The Singapore of Africa?

Rwanda’s ambition to become the Singapore of Africa is succeeding, according to a recent report by Renaissance Capital.

Paul Kagame

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has played an important role in repositioning the country.

An analyst at the Russia-based investment bank says in the report that a visit to Rwanda early in April provided for the greatest positive shock of his professional career.

Visa-free travel, a well-functioning airport, a comforting police presence, working streetlights, low-crime and a good road network, all contributed to the analyst’s good impression of the East African country.

In the 1960s, Singapore had a per capita GDP of around US$400. The country was vulnerable to conflict and over-dependent on foreign aid. Singapore, however, managed to transform itself through sound macroeconomic policies, infrastructure planning, the creation of an economic development bank, industrial parks to attract investment, and even the beautification of the airport and city to give foreign investors a positive first impression.

Renaissance Capital’s report notes that the Rwandan Development Bank, the use of privatisation proceeds to fund a fibre-optic broadband network, as well as the recent launch of a special economic zone just a kilometre from the airport might all be seen as Rwanda following Singapore’s example. “We see clear evidence of forward planning and a strategy for the country,” states the report.

Transport infrastructure has been upgraded across the country, including roads to Tanzania and Burundi, with a route to the northern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) expected to be completed by mid-2012.

Rwanda is also looking to transform itself into a conference destination. The ongoing construction of a US$300 million conference centre, a planned new airport and the privately funded Marriott hotel will allow for continued expansion of the roughly US$100 million earned every year through business tourism.

On the education front, Rwanda’s has extended free schooling from age 12 to 15, and invited a German firm to roll-out vocational skills colleges. The report also notes that the country is open to immigration in order to provide the skills the country requires.

Renaissance says that it believes Rwanda, with its population of 11 million people, is politically stable, with the next presidential election to be held in 2017.

According to the World Bank’s 2010 Doing Business survey, Rwanda was the world’s best reformer. In 2010, Rwanda registered 6,000 companies, about equal to the number registered during the previous five years.