French President Emmanuel MACRON set foot in Rwanda on May 27. This historic visit sealed the rapprochement between the two countries, at the end of a long reconciliation process.
To mark this new era in Franco-Rwandan relations, a series of cooperation agreements were signed, notably in the health sector, the fight against COVID-19, sport and training. But beyond that, a real thread of rapprochement is emerging around digital development.
"500 million euros will be committed over the 2019-2023 period around the main priorities of our dialogue with Rwanda, in particular health, digital technology and the Francophonie", announced Emmanuel MACRON. He at the same time stressed that over 100 million euros have already been invested, through the French Development Agency (AFD) in particular, to support efforts to fight COVID-19 in Rwanda.
Making Rwanda a regional tech hub
Among the projects initiated and underway, a whole section focuses on digital technology and support for startups. The two heads of state share both a common vision and ambition: making Rwanda a regional tech hub, for President Paul KAGAMÉ; connecting French Tech and investing in the African tech ecosystem, and consequently in youth, to revive Africa-France relations, for Emmanuel MACRON.
In fact, this strengthened commitment to digital has already begun through the creation of Digital Africa, an initiative endorsed by the French President and designed to support the African tech ecosystem, in several areas: training, technological support and access to funding. Aphrodice MUTANGANA, Chief Operations Officer at Digital Africa, a key player on the technology scene, took part in the meetings held during the French delegation’s visit.
"There are two or three things that were initiated as part of this visit," said the young executive. On the entrepreneurship side in particular, "there are French companies that have started to look at and show interest for Rwandan startups. One of them held discussions with 4 Rwandan companies during the visit. The company is going to invest in some of the businesses and buy the others". In other words, very concrete actions.
"Start of discussions that will certainly produce results"
On the institutional level as well, while he was receiving a delegation of French deputies (MPs), discussions were held on the regulatory framework. "The French MPs also exchanged with Rwandan tech ecosystem players joint actions likely to be implemented", Aphrodice MUTANGANA indicates. "Talks dealt with the business framework, investment, partnerships, but also research, etc. The beginning of discussions that will certainly produce results."
This is especially since the interest is real, on the Rwandan side. "When you are a startup and someone comes to support you, to help you grow, it's necessarily positive" says Aphrodice. "The Rwandan market is small. Therefore, the first expectations of Rwandan startups, it must be said, is the search for funding. Then, they need partnerships that will help them to grow, to go to other markets. The third point is expertise."
On the French side, Rwanda offers French companies a gateway to the regional market. East Africa now stands as the economic powerhouse of the continent, with regional giants such as Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya, not only in terms of growth but also in digital development.
However, Clare AKAMANZI, CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), a government institution whose mandate is to accelerate Rwanda’s economic development says basically the same thing when she notes that her country is "the ideal place to set up French businesses". The latter, who organized a meeting between French and Rwandan companies as part of this official French visit, has many arguments to illustrate her point. "Rwanda is ranked as the second easiest place to do business in Africa in the World Bank's Doing Business report", she said. "During our meeting with the French business delegation that accompanied the President, we were able to present investment opportunities in several sectors."
"French investors have expressed their commitment to invest in Rwanda, especially in ICT"
ICT is among these sectors. That sector has not been affected by the COVID-19 crisis, she said. On the contrary, this sector has seen an increase in investment during this period. And Rwanda, which has considered digital development as central to its roadmap Vision 2035, intends to strengthen the Franco-Rwandan cooperation on this component. "Rwanda intends to build on the commitments made at the highest level and to encourage the private sectors in both countries to take advantage of the enabling environment and untapped opportunities. Rwanda has presented a wide range of economic opportunities for French investors in several strategic economic sectors. This has started to bear fruit as French investors have expressed their commitment to invest in Rwanda, particularly in ICT."
In addition to investments, vocational training is also on the agenda for future discussions between the two countries. "One of our most important economic objectives is to create meaningful jobs for our youth. Our National Strategy for Transformation - NST1 - calls for 60% of our youth to be in TVET [Technical and Vocational Educational Training, ed.] programs by 2024, which requires more training centers, equipping TVET centers with materials and having qualified trainers," the CEO of RDB explained. "We are, therefore, keen to develop training, job placement and investment partnerships that catalyze employment."
"Rwanda is an ideal place for innovation"
She added: "Rwanda is also an ideal place for innovation thanks to the quality of its infrastructures, its regulatory framework marked by transparency and its favorable business environment. French companies can establish project concepts by introducing new product ideas and business models. The ICT sector and the innovation sector are mainly targeted."
Knowing that other cooperations exist on this aspect of training in Rwanda, with the Belgians, the Germans (through the GIZ in particular), etc. That said, for Aphrodice MUTANGANA, the approaches are more complementary than competitive. "Learning is a process that never ends, it is a continuous process. Each brick a person, institution or company adds contributes to building this ecosystem. The needs are different, there is the training component, the investment... Rwanda is moving forward but if we can have other partners, we will have more impact. We must not forget that our continent is young: 43% of Rwanda’s population is under 16 years old. How to accompany these young people to introduce them, from their youngest age, to new technologies and ensure they are better integrated into the labor market and participate actively in the development of their country and the continent, this is our challenge to all".
Digital Africa's office in Kigali: a "home" for tech entrepreneurs
A construction to which Digital Africa also wishes to contribute. "Through the office in Kigali, it will initially offer African entrepreneurs a place to meet and exchange. A home for entrepreneurs", says the Chief Operations Officer of Digital Africa. "More broadly, the idea is to work in collaboration with entrepreneurs and structures that support these entrepreneurs, identify sources of funding and support public policies. This is the ambition of the "connectors" program. We are going to identify 15 connectors on the continent, who will be a bridge between their country, their region and Digital Africa. As a result, when we launch a program in a country, it will be truly dedicated and adapted to local needs. This sums up the spirit of Digital Africa: the idea is to come and support existing ecosystem players, to support those who help entrepreneurs move forward and have more impact.”