Business keeps bringing me to Rwanda, exposing me to the progress this country has made in the 22 years since that gruesome genocide that lasted for 100 days, starting on April 6, 1994. I was in Kigali to attend the World Economic Forum for Africa. My astonishment with the efficiency of the visa-on-arrival self-help tablet terminals at the airport was well documented.
For a country that has grown its tourism by 22% since 2013, reaching about 1.2 million tourists this year, and expecting to hit 1.39 million in 2018, Rwanda is still moving more aggressively than ever to be competitive.
When I landed, this time to attend the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) in May, the tablets had been replaced with humans behind counters because “they made the application too slow”, as the young man at the visa payment counter told me.
Here, everything should be done more quickly, bellows President Paul Kagame – at every opportunity he gets. He wants bureaucracy buried in his country. If a tourist is paying $30 (R416) to get into your country, expediency pays off. For its 1.2 million tourists this year, the country would have raked in $36 million! Kagame wants the tourist in the country and spending money, not shuffling papers to get a visa.
Time feels more precious than money out here, or the World Economic Forum would not have named Rwanda the seventh most-efficient government in the world. Who would have thought that Marriott International’s first hotel in sub-Saharan Africa would be in Rwanda? The one distinguishing feature of Rwanda is that change is visible every time you visit. 8.5MW of power to Rwanda’s rural electrification project, from sign-off to switching on the $23 million solar farm, took a mere 12 months.
For example, the global room-sharing service Airbnb had enlisted about 100 homes in Rwanda, when the AHIF came to Kigali on October 4 to 6. In spite of the measly uptake by the property owners of Rwanda, Belise Kariza, the chief tourism officer at the Rwanda Development Board, announced at the AHIF that they had met with the representatives of Airbnb to customise the service for Rwanda.
This disruptive service sends some tremors among the hotel groups, but Rwanda does not toy with efficiency, not even to protect loyal investors. MTN, a loyal investor in Rwanda since the mid-1990s, gets fined each time its network drops calls.
Hotel operators were told unflinchingly to up their service quality, before the African Union Summit after complaints about hygiene during the World Economic Forum for Africa.
Africa needs tough leaders to take it to its rightful heights of global economic grit.