Rwanda: What the Renewed Partnership With Alibaba Means for Rwanda

23 September 2019

Government, through Rwanda Development Board (RDB) earlier this month extended its partnership with Alibaba Group, a China based e-commerce conglomerate, to ease access of Rwandan products on the Chinese market.

This was done through the extension of the eWTP agreement (Electronic World Trade Platform) signed last year, the first of its kind between the tech giant with any African country.

eWTP is an Alibaba-led initiative that aims to lower barriers to global trade for small- and medium-sized enterprises via e-commerce.

Through this new partnership that will last three years, RDB renewed its membership in the e-commerce giant's platform.

The two also signed a specific MoU where by Alibaba would prioritise Rwandan chili in the Chinese market through Freshippo, its retail supermarket chain.

Alibaba will also continue its training programme for Rwandan entrepreneurs.

According to Asia times, Alibaba has over the past one year helped increase the presence of Rwandan coffee in China and has worked with local entrepreneurs in the coffee sector to improve branding which has shored up sales.

In addition, Rwandan coffee makers have successfully connected their businesses to China's consumers through Tmall, Alibaba's cross-border B2C platform and this has increased sales of high quality Rwandan coffee to China by 700%.

In an interview, Wang Jiaxin, the Economic and Commercial Counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Rwanda told The New Times that "Alibaba signed its eWTP agreement with Rwanda, the first ever in Africa. They will trust their own discretion and make it an absolute success."

According to Alibaba, more than 40 Rwandan entrepreneurs have received training from the eFounders' Fellowship Program and Netpreneur Training Program through the Alibaba Business School.

Jiaxin believes the partnership has already yielded good results in the areas of trade, tourism and building capacity of enterprenuers and only thinks the extension the programme will build on these gains.

"Rwanda coffee is sold in China via Tmall of Alibaba, Rwanda tourism is promoted among Chinese travelers, and 20 students, under the scholarship of Alibaba, have gone to China to study for four years," Jiaxin noted.

The partnership with Alibaba has enabled Rwandan small businesses to leverage its ecosystem and get connected to the over 700 million Chinese consumers on the platform while bypassing costly intermediaries.

New expectations

Speaking to The New Times, Sunny Ntayombya, the head of Marketing and Communications at RDB said that Rwanda will continue leveraging the partnership to expand trade in its quest to reduce the import-export gap.

"The agreements signed under the eWTP are benefitting the education sector through e-commerce and international business education programmes by the Alibaba Business School (ABS), export and tourism sectors."

He added that together with the Higher Education Council, the government expects to increase the number of skilled Rwandans especially in the fields of technology and international business.

In addition to this 30 ecosystem enablers, including traditional business owners as well as start-up entrepreneurs, have attended the Alibaba Netpreneur Training.

As part of the latest MoU extension, ABS has started an undergraduate programme that will train Rwandan students in international business and cross-border e-commerce to bridge Rwanda's skills gap.

Tourism

In tourism, Chinese tourists, have been able to directly book tour packages to Rwanda following the launch of the 'Visit Rwanda' online pavilion on Fliggy, Alibaba's travel platform in December last year.

Fliggy is accessed by over 500 million users in China.

With the new agreements, Rwandan traders are going to export more products to China other than coffee.

Agriculture and trade

"So far, we have facilitated Dieudonné Twahirwa, the owner of Gashora Farm, who signed a five-year agreement worth $100Million with Chinese GK International Enterprises Company Limited to supply 50,000 metric tons of dried chili, annually," Ntayombya added.

GK International Enterprises Company Limited is a supplier of Freshippo.

Ntayombya said "Other Rwandan products such as avocado and beef are in the pipeline for export to China under the deal as well".

"We also expect more Chinese tourists to visit Rwanda as more book their travel packages through Fliggy," Ntayombya continued.

Jiaxin is hopeful about the future of the partnership even beyond the three-year extension signed earlier this month.

"The cooperation between Alibaba and Rwanda, the cooperation between China and Rwanda, will be forging ahead, and going deeper, ultimately, make an absolute success," he added.

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