By Richard Oundo
Fifteen years after the genocide, Rwanda is shedding the old coat of political and economic turmoil and replacing it with a bustle of projects aimed at transforming the country into an East African economic giant.
As part of that drive, on April 6, the first Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) met in Kigali to draw up plans on how to modernise agriculture in order to increase productivity and commercial viability.
The meeting, which featured presentations by heads of different government depertments, was to get a firsthand account of the performance of key sector areas.
PAC was officially launched on September 26, 2007, by President Paul Kagame. It comprises a special team of Rwandans and â€œfriends of Rwandaâ€ whose mission is to advise the President on Rwandaâ€™s strategic development choices and initiatives, using their considerable combined and wide-ranging knowledge, experience and contacts.
President Kagame is obsessed with a single dream, to make Rwanda the first middle income country in Africa in the space of a single generation.
The inaugural PAC meeting took place in New York, when President Kagame travelled there to take part in the annual United Nations General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative.
Participants at the meeting co-chaired by President Kagame and Joe Ritchie the Chicago based multimillionaire founding CEO of Fox River Financial Resources Inc. discussed how to boost key areas of Rwandaâ€™s economy based on the countryâ€™s national development policy; Vision 2020.
At the conclusion of the vibrant dialogue, PAC members formed focal groups that will delve deeper into innovative strategies for targeted sectors and work with the relevant Rwandan institutions on proposed solutions. They will be supported by the Rwanda Import and Export Promotion Authority (RIEPA) which was identified as a coordinating agency for PAC activities.
So what is it that attracts big business minds to Rwanda?
Joe Ritchie, one of the woirldâ€™s leading commodity trader was one of the first key and outstanding persons to pick interest in Rwanda. He is currently the CEO of Rwanda Development Board, a grouping of different government parastatals managed under one head.Â He says he was attracted to Rwanda because of its leadership and is one of the architects behind the assembling of a team of renowned persons to form PAC.
â€œYou know the PAC has almost become an afterthought; itâ€™s like thereâ€™s an army out there, thereâ€™s an army of people that are in this army. They donâ€™t wear uniforms but theyâ€™re in the army. Call any one of them up and say thereâ€™s something I need you do to for me, theyâ€™ll do it,â€ Ritchie told The Independent in an interview recently.
â€œKagame is a unique leader,â€ he said, â€œhe fights corruption and heads a country where people donâ€™t ask for bribes any more. He believes Rwanda is the place thatâ€™s going to lead Africa and this is reason former US president George Bush invited Kagame to the White House 3 times and this host of advisors.â€
Ritchie who says he invests his personal money notes that he invests in companies on the basis of the character of the CEO (leadership) and thatâ€™s the only thing he looks at.
â€œI donâ€™t look at what sector theyâ€™re in, I donâ€™t look at their sales projections, I donâ€™t look at sales growth, I donâ€™t look at anything except the character of the CEOs,â€ Ritchie says.
As a result of PAC, reputable companies from strong Asian economies like Singapore are coming to invest in Rwanda. Singapore has invested in tourism.
According to Ritchie, South Korea is installing the fibre backbone way below what they would normally charge because they recognise Rwanda as a unique country. Because of this, Korea Telecom, a huge telephony company wants to set up their Africa headquarters in Rwanda. This is marking the new dawn in Rwanda.
Friends of Rwanda
GlaxoSmithKline and Clet Niyikiza
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), under the leadership of Clet Niyikiza, Vice President of Strategic Asset Management and Biomarker Research Programme, is in the process of establishing a National Centre for Clinical Research (NCCR) based in Rwanda. GSK, the second largest pharmaceutical company in the world, is renowned for its research and development of drugs to combat viruses such as HIV/AIDS and malaria in the developing world. The NCCR in Rwanda will be an internationally acclaimed research center, focusing on the study of diseases prevalent throughout the developing world and at home. With the help of a Presidential Task Force, Clet Niyikiza along with the Minister of Health of Rwanda, are working towards establishing Rwanda as a medical research centre of the highest caliber.
Saddleback Church/PEACE Plan
Over the past three years, Rick Warren and Kay Warren, along with hundreds of members of Saddleback Church, have invested their time in Rwanda with the goals of empowering local church leaders and supporting a variety of development initiatives. The P.E.A.C.E. plan is a coalition of local churches working alongside public and private institutions to address the problems facing Rwanda today. The Western Rwanda HIV/AIDS Healthcare Initiative, a part of P.E.A.C.E., aims to â€œdramatically increase access to quality healthcare in Western Rwandaâ€¦promoting healthier lives, preserving families, protecting children, and building stronger communities.â€
This initiative will train churches to be distributors of basic health services, as well as equip 50 churches to act as satellite health centers; the church of Rwanda will be fully empowered to behave as a secondary healthcare provider. Relationships and planning is in place to expand and scale this initiative across the entire country of Rwanda, and eventually into the bordering countries of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. This critical grassroots program, along with the ever-increasing amount of positive publicity surrounding Rwanda, promises to bring life-enhancing changes to the people of Rwanda.
