For the last two weeks, the island of almost every Kigali roundabout has been circled by green, and orange flags, bearing the letters PSF (Private Sector Federation) and Made in Rwanda Expo, in bold letters. The Expo concluded on Wednesday, and the flags will no doubt now give way to Christmas decorations.
As they pack away their wares, exhibitors will be thinking about their products differently, since the closing day. Or so hopes PSF, following their inaugural launch of the National Business Forum.
The National Business Forum will be held annually. This year’s the very first, was organised to coincide with the Made in Rwanda Expo, and one imagines the theme, “Building Strong Partnerships for Made in Rwanda” more or less suggested itself.
Subsequent events will have much to live up to. The inaugural meeting attracted over 800 delegates, mostly, in all their diversity, businesses, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and several would be start-ups dreaming of nudging established competitors out of the way, perhaps by the next meeting.
Beginning with the even better attended Gold Business Forum, earlier this year, almost every event the PSF puts on now, gives at least a nod to the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA).
The National Business Forum starts as it means to go on, looking beyond the national frontier, to the region, and even farther afield. Among the participants, were delegates from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, from Southern Africa, Namibia, and South Africa, and delegates from America.
The National Business Forum “is primarily designed for industrialists, and entrepreneurs, both in Rwanda and beyond, to meet and brainstorm and share ideas on moving the private sector forward…” said PSF’s CEO, Stephen Ruzibiza.
Born only four years ago, the Made in Rwanda brand is still taking its first baby steps. It is a baby on whom much attention has been lavished, and from whom much is expected. Export more than is imported, the aim of every nation since the creation of nation states. All of which aim to lower, or if possible, even wipe out the trade deficit.
Like most less advanced nations, Rwanda’s trade deficit is consistently high, a position the country is determined to change. It is more in expectation than hope, that the Made in Rwanda drive will do much to help lower that deficit.
For the PSF, the greater the success of the Made in Rwanda policy, the more it achieves its objective of supporting its members in the private sector, and it was on the challenges facing the initiative that the forum put its main focus.
It is envisaged the forum will also be a time to address any issues affecting local businesses and manufacturers, that might arise from government policies and regulations.
And it will look at how Rwandan businesses can raise their level of competitiveness, where much work remains to be done.
As might be expected for a sector still in its infancy, over 90% of firms are Small and Medium Size Enterprises, or SMEs. Rwanda is ranked 100 in the world for competitiveness, out of 140, an unfamiliar position at the bottom of the table, for a country used to seeing itself in the top ten of most indices.
The forum will be a place to discuss what it takes to climb up the table, including education and training, technological readiness, the cost of production, and quality and standard of Made in Rwanda products.
It will look at Research and development, and to how make it an integral part of raising quality, and competitiveness of Made in Rwanda products.
The forum will in effect try to answer the questions put by the Minister of Trade and Industry, Soraya Hakuziyaremye.
“This National Business Forum” she noted “is bringing together the business community, industrialists, service providers, development partners and policy makers to discuss thoroughly, the Made in Rwanda initiative, looking back at the last four years, since it started.”
“What have we achieved? How can we keep the growth momentum? How do we address the persisting challenges?”
Judging by figures she outlined in the response to her own questions, there is ample reason for optimism, but, the journey remains on the incline.
“Despite the great strides forward” she concluded “there are still challenges that the Private Sector faces in promoting Made in Rwanda.”
These she said include the cost of low materials, high transportation costs, short falls of skilled labour.
It is a challenge to which the forum undertakes to rise, “to critically unearth challenges affecting Made in Rwanda Brand, from ideation, product development to domestic market and export readiness.” Said Ruzibiza.