HOW STRONG IS STRONG ENOUGH?
Donors and investors are divided over what this means for
Rwanda's future. Some, both in Rwanda and abroad, are worried
about the direction the country might be headed. Kagame, says
one analyst on condition of anonymity, "has put more effort into
PR than probably anyone else in Africa. But there is a sense in
which they are losing control of the story. You have got to ask
why these people keep turning up dead. Either it's the
government or it is someone else, and neither is good."
A foreign businessman who also did not want his name used,
because talking about risks publicly could be hazardous for his
company's operations in Rwanda, is worried. "If this is a trend,
and this trend continues then it will make raising investment
capital from western countries more difficult," he says.
But others are more sanguine. David Bensusan, chief
executive of Minerals Supply Africa, Rwanda's largest metal ore
exporter, says Kagame's moves in recent months have been about
"dealing with bribery at the top level. He's closed it down
everywhere else and he's calling them to account for where they
got their houses, and they don't like it." The president,
Bensusan says, is "strong enough to push it through, and then
you're going to get a very, very good area for doing business."
Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo believes international
concern is unfounded. Investors, she says, have a different way
of looking at the country. "They are more objective, after facts
and not speculation."
She predicts the violence in the lead up to the election
will die down again after the poll. "There is a level of hype
with these incidents that have happened in Rwanda," she says.
"It's very unfortunate because it gives a picture of Rwanda
which is really very slanted."
The picture Rwanda has painted of itself over the past few
years has been a positive one. Kagame has recruited a kitchen
cabinet of advisers including Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, U.S.
evangelist Rick Warren and CEOs of corporations such as Google
and Starbucks. The president himself is regularly feted at
international meetings and held up as the leader of a new,
economically savvy generation of African politicians.
There is no doubting he has helped transform his country.
Even before the epochal upheaval of the 1994 genocide,
Rwanda struggled to get ahead. The country is landlocked; its
population of more than 10 million people jostles for enough
space to farm and eke out a living. Rwanda's limited mineral
resources have been largely neglected since the Belgians left in
1962, though it does raise large amounts of foreign exchange by
re-exporting -- and in some cases smuggling -- metal ore from
neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Its other main
earners are coffee, tea and tourism.
Since 1994, when Kagame and his exiled cohorts fought their
way into the country and helped to end the genocide, the ruling
Rwandan Patriotic Front party has more than tripled household
incomes and overseen huge leaps in everything from education to
agriculture. Rwandans now have access to universal healthcare
insurance and boast a parliament with the highest proportion of
female lawmakers in the world -- 56 percent.
The tea and coffee industries have been successfully
privatized. In 2009 coffee giant Starbucks even set up its
regional operations in Kigali.
Donor assistance has helped boost food stocks, improvements
in taxation have swelled government coffers. The Chinese have
built a basic road network and a Korean firm is hastily laying a
fibre-optic backbone across the country, to link up with an
undersea cable from Kenya.
The president says he wants to transform his country into
east Africa's service centre. Rwanda, he often tells people,
should aim to be more like an Asian economic tiger. Work hard
and the country can become a middle-income nation within a
generation, he says.
In some ways that sense of optimism is justified. The World
Bank ranks Rwanda among the top five African countries for ease
of doing business -- and globally ahead of Brazil, Russia, India
and China. Research and lobby group Transparency International
says Rwanda is the least corrupt country in east Africa. The
Rwanda Development Board, a government agency tasked with
streamlining investment, has simplified laws for starting up
businesses, increased shareholder access to information and
improved regulations on corporate disclosure, director liability
and access to credit.
Despite the global financial crisis, pledged investment in
Rwanda rose 41 percent in 2009 to $1.1 billion, according to the
Rwanda Development Board.
An ebullient finance minister wants to simplify tax
regulation even further and lower Rwanda's debt-export ratio.
The country should hit double-digit growth in two years, he
says. He's looking to join hands with private investors to help
fund a new airport, a railway through Tanzania and hydropower,
geothermal and methane gas power schemes.
Investors marvel at the red-carpet treatment they receive
and have taken to calling the business-focused fiefdom Rwanda
Small herds of foreign investors, local chief executives,
lawmakers and entrepreneurs roam the clipped greens of the
Kigali golf course. Under wide-brimmed acacia and towering
eucalyptus trees they discuss the challenges and opportunities
of the business climate, and boast loudly about previous golf
"The advantages are a good banking system, the road
structure, it's completely clean -- no bribery, and you can see
people very quickly if you do have a problem," says Bensusan.
"Compared to most of Africa, it is a very good environment for
And Rwanda's president, says Alastair Newton, a former
British diplomat in Kigali, is the real deal. "It is almost
impossible to overestimate the scale of the challenges Rwanda
faced in the immediate aftermath of the genocide," says Newton,
now a member of the supervisory board of the African Development
Corporation, which has investments in Rwanda. "For now at least,
Kagame's leadership is almost certainly central, if not
essential, to Rwanda continuing on what has been and remains an
overall remarkably positive track."