Rwanda: The Singapore of Africa?

How Rwanda is copying Singapore's Playbook

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Rwanda - Africa’s Singapore?

If you’ve seen my LinkedIn this last week you would probably think I’m Rwandan or have been sponsored by Rwanda.

I’m not. But I did write a 2,500 word report on the country for on Rwanda - so I’m feeling pretty close to the country., it’s a newsletter focused on alternative investments across the world - from investing in Tequila to investing in Emojis.

The founders Stefan and Wyatt are brilliant writers and investors. They are also great friends of Tech Safari. If you’re an investor and interested in the world of Alternative investments, check them out.

Today I’m sharing a snippet of our report - focused on the tech and investment side of the country.

If you’re curious about all the other angles - like demographics, startups to watch, government initiatives and economy, you can get the full report below.

Alright, let’s dive in.

When you think about Rwanda, what probably comes to mind is the Genocide against the Tutsi.

In one of the worst humanitarian disasters in world history, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis saw the rapid and brutal murder of over 800,000 people from the Tutsi ethnic groups by Hutu militias.

It ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front forces, led by Paul Kagame, took back the country.

But In the last 30 years, Rwanda has made an incredible turnaround from this horrific humanitarian disaster, and has become one of the most stable and rapidly developing countries in Africa.

In fact, Rwanda’s turnaround has seen it dubbed the Singapore of Africa.

To understand how Rwanda is becoming the ‘Singapore’ of Africa, we need to understand the Singapore playbook.

The Singapore Playbook 🇸🇬

Singapore, with a small population, small country size, and (also) very clean streets, is the finance and tech center of Southeast Asia. (Sorry Hong Kong)

Singapore has come a long way. Fifty years ago, it was a poor country with a small population of around 2 million.

The majority of the population lived in overcrowded, low-quality public housing estates. Unemployment was high, and there were few opportunities for economic growth.

Their “economic miracle” has centered around three things:

  1. Ease of doing business 🤝

  2. Foreign investment 💸

  3. Emphasizing innovation and technology 👨🏾‍💻

Rwanda is following the same exact playbook.

Paul Kagame has openly shared his intention of turning Rwanda into the Singapore of Africa, a stable gateway of technology and trade for the entire continent.

Let’s break it down.

1) Ease of doing business 🤝

Guess how long it takes you to set up a business in Rwanda?

6 hours. (Compare that to several weeks in the US!)

Fast enough for you? Well, it’s still not fast enough for the Rwanda Development Board, who is aiming to get that down to 2 hours.

So it’s not surprising that Rwanda ranks 2nd in Africa (and 38th overall) on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report. (Singapore is #2, and New Zealand is #1)

Rwanda is also positioning itself as a startup launchpad. The best example of this is Zipline, which became a 4.2 billion dollar company this week.

On LinkedIn I wrote about how the Rwandan Government was their partner in success and announced Zipline as the national drone delivery provider.

But if you’re more into video, check out Mark Rober’s run down on Zipline, which he thinks is the future of drone delivery.

It features some insights into his experience in Rwanda, which he is (unsurprisingly) blown away by.

2) Encouraging foreign investment💸

Rwanda has been busy bringing global investment into the country.

Perhaps most noticeable is Norrsken — a non-profit focused on supporting global entrepreneurs, founded by Nilkas Adalberth, the co-founder of Swedish fintech giant Klarna.

Norrsken has set up shop in Rwanda with its Norrsken Kigali House. This 4,400 sq meter space in downtown Kigali has become the hub of Rwanda’s tech ecosystem.

While this is a good start, Rwanda falls short when it comes to startup funding. In 2022, Rwanda’s startup funding landed at $4 million.

And while startups like Payday (Rwanda-based) and Zipline have raised large rounds, we have yet to see a Rwandan founder raise more than a million. Ouch.

I attribute this to Rwanda’s ecosystem being early, as well as the tendency for startups to be headquartered in nearby Nairobi, Kenya, where more capital is flowing ($1.1 billion in 2022).

But the hope is that with all this activity, Rwanda’s founder community will learn from the global startups moving into Rwanda and build their own great companies in the country.

3) Boosting local innovation and technology 👨🏾‍💻

More good news: The Rwandan Government recently launched the Rwanda Innovation Fund — a $100 million commitment to invest in tech-enabled businesses and train entrepreneurs in the country.

In addition, the Government has invested in accelerators, incubators and communities throughout the country, like:

  • Leapr Labs, a deep tech incubator for applied research, which turns scientists into entrepreneurs and launched back in 2017

  • 250 Startups, a 6-month incubator and accelerator hub for startups at the incubation stage.

  • Fablab , a laboratory space for hardware and electronics innovators in Rwanda.

  • HealthTech Hub , a healthtech accelerator powered by Novartis Foundation.

  • Katapult Africa , an AgTech accelerator run by KatapultVC launched in 2021.

  • FinTech Hub , a virtual fintech accelerator for Rwandan startups.

  • Jasiri , a startup growth accelerator with an impact focus, by Allan Gill Gray Philanthropy.

  • Founder Institute , the Silicon Valley Tech Accelerator, which launched in Rwanda in 2022.

  • Norrsken Foundation , which launched a Rwandan hub built for 1,000 entrepreneurs (and armed with a $100m fund for Africa)

And this goodwill isn’t just from the Government — it also comes from the startup ecosystem.

When I arrived in Rwanda I got connected with Startups Rwanda .

Within a few days we had organized a Founder Happy Hour. 70 founders and investors joined us.

Rwanda has a dark past but a bright future. Its goal is to quickly become The Singapore of Africa - and so far it’s working.

The Rwandan government’s competence and goodwill have made it one of the best countries to do business in, and has shown an ability to attract technology and investment.

And while Rwanda’s tech ecosystem is early, it has the potential to punch above its weight with a few more years of development.

The country is a testament to what can happen when a whole country rallies behind a common cause. Everyone pitches in, carries the weight, and is responsible for pushing the country further.

What do you think of Rwanda’s potential? Have you visited before? Have you done business there? Let me know on LinkedIn here.

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👋🏾 Caleb