The world’s best-kept secret for business: Rwanda?

The world’s best-kept secret for business:  Rwanda?

If you only think of genocide when you hear the name “Rwanda,” it’s time to think again.

Today, Rwanda is moving forward, fervently set on rebranding itself into one of Africa’s most investment-friendly havens. And it appears to have some of America’s most recognizable names in business in its corner. A just-published article in Fast Company counts the CEOs of Starbucks and Costco as two of the Rwanda’s most influential supporters, along with the likes of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, former British PM Tony Blair, and Pastor Rick Warren of “Purpose-Driven” fame. All seem to praise the Rwandan government — and especially President Paul Kagame — for being serious about making the country’s business climate as streamlined and free of bureaucratic hassles as possible, which is certainly an anomaly in much of the developing world. (Registering a business in Rwanda apparently takes less than 48 hours.)

An article in Fortune called “Why CEOs love Rwanda” offers this money quote from Chicago financier Dan Cooper (who is credited with introducing Kagame to Costco CEO Jim Sinegal):

We came away saying, this is the most undervalued ‘stock’ on the continent and maybe in the world.  Here’s an African nation that’s reaching out, not to governments so much, but to corporate America.  They want to work.  They want U.S. business to bring innovation to their country.”

But is this too good to be true? The country’s new model of economic development is an interesting one; it’s almost as if Kagame has torn a page out of Beijing’s handbook. While Kagame can be credited with cracking down hard on government corruption and creating a competent administration in the country’s capital of Kigali, there’s always the problem of restricted political rights and civil liberties, which critics of the regime never fail to point out. The issue is certainly important, especially given Rwanda’s long history of political violence.

But that said, the country’s clearly moving forward. And apparently, the business world isn’t the only one taking notice. Last year, the United States signed a bilateral investment treaty with Rwanda — the first such treaty signed between the U.S. and any Sub-Saharan African country in almost a decade. 

Fifteen years after genocide, this is Rwanda rising.

Hat tip: Africamusings