Working hard to advance bilateral relations is a principal task of Arnout Pauwels, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium to Rwanda. He highlights the positive developments in political and economic relations between both countries.
European Times: Which are the key areas of cooperation and assistance between Belgium and Rwanda?
Arnout Pauwels: Currently, with total aid of €160 million rolled out through a five-year Indicative Cooperation Programme signed in 2011, Belgium is Rwanda’s third main bilateral donor. Energy and healthcare are among the major areas of cooperation between both countries. In the energy sector, we focus mainly on infrastructure and capacity building inside different agencies. In terms of infrastructure, emphasis is mainly put on connecting public buildings, hospitals and schools to the national grid. The Belgian Development Bank participated in one of the most important projects in the energy sector, the KivuWatt project, which is the methane extraction and power generation plant on Lake Kivu. The project was officially opened by the President of Rwanda. Concerning the health-care sector, we give budget support and we contribute to the construction of a hospital in Kigali, which is highly appreciated by the Rwandan Government.
European Times: What are the challenges and perspectives for doing business in Rwanda?
Arnout Pauwels: It is important to note that although it is a small local capital market, foreign companies have shared many successful stories. One investment stands out, the Skol Brewery, which is 100% owned by a Belgian company. Their performance shows that the market is ready for innovation and new products.
Foreign investors have the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) at their disposal, but I think business-to-business contacts are very important. Belgium would highly encourage, hopefully in cooperation with other countries, the creation of a platform for European businessmen in Kigali, in order to improve upon the communication between foreign businessmen and investors with the various government institutions. There are many things that Rwanda could use; financing is often an obstacle.
European Times: What is your advice for future investors?
Arnout Pauwels: Investors should take a long-term approach and go step-by-step. The main financial challenges are the cost of credit and the lack of technical knowledge inside the banking system. It is up to the banks to take notice and focus on improving their capacity in this regard.
We aim at showing companies that Rwanda, and Africa in general, are growing and that, besides the challenges, real opportunities exist. Rwanda is certainly a place to be explored, with all its business and investment opportunities. It has a lot to offer, especially in terms of political, financial and economic stability. A secure and reliable legal framework for doing business is one of its major advantages. Rwanda is not “landlocked” but rather “land-linked”, it is surrounded by many other interesting countries, and Belgium and Rwanda are now linked with six weekly flights operated by Brussels Airlines. It is possible to achieve success in Rwanda if investors are in for the long run and learn how to work in the local environment.