Kagame: How I’m making Rwanda an innovation powerhouse

Kagame: How I’m making Rwanda an innovation powerhouse

President Paul Kagame (Image credit: The New Times, Rwanda)

Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda is the 2018 African of the Year, according to Forbes. Kagame, who is also the chairman of the African Union, is the face of the Forbes Africa December/January issue.

For this issue of the publication, Methil Renukaabout, the Forbes Africa managing editor sat down with President Kagame for an interview in which they talked about, among other things, how Rwanda is grounding herself in the innovation and entrepreneurship space.

In 2018, the government of Rwanda closed multiple deals with global companies, lending credence to a recent World Bank report which showed that Rwanda is the second-best nation after Mauritius to do business in Africa and the twenty-ninth in the world.

The report attributed Rwanda’s impressive score to improvements in the country’s business regulatory environment captured in the various reforms the country undertook.

Andela Uganda

SeeRwanda makes things happen – Alibaba’s Jack Ma

It is because of friendly policies like the abolition of work permits for professionals, hence liberalizing the movement of labor that attracted Andela to set up its first pan-African hub in the country in 2018.

From this deal with Andela, Rwanda is expected to generate US$3o million, according to the Rwanda Development Bank and 500 software developers will be trained in five years.

Recently, Rwanda also closed another deal with the e-commerce giant Alibaba to roll out an electronic world trade platform that will see Rwanda sell goods to China and facilitate cross-border trade.

The platform presents an opportunity for Rwanda’s coffee producers to access the Chinese market whose coffee consumption is growing at 15% per annum.

On the e-platform, Rwandan coffee farmers will be receiving $12 per $16 sold, which is significantly higher compared to other markets like the US where they normally get $8 per $16 sold.

Other top deals include the vehicle assembly plant that was unveiled this year by the German automobile company Volkswagen and one of Africa’s first drone services being funded by Zipline International Inc, a California-based company to transport blood to remote areas.

The country is also constructing a US$2 million innovation hub that will host world-class universities, technology companies, biotech firms, and commercial and retail real estate on 70 hectares of land.

See: New internet retailer opens shop in Rwanda

Paul Kagame talks to Forbes

In the interview, Renukaabout asks President Paul Kagame how his government is supporting the startup ecosystem and its entrepreneurs.

According to Kagame, one of the major projects the government introduced is YouthConnekt, an event that attracts speakers from across the globe, where budding entrepreneurs can learn about business from experience people. They also arrange pitch competitions through which startups win prizes.

In 2016, Rwanda became the twenty-sixth country to host the World Economic Forum; it was appointed by the United Kingdom as the next of host of CHOGM and the country is warming up the Africa Tech Summit, one of the biggest events on the continent.

In addition to hosting events to stimulate entrepreneurship, Rwanda has also set up various funds, including the Business Development Fund and an Innovation Fund, to support startups.

Recently, the government relaunched its projects of giving out laptops on loan to students as a way of fueling smart learning. They also rolled out two smart classrooms this past month.

SeeTwo Ugandans shortlisted for Africa top innovations prize

He says introducing these funds has had a significant impact on the innovation space in the country, but he is also quick to add that a number of challenges have been encountered along the way.

“We have created an Innovation Fund, and help thousands of our young people by combining both innovation and entrepreneurship, we hope to keep exciting our young people to be able to do a number of things. We have national entrepreneurship programs.Every five years, we see what this has done, what impact it has had, and also make improvements. So, it keeps going,” he says.

“It has had a huge impact. We see it has been working and draw lessons from these experiences of young people feeding back to us as government institutions and then we respond as much as we can,” he adds.

“Of course, governments have limitations. It doesn’t have everything it requires or wishes to deploy, to reach the goals we want. We’ve been trying to be thoughtful in involving the young people. We have also provided them educational programmes that include vocational training and technical programs that help them to not just study in schools and sometimes come up with no skills, but to also acquire knowledge. The skills that are required for employment are lacking so we have also tried to cover that gap and are making good progress.”

What drives entrepreneurship

Asked on what he thinks facilitates a good business space, he says a great political environment is key. He roots for an environment that involves young people and shows them why their participaition in entrepreneurship is fundamental for the growth of their nations and personal lives.

