The New Times (Kigali)

20 November 2013

Rwanda Is an Ideal Investment Destination

I landed in Kigali around 2 am on the November 2 and was quickly ushered into a car by my hotel shuttle service, I was curious that the driver was wearing a Gloucestershire county cricket jersey.

"Is this your first time in Rwanda?" he asked me and I told him it was my first time in Africa.

Street lights emit an orange glow that illuminates the sidewalks and teases the outline of vegetation. As Kigali flies by the car window on the empty roads, thousands of lights from people's homes twinkle like stars in the hills; this was the only indicator of life, otherwise Kigali is very quiet.

When morning breaks, daylight reviled Rwanda to me, wow! I was met with a paradise of lush green trees and birds dancing between them. I stroll into Kigali and it reminds me of London, hustle, traffic and business deals all set in the back drop of stunning natural beauty.

I am in Kigali for the ITC4ag conference, and we believe Rwanda with its clear ITC strategy is the best place to start our project.

What I didn't expect from our meetings was the genuine gushing praise of Rwanda from high profile dignitaries of other countries, we discuss with these dignitaries about starting our project in their respective nations, but all would confide privately that amongst East African countries, Rwanda is admired and secretly envied.

"What the Rwandan government has achieved in the last 20 years is nothing short of heroic," one delegate mused to me. In the conference hall, I take a seat and listen to the speakers with ministers sitting in the audience. I listened to stories like the broadband coverage where a Rwandan official said that big business took too long to install fibre internet, "so we did it ourselves! We didn't pick or choose to ignore remote villages; we took fibre to the whole country."

I nodded in agreement, but wanted to high five the person seated next to me. I was reminded instantly of my uncle, who amongst our family is famous. In the mid 1950's he designed and built the new modern style telephone exchange in North London.

After this four-year project, he lectured engineering at Middlesex University for three years, all these before the age of 23. He never attended university himself, however in mid 1950's north London and despite his tender age he was 'good enough' and was given the environment to thrive.

It would categorically not happen in London today, it was outrageous even then; picture a 16-year-old working class boy leading a massive project, the very idea is laughable. But he had the environment for his genius; someone recognised in him that special something.

A wave of excitement comes over me, I start to fidget in my seat and I attract a few strange sideways glances. Listening to these stories Rwanda is reviled to me again, just as the morning bought sunlight to my hotel. Listening intently, I recognise that the government is working hard to give the people the best environment and wants people to get things done.

That sprit of the go-getter, the achiever, in North London we call this characteristic in a person as someone who has "poke" and believe me, Rwanda has some serious poke - I smile as I write this. I had to extend my stay to meet with some government officials about starting our project here in Rwanda. With my extra day, hotel staff I had befriended arranged for me to meet coffee farmers about 30 minutes out of Kigali.

If I am honest as I walk towards Didier, at the edge of his field he cuts quite an intimidating figure. Standing at six foot tall, the 30-something farmer with a pick axe over his shoulder, sweating and gazing at me intently, me this slightly fat, white, Englishman and suddenly, he softens as I try to greet him in the few Kinyarwanda words I knew.

We exchanged pleasantries for a few moments until two of his friends join our conversation, it quickly descends into them teaching me rude words in Kinyarwanda and suppressing mischievous chuckles listening to this European attempt them as if it were guilty secret. I will not repeat the words here.

I must apologise to Dr Agnes Kalibata Agriculture minister, I was directly responsible for the two hours of lost productivity, but it was worth it! For those two hours we talked like old friends.

"Will you come back to Rwanda?" they asked. "Yes in January" I said confidently. If you are Rwandan and you have IT or developer skills, even if you have no formal qualifications, if you just have a good idea, no matter how old you are, your government has the environment that will back you.

If your ambition improves or enables fellow Rwandans lives or if you will ultimately bring about sustainable development that directly impacts the country, then you can be the driver of that change... how exiting to be Rwandan!

Every part of me lights up with excitement. I want to do business in Rwanda, now more than ever! It is more than just good market research, being in Kigali, listening to people, a light has been switched on inside of me.

What I have taken away and what I tell everyone is that Rwanda is open for business, and you make friends fast.

My usual excitement of retuning home to London after a long journey is over shadowed with anticipation as I wait for an email response from government officials.

I'm also preparing a report to my own UK government ministers.

I look out my window...I start to think... maybe I could help achieve something great, like my uncle.

Rwanda ...Ndagukumbuye

The author is the director of Weather Safe Ltd, a UK-based data and technology firm

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