Rwanda is the 10th African country that John Gao has visited. Only two weeks in Kigali, the Chinese hair products merchant is already determined to stay and do business here.
Before his arrival in Rwanda, Gao, 51, spent three days in another African country, studying the local market. On one occasion, he was harassed by several policemen and almost had to pay hundreds of dollars to get out of trouble.
However, Gao said, he feels welcomed in Rwanda.
At the Rwanda Development Board, a clerk and a technician helped Gao register his firm. He arrived there at about 10 a.m. and was told everything would be ready at 3:30 p.m.
Bundi E. Walker is a co-founder of Afrionline Izyo Ltd., which offers taxi and delivery services in Rwanda. The taxi service, originally known as 250Taxi, after the country’s telephone code, was later rebranded as AfriTaxi.
Mobile applications for both AfriTaxi and its sister delivery service, AfriDelivery, are available on IOS and Android app stores.
Walker, a 30-year-old Kenyan national, and his colleagues are still fleshing out AfriTaxi services and testing AfriDelivery operations.
Under the current law, Walker said, private car owners are not allowed to engage in profit-making car-sharing services in Rwanda, so his firm has recruited around 100 traditional taxi drivers.
AfriTaxi Rwanda is training its drivers in the use of smartphones and its proprietary apps and is in negotiations with hardware vendors. Representatives of Tecno, a Chinese mobile phone manufacturer, were among those Walker had talked to.
Walker is also very positive about the future of his business and of Rwanda.
“The sustained growth of 8 percent is an indication that the country is on a good trajectory,” he said. “For businesses, you are guaranteed to grow.”
While its operations are just fledgling in Rwanda, Afrionline is eyeing the wider African continent. Some of its services are also available in Uganda. Its main website lists a total of 11 countries for business coverage, nine of which have contact numbers.
Christian Benimana has a very international background.
He was born in Rwanda, earned his bachelor’s degree at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning of Tongji University in Shanghai and spent 10 years in China, where he met and married his wife and had their first child, a daughter. His father lives with his two sisters in Cotonou, Benin; his brother is a resident of Austin, Texas, the United States. He now lives with his mother, his wife, a Zambian, and two children in Kigali. His second child, a boy, was born two years ago in the Rwandan capital.
Benimana, 35, is the Rwanda programs director of MASS Design Group, which also has offices in Boston, Massachusetts.
As leader of the African Design Center, a field-based apprenticeship, Benimana’s responsibilities cover the whole of Africa.
The continental initiative, he said, now has 11 fellows, from Rwanda, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.
“For some time now, architecture has only been regarded as products that only few can afford, can pursue,” Benimana said. “It should not be limited to a few people, and when it’s used for everybody, it needs to be used right, because if it doesn’t, it makes damages, very expensive and long-lasting damages.”
“Every architect can do great architecture in a vacuum. But when it’s applied to real life, with real clients, with real sites, with real community challenges, with limited budgets, then it becomes a challenge.”
On the future of Africa, Benimana appeared more circumspect.
“Optimistically, I see the continent being the new frontier for innovation, where new solutions come up and people test them, eventually being in the front of inventing new technological solutions and new ways of living.
“Pessimistically, I see it just becomes chaos, if not thought or done properly; the ecosystems cannot sustain the populations on them,” he said. “That’s the worst that can happen.”
Looking ahead, the landlocked Rwanda still has a lot of hurdles to clear. It has yet to graduate from the United Nations’ list of least developed countries; 17 percent of its proposed 2017-2018 budget will be funded by donors.
In some parts of Kigali, sometimes one can still spot beggars and youngsters peddling pirated DVDs.
Along the road from the capital to Eastern Province, many locals can be seen carrying yellow containers of water by hand or on rusty bicycles, an indication of inadequate water supply.
But with a visionary leadership, a government with zero tolerance towards corruption and a population bent on shaking off its genocidal past, Rwanda is on the right track to emerge as a shining example of a rising Africa. Enditem (Lyu Tianran contributed to the report.)
by Xinhua writer Wu Zhiqiang