Jack Hanna, a world-renowned wildlife expert and enthusiast, participated in a rare gorilla naming ceremony (kwita izina) in the Ruhengheri province of Rwanda. With over 15,000 Rwandans in attendance, as well as celebrities like Natalie Portman, John Stanton (President of Animal Planet) and President Paul Kagame, the ceremony named the newest of the silverback gorilla members and brought worldwide attention to Rwanda. Jack Hanna has also spent significant time working with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and Partners in Conservation, both of whom work to support and protect the gorilla community in northwest Rwanda.
Tom Ritchey of Ritchey Bicycle Design, wants to create a bike that would change the lives of many Rwandan farmers and families. Through Project Rwanda Ritchey and team raise awareness and support for Rwanda, build and distribute specially designed bikes, and promote national pride through the Rwandan National Cycling Team. Within the first nine months of racing and training, Team Rwanda National Cycling Team has become the 4th ranked team in Africa, missing placement in the Olympics by only 60 seconds.
Water for Rwandaâ€”Living Water International
Otto and Virginia Helweg, with Living Water International, officially began drilling wells around Rwanda. Since then, requests for wells continue to pour in from across the country, and LWI is responding as quickly as possible to bring water to much needed regions! With LWI, Otto completing about 21 wells per month.
Rwandan Air Traffic Control
At the beginning of 2007, a high-altitude Air Traffic Control (ATC) Implementation Plan was developed for Rwanda by Williams Aviation Consultants in Phoenix, Arizona. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has designated Rwanda to take the lead in the development of the Communication Navigation & Surveillance/Air Traffic Management system for the region. COMESA consists of 20 countries ranging from Egypt in the northeast to Angola in the southwest of the African continent, including the islands of Madagascar and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. With Rwanda as the hub of future Air Traffic Control for the entire region, the economic and social benefits will be widespread.
David Weekley continues to invest alongside Geneva Global in various sectors across Rwanda. Currently, numerous projects are centered in the Bugesera region, a suburb of Kigali, and focus on holistic community development and health. With everything from wells to schools to health care training, David Weekleyâ€™s investments hope to empower small organizations and communities through targeted research and consistent due diligence.
Fermi Water Project/Gabe Lyons
Gabe and Rebekah Lyons, along with Jeff Shinabarger, founded the Fermi Project in 2003, a broad collective of innovators, social entrepreneurs, church and societal leaders. The last couple years have been spent gathering funds for the Rwanda Clean Water project, which aims to alleviate the suffering and illness that comes from drinking unsafe water. Through the administration of Geneva Global, the Fermi project will bring clean water solutions to communities throughout Rwanda.
Over the last couple of years, Rex and Deborah Amini have worked closely with Friends of Rwanda and Geneva Global to support a wide variety of social enterprises across Rwanda. Most recently, Rex Amini backed a visit to Rwanda by Raphael Quiano, an oil and gas expert from Houston, Texas.
The members Presidential Advisory Council
1. Scott Ford â€“ President and CEO of Alltel
2. Sir Tom Hunter â€“ Scottish entrepreneur, philanthropist, co-founder Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative
3. Dr. Donald Kaberuka â€“ President of the African Development Bank Group, former Minister of Finance, Rwanda
4. Dr. Clet Niyikiza â€“ GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Vice President of Worldwide Research & Development
5. Kaia Miller – founder of Aslan Global, Inc.
6 Joe Ritchie – Rwandaâ€™s Honorary Consul in Chicago, founder Fox River Financial Resources, Inc and now CEO of RDB.
7. Micheal Roux – Rwandaâ€™s Honorary Consul General in Australia, Chairman, Asian Markets, KPMG; Roux International Pty Ltd; RI Group;
8. Bishop John Rucyahana â€“ Bishop of Shyira Diocese of Rwanda
9. Tribert Rujugiro â€“ Rwandan Entrepreneur, Board President of Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency
10. Dr. Eliane Ubalijoro â€“ Assistant Professor at McGill University, Canada
11. Pastor Rick Warren – Religious leader, founder Saddleback Church, and PEACE Plan.
12. Prof. Michael Porter is also a member of PAC though he did not attend the launch.
13. Tony Blair, former Prime minster of Britain.
Others PAC members are:
14. Bel Dowson
15. James Musoni, Rwandaâ€™s minister of Finance
16. Rosemary Museminari, Rwandaâ€™s Foreign Affairs minister
17. Gatare Francis, new Personal Representative of President Kagame to the NEPAD Steering Committee
18. Himbara David, Private Secretary to President Kagame
19. Kanimba FranÃ§ois. Governor, Rwanda National Bank
20. Michael Fairbank, Chairman Emeritus and founder of The OTF Group, a software and strategy consulting firm based in USA