With the economic development community slowly beginning to exit nationwide lockdowns, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history. 

Rwanda has been relatively unscathed by the pandemic so far, registering a few hundred cases. The country is gradually coming out of a nationwide lockdown and Rwanda Development Board head Clare Akamanzi views it as a time to embrace a new digital future. 

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Q: How has your team adjusted? 

A: We’re doing things we were not planning to do this year. All our efforts have gone into the mobilisation of the private sector to fight the pandemic – such as shifting manufacturing capacity towards the production of personal protective equipment. It keeps revenue streams open and protects jobs.

The sources of growth [in the future] are not going to be the same. We have to rethink how hospitality and tourism are going to recover. We will probably have to focus more on domestic tourism, adjust our agriculture policies to be able to provide food security. But information and communications technology (ICT) and digital inclusion, as well as e-commerce, will be boosted. 

Q: How has your strategy evolved? 

A: This is not a time to look for new investors. We have focused on maintaining communication with existing investors and investors that have already expressed a level of commitment in Rwanda, while we wait to resume investment promotion activities. 

Q: Will investment promotion increasingly rely on digital services moving forward? 

A: Covid-19 will lead to a more digital society. At the Rwanda Development Board we are already providing many services digitally. Investors can register a local company and get tax certification online, they can also apply for a mortgage, an environmental impact assessment and an investment certificate digitally. 

After the crisis is over, we should insist on keeping everything digital, thereby saving money on physical services. It’s a new way to connect with the world – a new normal. Marketing functions will be online, supply chain functions will be online. It’s been a good lesson for IPAs – like the Rwanda Development Board – on how to become more digital. 

Q: What leadership have you provided during the crisis? 

A: The most important thing is to keep communicating with staff, investors and other stakeholders; manage expectations, share information and keep people comfortable and engaged and committed. 

Another important element is solidarity. We need to be transparent about the challenges we’re facing, but also emphasise that we’re in this together. It’s also important to be an advocate of the private sector to the government and a voice for the policy adjustments the private sector needs.

Q: What do you expect over the mid-to-long-term?

A: Countries around the world have come to realise they’re heavily dependent on others for supply chains, and this has led to a standstill. Many countries are now leaning towards more domestic supply chains. That’s not an option for every country though; a diversified supply chain base might be a more feasible option for them. 

From an investment promotion perspective, it’s interesting to think of positioning Rwanda as one of those alternatives. We’re a landlocked country, right in the middle of the African continent. We’re not a manufacturing base for low-end products, but high-end electronics, mineral processing and jewellery. We need to think about how Rwanda can improve its proposition to investors willing to relocate. 

Clare Akamanzi is the CEO of the Rwanda Development Board. 

You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.