Interview with Nick Barigye, CEO of Rwanda Finance Limited

“Rwanda is a country open to business, regardless of nationality”

The Kigali International Financial Centre is aiming to become one of Africa’s largest financial centres in the spirit of coordination with the other African financial centres. In this interview, Nick Barigye, CEO of Rwanda Finance Limited, unveiled his country’s strategy to attract global investors and international talents.

“We want to connect international investors with opportunities across Africa and to connect African entrepreneurs with global capital”.

How do you present Rwanda Finance Limited?

RFL is the agency leading the development and promotion of the Kigali International Finance Centre (KIFC). First, allow me to provide some context. Africa’s funding needs are greater than ever and they are largely concerned with long term financing. These funding needs are largely related to infrastructure, climate change, demographic change, and broader social needs. For example, Africa’s infrastructure gap alone is estimated at US$93 billion by the World Bank. Now, with that context, at Kigali International Finance Centre, we have three overall goals. The first is to provide a platform for the investments and resources needed to drive entrepreneurship and economic growth across industries and communities. The second goal is to position Rwanda as the preferred jurisdiction for investment into Africa, creating an alternative for mobilizing capital. Thirdly, Kigali International Finance Centre aims to become one of the leading financial centres for Pa-African investments. We are aiming to promote a safe, compliant and pro-business financial environment. In summary, our value proposition is about three things: Pan-African connectivity for our global audience and international investors; a financial centre that is transparent and compliant to international standards; and an international financial centre that guarantees ease of operations.

So in fact, the positioning of Kigali International Financial Centre is Pan-African?

Absolutely, and we are relying on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to facilitate investment, trade, and mobility of labour across the continent. KIFC is, for the government of Rwanda, one of the primary avenues for operationalizing the AfCFTA.

Is it for this reason that RFL’s board has such strong diversity, with representation from multiple African countries?

That’s true. Also, Rwanda’s visa regime reflects our desire for openness towards the continent and the rest of the world. At the moment, we guarantee a visa on arrival to all the citizens of Africa Union member states, along with citizens from countries belonging to la Francophonie (OIF) and the Commonwealth. That is around one hundred countries. That’s how open our economy is. Beyond that, we are putting in place other structured incentives such as free movement capital, no restrictions on capital repatriation, no foreign exchange restrictions and so on. All of these measures aim to facilitate trade not only in Rwanda but across all of Africa.

What are the advantages of Kigali International Financial Centre over other financial centres in Morocco and Mauritius?

That’s a very important question. Again, to our global audience and international investors, my message is this: when we look at the Global Financial Centres Index, Africa as a continent is almost three times the size of Europe. However, Europe as a continent has more than 25 international financial centres. In the same index, Africa as a continent has no more than 5 international financial centres. It’s said that in Africa, a continent with a wide range of opportunities, we need more international financial centres to facilitate investment and trade. Our approach at KIFC is not what advantages we have over Casablanca or Mauritius but rather how we can collaborate with existing financial centres within Africa to solve our investment needs. We believe that there is a need for international financial centres in East Africa, West Africa, Southern Africa and North Africa so that we can have a network of African financial centres that facilitate international investments. Concretely to that, it’s a part of the reasons why at KIFC we have chosen to be a member of a World Alliance of International Financial Centres (WAIFC). We have an existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Casablanca Finance City Authority and Belgian Finance Center. We believe that if we cooperate, there is an opportunity to exchange best practices in order to ensure that we are providing quality services to global investors. That is our message and our approach.

What are the incentives offered by Rwanda to Startup and SME’s investors?

Rwanda grants investors an extensive array of incentives. We have no restrictions on foreign exchange, foreign ownership, capital mobility and capital repatriation. At KIFC we have great tax incentives, ranging between 3% and 15%, on corporate income tax and excellent conditions for holding companies. Beyond taxes, the value proposition of KIFC is to provide a transparent and compliant jurisdiction and Pan-African connectivity.

 Is there a specific program for African investors?

We don’t have a specific program for African investors. Rwanda is an open economy and we are not creating separate incentives based on the origin of investors. Global, Pan-African and local investors have the same conditions. We are building an open environment that facilitates global trade and global investment which will have a positive impact in Africa.

What about young talents from Africa and from the rest of the world who want to settle in Kigali or Rwanda?

My message to the young talents in Africa or outside of Africa is to say to them “Welcome”, or “Murakaza neza” as it said in Kinyarwanda. We need the next generation of global investors and financiers and we are working to promote and upskill young talents in Rwanda and abroad. Beyond that, we have global institutions in Rwanda like the Carnegie Mellon University-Africa and the Africa Leadership University. These institutions are in Rwanda to attract young talents to study and work there. They are most welcome. We provide a visa regime on arrival for citizens from AU, OIF and Commonwealth countries without any visa fees for the first 30 days. We also have targeted visa policies for three categories. The first is for innovative foreign entrepreneurs who are eligible for a two-year visa if they are starting up a business in Rwanda. The second category is for students of international schools in Rwanda. On completion, they are eligible for a two-year visa meaning they can continue to work here. The third is if you have professional skills, you are also eligible for a two-year visa that allows you to live and work in Rwanda. Young people from Africa and the rest of the world are most welcome here.

The message is that Rwanda is an open country for global investors and highly skilled professionals. How will the AfCFTA agenda help to materialise your vision of Africa’s network of financial centres?

What I can say to you is that when we look at investments recorded, for example, we have an investor in healthcare who is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and also on the Rwanda Stock Exchange. We want to see more and more of this kind of global investment impacting several countries and communities. The African Continental Free Trade Area will help to accelerate the trend. We want to see specialised financial centres across the continent. For example, while KIFC is looking to be a centre that facilitates sustainable finance, SMEs and fintech, another financial centre may take the lead as a hub of infrastructure funds.

What are your main goals for 2021?

Right now, we are saying to global investors that we are open for business. We are onboarding investors that are coming. My message again for investors is to provide to them a friendly business environment that allows them to invest in Rwanda and across Africa.

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