Clare Akamanzi, CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), is one of the most influential figures in Rwanda.
She is a member of cabinet and reports directly to the President.
In other terms, she is Rwanda’s Chief Marketing Officer, reporting to the CEO (the president) if we treat Rwanda as a company.
RDB, her department (the marketing department), is the one stop shop for all investors, local and foreign.
All other government agencies responsible for the entire investor experience are coordinated by RDB.
Basically, Akamanzi coordinates key agencies responsible for business registration, investment promotion, environmental clearances, privatization and specialist agencies.
Akamanzi is independent and influential. While she reports directly to the President, she is guided by a board that includes all the key Ministers (e.g., finance, commerce, infrastructure, agriculture).
Akamanzi runs RDB with global expertise, modeled on examples of Singapore and Costa Rica, according to RDB’s policy overview.
RDB has advisory and hands-on support from global entrepreneurs and experts from Singapore Development Board, World Bank, IFC and the Office of Tony Blair.
When RDB was created in 2008, the government wanted to address a critical concern.
“Not to lose the country after losing one million people,” Akamanzi told investors in London during a UK-Africa Business Summit. “The best thing was to give our people a future that they can be proud of and hopeful about…a future that we incrementally see some progress.”Akamanzi added: “We came up with a vision that was very clear in what it meant in terms of jobs to be created every year, investments to be attracted and exports to be made. We made it very specific.”
Every year, RDB signs performance contracts with the President. Every once a year, the president holds a meeting in parliament for each of the heads of the agencies to account for what they did the year before.
This, Akamanzi says, is one of the things that keep her awake, “until I make sure that I am meeting my targets.”
RDB is one of the institutions with the highest CEO turnovers in the country. Since 2008, RDB has had five CEOs, with an average of 2.4 years in office.
“Making sure that our vision and strategies are actually being implemented practically and also being held accountable as leaders if we’re not meeting those goals is something that the government made clear, which has helped us to see progress every year.”
Two years, in 2010, after RDB’s creation, which was under Joe Richie, its first CEO, an American multimillionaire serial entrepreneur, RDB registered US$400 million in investments. Ten years later, in 2018, RDB registered over US$ 2.4 billion, the highest registration to date, up by 23% from 2018.
“No one was thinking about investing in Rwanda before 1994. So what is it that we have done so that we can reach the US$2.4 billion today?” Akamanzi queried during her presentation to a pull of investors in London.
She gave five key actions that have given Rwanda a better bet in attracting investments into the country.
One, the government had to find something to do not to lose the country after losing one million people.
The world knew South Africa, Kenya and other countries that had positioned themselves as hubs. Rwanda decided it would survive if it became a hub through which investors can go to the rest of the continent.
“We started developing policies and strategies to try and become a country that attracts capital going beyond Rwanda and to the rest of the continent,” says Akamanzi.
The second key action point thing was to improve the Doing Business environment. “If we were going to compete with countries that were well established, we were going to make it as easy as possible to do business in Rwanda,” she adds.
“When this vision started 10 years ago, the President called a meeting and said look, Rwanda is ranked 158th in the world in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index. We are the last and we don’t want to be the last. Let’s aim at doing better,” she recalls. Akamanzi was then a COO at RDB.
And it started step by step, every year making progress.
10 years down the road, Rwanda is ranked the 38th easiest place to do business in the world and 2nd after Mauritius in Africa.
The 3rd thing was to create institutions that can be the interface of the private sector. That’s RDB. It is a one stop center for anything needed from the beginning of registering a company up to the first invoice a business issues to the first client.
The fourth one was infrastructure. To become a hub, every infrastructure would respond to the vision. Some of the sectors that were picked were completely nowhere on the map.
For example, to becoming an African hub, the country decided to attract international events (MICE tourism). “No one knew Rwanda. Rwanda was among the last countries in the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) rankings, which assess countries based on how many conferences hosted every year. This decision was made just 7 years ago.A radical move was made to invest in an airline. The idea was that, Rwanda is poor. There is need for basics first; schools, hospitals, water, among others. It was an ecosystem that was being built. As the country worked on the basics, there was also improving the bets on the other sectors.
There was only one airline flying to Rwanda at the time. The government had to take the first step by investing in RwandAir.
Today, about 10 airlines flying into Rwanda and RwandAir flies to about 29 destinations including London.
Due to strategic positioning, such as VISA on arrival, hotel facilities, conference and events facilities, the airline recently struck a deal as part of the Qatar’s US$1.3 billion investment into the aviation industry in Rwanda.
Having done all that with a strategy of becoming a conference hub. Today Rwanda is ranked the second best country in attracting conferences in Africa only after South Africa.
The last key action point was to identify target sectors and putting a team dedicated to take those sectors to fruition. RDB has a deal accelerator team that works with ministries on investments.
“We learnt that we can’t just have a tax or investment structure that is one size fits all. We’ve seen that for investors, we have to be very specific and do structuring with them to build something that works for the country,” Akamnzi explains.
“An example I’d like to give in line with that, is Rwanda decided to become a proof of concept country. We said many innovations are happening out there and people want to test them. The question was how can we build a technology base so people can come and try out their innovations.”The idea started with Zipline, an American drone firm. They had developed a prototype in Silicon Valley and wanted to use drones to supply blood and medical emergencies to hospitals. They couldn’t do it in the US because there were no regulations ready and Rwanda didn’t have regulations either.
Regulations were put together by a team composed of government and Zipline experts. Zipline tried out their solution on Rwanda’s airspace. Today, having been very successful in Rwanda they are supplying blood in Ghana and negotiating contracts in Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
The same process has been undergone by other companies such as Volkswagen with its Mobility Solution.“That is who we want to be as Rwanda,” Akamanzi says.
But what is the cost of being in the driver’s on this journey? That is what gives Akamanzi sleepless nights.
Has she done a good job? That is our next analysis soon.