Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending Rwanda Cultural Day in San Francisco, along with 2,000 other folks, most of whom were Rwandan. This was the 8th Rwanda Day, the fourth time it was in the US and the first time that it focused on culture. Key values of Rwanda culture are dignity, the centricity of the family, and self-reliance. These values were expressed in play, dance, and speeches by various dignitaries, including President Paul Kagame.
To the extent that Rwanda Day is a proxy for the spirit that embodies Rwandan society at present, the nation looks confident, proud, adores its president Paul Kagame, and is a devoutly Christian nation with a strong work ethic. Among the “Friends of Rwanda” who spoke, were pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, and Michael Fairbanks, a businessman, philanthropist, and senior advisor to the president.
The common thread among the speakers was their admiration for Kagame and what he has done since the end of the genocide to grow Rwanda into a model of good governance for other emerging economies to emulate. As an American, the unconditional adoration bestowed upon an elected official almost felt a bit uncomfortable, but perhaps Kagame really did work a miracle and deserves deity status.
Besides the cultural and political experience, there was of course plenty of opportunity to walk the halls and meet interesting Rwandan business people, officials, and foreigners doing business in Rwanda and beyond. Several entrepreneurs in the fintech space were present, as well as real estate developers, banks, agricultural producers, and trade promoters.
While we do have some exposure to the Rwandan economy through our investments in regional banking groups I&M Holdings and KCB Group, there are, unfortunately, very few Rwandan equities and bonds for us to look at (yet). There are seven stocks that trade on the Rwanda Stock Exchange, four of which are Kenyan companies. However, the CEO of the Rwanda Stock Exchange assured me that will change. They are even looking at products that would allow foreigners to invest on the Rwanda exchange and hedge out the currency risk. Rwanda also allows foreigners to buy treasury securities, which can be attractive when yields are high and inflation outlook is modest, as an alternative to stocks when prices or liquidity issues don’t warrant current investment.
I left the event with a feeling that I had a better understanding of Rwanda and that the glass there is half full, rather than half empty. I look forward to doing business in-country to the benefit of Africa Capital Group’s investors and have planted some new seeds that I believe will sprout into meaningful local relationships.
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