African investments, including MTN Rwanda and South African Airways. "These are few and we need more investors from South Africa to benefit from our unrivalled business reforms in the region," said Vivian Kayitesi, the investment promotions director of RDB.

A key issue which arose during the meeting was the negative precedence set by some South African firms that have come to Rwanda and collapsed including SA airways which has since returned.

But while Rwanda is eager to receive South African investments, local investors appealed to the embassy to reciprocate the same conditions for Rwandans willing to invest in South Africa.

"For instance, while South Africans require no VISAs to come to Rwanda, we spend weeks processing for VISAs to visit South Africa, that should change," said a local investor.

Safety concerns are some of the issues that scare for Rwandans seeking to do business in South Africa.

"I have no formula to change these false perceptions about safety in my country, but I suggest that members here who have visited either country should be goodwill ambassadors to those who have stubbornly stuck with these ideas," Twala said.

Both Rwanda and South Africa still arouse bad memories at their mention to prospecting visitors with racial segregation and genocide the ugly picture that has remained in some people's minds.

"We have an opportunity to use our bad history as a mutual bond to transform both our countries and this forum can be used as a tool to achieve that," said Hanington Namara, of the Private Sector Federation.

Kayitesi says Rwanda needs investors in the service sector, energy and agriculture among others.

However, Rwanda's small population of 10 million has always been a turn off for most investors. "But that is an old story. We are a market of over 130 million people under the East African Community," said Kayitesi.

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