May 24, 2024

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Rwanda: An Emerging Market for Singaporean Businesses

Ms. Suzanna Seng (left) established a courier delivery service in Rwanda, and Mr. Royce Roselle Sinoy founded his own building firm.

Singapore is one of the countries in East Asia that saw great opportunities in Rwanda in terms of investment and ended up starting business activities.

There were roughly 25 businesses operating in Rwanda by 2022, some of them were Singaporean.

One such is 39-year-old Suzanna Seng, RwandAir pilot who founded “QNE Delivery Services,” a business that uses motorcycles to deliver services to meet people’s needs.

It is an institution that was launched in March 2020, on the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Rwanda had gone into lockdown. With its restrictions on free movement and open borders for only citizens, returning home severely damaged businesses and drastically altered the lives of millions of people.

This prompted the Singaporean to launch a business to offer services to people who require items for their homes, according to a story in the Straits Times.

She started with five local people coordinating deliveries of food and other supplies that allowed motorists to make between 25 and 30 trips a day.

Ms Seng’s company is just one of the few South-east Asian business ventures in Rwanda. Despite drawing more foreign direct investments (FDIs) than countries of comparable size like Burundi and Haiti, Rwanda has found it challenging to attract corporations looking to expand and aspiring entrepreneurs.

The World Bank reports that in 2022, Foreign Direct investment (FDI) into Rwanda, a small landlocked African nation of 14.1 million people, totaled US$398.6 million (S$545.3 million). The Rwandan government actively markets the country as a business-friendly destination.

The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, while attending the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting, CHOGM held in Rwanda in June 2022, he called for Singaporeans to venture into new markets, and named Rwanda as one of the “bright spots”, and encouraged them and others to invest in Rwanda as a promising country.

“After these few days in Rwanda, I had the opportunity to go to different places, I visited a market, I visited a school, I also met Singaporeans living in Rwanda. In short, I had the opportunity to know something.” He spoke.

“It is a country that is moving forward, it has had a bad history of Genocide, I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial this morning, and it is a country that is determined to stand up, lift its heart, look forward, and have hope for the future.” He added.

He noted that compared to Singapore, where the median age is over 40, Rwanda has a younger population, with a median age of 22.

According to PM Lee, Rwandans share the same aspirations of advancement, prosperity, and building a better future for themselves, as well as a government eager to provide opportunities for its citizens, just as Singapore did during its early years of independence.

According to Enterprise Singapore, Singapore’s bilateral trade with Rwanda was $4 million in 2022, ranking the East African country as its 37th largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, Rwanda is home to roughly ten Singaporean businesses, mostly focused on the digital, urban, and agricultural industries.

Companies from East Asia have been growing at a slower pace. There are about 25 so far from across the continent.

Despite this, China has made significant investments in Rwanda. It invested US$182.4 million in Rwanda, according to the Rwanda Development Board’s 2022 Annual Report. India was the second-biggest foreign investor, contributing US$151 million.

Surbana Jurong is another company from Singapore that works in Rwanda in the field of construction and has been involved in the development of Kigali City for the past 15 years.

The Rwanda Housing Authority hired Surbana Jurong to create plans for six secondary cities in Rwanda, including Huye and Musanze, after reviewing the 2013 master plan in 2018.

Its Kigali Master Plan 2050 seeks to promote both communal well-being and sustainable economic growth.

Other Singaporean businesses operating in Rwanda include the e-solutions company CrimsonLogic, which came to the country in 2008 with the goal of enhancing the provision of social and public services, and the environmental consulting firm GreenA Consultants, which advises both public and private organizations on sustainability issues and provides green certification and environmental audits. The website Visit Rwanda, which allows visitors to book permits and services online, was also developed with its assistance.

There is also Poultry East Africa Limited (Peal) which operates a thriving hen farm in Bugesera District where it employs about 100 local workers and 230 smallholder farmers.

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