He also rallied African governments to ensure that the public and private sectors are in harmony in order to enhance partnerships.

Below is part of the Q&A’s (Picked from TheNewTimes)

How do you promote entrepreneurial capitalism, how are you looking at youth-led startups?

The question you raise is important. For example, we have an initiative called YouthConnekt, where we try to encourage young people to be innovative.

We give them cash prizes, but this is to excite them and make them think innovatively.

It also creates healthy competition among young people, but above all, it stimulates them to think [about] what they need to do that fits in with the times we are in.

We also have formed business development funds that cut across districts and the country that help people understand what entrepreneurship holds for them and that they can participate and therefore, we give them seed money, if they specifically come up with these ideas but some of the ideas may come through this support by educating them.

We have created an Innovation Fund, and help thousands of our young people by combining both innovation and entrepreneurship, we hope to keep exciting our young people to be able to do a number of things. We have national entrepreneurship programs.

Every five years, we see what this has done, what impact it has had, and also make improvements. So it keeps going.

It has had a huge impact. We see it has been working and draw lessons from these experiences of young people feeding back to us as government institutions and then we respond as much as we can.

Of course, governments have limitations. It doesn’t have everything it requires or wishes to deploy, to reach the goals we want. We’ve been trying to be thoughtful in involving the young people.

We have also provided them educational programmes that include vocational training and technical programs that help them to not just study in schools and sometimes come up with no skills, but to also acquire knowledge.

The skills that are required for employment are lacking so we have also tried to cover that gap and are making good progress.

What really drives entrepreneurship? How do we make sure young people stay on the continent?

It is a combination of many things.

Some of it may even be political, meaning, the political environment must be that of reassurance to the citizens in general, but to the young people as well, and reassurance in a sense that it not something you just deliver to them, but something you deliver by allowing them to participate or [by conveying that] they have a place in their own country, and politically, they can participate, which again relates to the socioeconomic part of it.

Therefore, if politically, they understand they are participants and not just observers – they need to even participate in addressing some of the problems – then the next demand is ‘what about these bread-and-butter issues, how do I take care of myself, take care of my family; every effort is being done by the government to allow us young people to really play our part; and it means I start with my own environment, in my country, but how about if we connect across borders’?

So to a great extent, it speaks to politics.

How do African countries and leaders allow this cross-border economic activity that interests these young people and holds them here so they don’t reach a point where they become desperate in which [case] they go to other places?

Sometimes, they reach these [other places] and actually find the situation is even worse, so we have to find a way of talking directly to the young people, but above all, create new things on the ground they can experience and participate in.

It’s not one side that is going to deliver it and put on the table, it’s everybody. It has to be everyone, leaders of countries, and leaders of different kinds who have to play a bigger role.

How do you think capitalists, billionaires and African business can help this process and work collaboratively with the government?

We want the private sector to be in the lead of our countries’ or continental transformation; that is for sure, but again, collaboration is important and this is the big burden that lies with governments and we must address how we allow not only the private sector to thrive, to freely do what it is meant to do, but how do we work with them.

For example, many times that there have been discussions about private-public partnerships, some people are uncomfortable about them.

You don’t understand why.

There is no question that if the government played its part in allowing the private sector to thrive and the private sector also understands that if they do their part with the government, that’s very important in the thriving of the citizens of the country, which again constitute the market in which we operate.

So if the people of Rwanda are thriving, the citizens are well, then the business person should be happy because this is the market in which they play.

But you can’t be rich and continue sustainably as a businessman in a very impoverished market.

It’s just common sense.

So if the market, the people are thriving, it feeds back to the private sector but then the private sector should respond in the same way… I mean if you’re a government person, a political leader, you also want to see a country that is registering economic growth, registering development.

I think the private sector-mind is going to respond positively to these good signals originating from the political environment, from the leadership.

It’s in their interest as well.

So we really should be happy with the private-public partnership.

There is no question about it, it’s a win-win sort of relationship.

Related:

German firm promises jobs, innovation as it launches startup Haus in Kigali

HP unveils its first physical tech & business incubator in Africa