My first impressions of Kigali, capital of Rwanda, largely agreed with the ‘Singapore of Africa’ analogies I’ve heard and read about. Things are efficient, orderly and extremely clean. The difference between Rwanda and some other East African countries can be likened to removing yellow-tinted sunglasses after having worn them for a while – the world just looks different when it’s not covered in a layer of dust.
Kigali’s cleanliness can be attributed to a combination of factors, including people generally not littering, having enough street sweepers to clean up after those who do, a ban on plastic bags, and the fact that, on the last Saturday morning of each month, it is compulsory for Rwandans to come together and clean their neighbourhoods. This community work forms part of a government-led effort to build a shared national identity, and to boost economic and social development.
I was in town to attend the Afreximbank (short for African Export-Import Bank) annual general meeting, held at the impressive new Kigali Convention Centre. The event brought together prominent African government and business leaders, such as Paul Kagame, Olusegun Obasanjo, Tony Elumelu and Aliko Dangote.
In recent years, Rwanda has transformed itself into one of the region’s most business-friendly destinations. It is second in Africa (56th globally) in the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings, and is the continent’s third-most competitive economy, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. Its economy has also grown rapidly, expanding by an average annual rate of 7.6% between 2007 and 2016.
But despite its reforms, Rwanda has a number of drawbacks: a small population of about 12 million, few natural resources, and no seaport. While the fact that Kigali is safe with relatively little congestion is great for jogging or driving to work, it doesn’t exactly leave one with the sense that there is a massive market of under-served consumers the same way that Addis Ababa or Lagos does.