The East African country of Rwanda is deepening its economic and investment ties with the UAE, its leading trade partner that it has now signed five new deals with.
Anyone who has visited both Rwanda and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) long enough will be able to testify to the striking similarities between the two countries – pro-progress leadership, a readiness for innovation, an enabling investment environment, the important status accorded to women in nation-building, and the safety, stability and security they offer investors, citizens and tourists.
The two nations may be over 4,000km apart, but all of these common nuances and traits converged at the Rwanda-UAE Business Forum that toured the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Dubai in February.
The delegation from Rwanda’s private sector, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the Rwandan Embassy in the UAE held roadshows to explore investment and trade opportunities between the Middle Eastern hub and the surging East African nation, known as “the land of a thousand hills”.
“The UAE is currently Rwanda’s leading trade partner,” said RDB CEO Clare Akamanzi in her opening address in Sharjah on February 22 (interview on next page).
“Over the last ten years, trade has grown ten-fold to reach $1.09 billion in 2022 from $100.4 million in 2012. In 2022, exports accounted for 53% and investments have equally grown at a tune of $248 million and more are in the pipeline.”
What is in the pipeline for the hilly East African country with a population of 13 million (about 65% under the age of 30) and as the sixth fastest-growing economy on the continent, is a vision to transform itself into a globally-competitive knowledge-based economy. The UAE is a strategic market. Emmanuel Hategeka, the Ambassador of Rwanda to the UAE, tells FORBES AFRICA the objective of the forum was to provide “a match-making platform” for business partnerships between Rwandan and UAE business executives in various sectors.
The key areas of investment, business and trade between the two regions include agriculture, mineral processing, hospitality, logistics, financial services as well as energy.
As for commodities, major exported goods and merchandise from Rwanda include precious or semi-precious stones and precious metals through Dubai as a hub, horticulture products, and products of the milling industry. Rwanda imports from the UAE mainly include petroleum oils, motor vehicles including used cars, machines, wires, telephone sets, recording machines, furniture and other equipment.
The February forum witnessed the signing of five key MoUs including the establishment of the UAE-Rwanda Joint Business Council and a collaboration between the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Private Sector Federation – Rwanda (PSF).
“The value of such MoUs is beyond mathematical calculation… These MoUs are significant instruments that have created a conducive business environment for the two countries,” says Hategeka.
The five-day event culminated on February 25 with a tourismdriven golf tournament connecting both communities socially.
There are over a 1,000 Rwandans resident in the UAE, mainly in the global trade hub of Dubai. Attracting high-end tourists from the UAE to Rwanda is also a top priority.
“In 2022, RwandAir operated its maiden cargo flight to UAE and currently operates two flights weekly carrying mainly fresh produce inbound and electronics on the outbound leg. DP World’s (the Emirati logistics company) inland port in Kigali and the regular RwandAir Kigali-Dubai flights provide flexible
maritime and air transport means.
“The daily Kigali-Dubai flights by RwandAir provide a convenient mode of transport for travelers from the UAE and GCC,” adds Hategeka.
Reuben Mbonye, the airline’s Country Manager in the UAE, concurs: “We are now looking at upgrading the route with wide-body aircraft and also increasing the cargo flights out of the UAE… The airline plays a very central role, there is no way you can discuss development without it.”
The road ahead also includes collaboration in new areas including sustainability, space, the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence.
This is something the UAE, home to more than 200 nationalities and one of the safest and most investor-friendly countries in the world, is equally looking forward to. Abdul Aziz Shattaf, the Assistant Director-General for the Communications and Business Sector at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, affirms to FORBES AFRICA: “We are very excited and hope our bilateral trade will increase!”
‘Shared Ambition And Vision’
WHERE DO YOU SEE BILATERAL TRADE IN THE NEXT COUPLE OF YEARS?
It will be accelerated by working together. I think with these kind of meetings, people come and we hope to do even better. And as I said, if we could do 10 times growth over the last 10 years, why not have the ambition to do 10 times more in the next 10 years?
THE OTHER COMMONALITY YOU HAVE IS THE GENDER AGENDA. PSF RWANDA AND THE EMIRATES BUSINESSWOMEN COUNCIL HAVE SIGNED A PACT. DO ELABORATE.
There’s no way you can prosper without fully including 52% of the population that women constitute in Rwanda. For us, that has been the logic of bringing them to the forefront, and politically, we have done so well in terms of number of women in Parliament (61.4%) and cabinet (52%).
Businesses are also catching up. The more women do business, the more inclusive society becomes and the more prosperous because they have a lot to contribute.
WHAT ARE THE NEW OPPORTUNITIES THE SIGNING OF THESE DEALS WILL ACTUALLY BRING FOR BOTH REGIONS?
I am very pleased that the Private Sector Federation Rwanda and Sharjah Chamber of Commerce are going to collaborate even more. It’s really important for us because Dubai and the UAE in general are important partners… Every country grows because of trade and being able to source products from reliable markets, but also to sell products is really what helps countries prosper. Dubai has a lot of experience; it trades in billions and billions of dollars, is one of the top five export markets in the world… But we want them to do more than trading. We also want them to invest… We share a lot in common, values really, the first is clean governance and clean processes. And I think the second is this whole concept of ambition, vision, excellence and the commitment to those things. The third is the commitment to innovate, and do things in new ways. And also digital infrastructure supporting businesses. So I think
innovation, excellence, ambition, vision, as well as governance are what make it easy for businesses to do what they do here in the UAE, but also in Rwanda. Put all that together and we’re committed to making our people more prosperous, and making businesses thrive. Let’s work together because we share those
values… we’re investing a lot of resources to build relations with the Middle East.
WHAT’S YOUR MOST FAVORITE PART OF THE UAE?
You know, that’s a very tough question. I just enjoy seeing the real estate and housing. The innovation and digitalization here are out of this world. And also the entertainment and the restaurants.