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Rwanda ready to grow its economy through Alibaba partnership

By Edith Mutethya | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-11-11 15:57
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, admires Rwandan crafts with Rwandan President Paul Kagame (second right). [Photo by Edith Mutethya/chinadaily.com.cn]

Rwanda is committed to leveraging technology and the internet through its partnership with Alibaba Group to grow its economy from low to high income.

The two parties recently signed three memoranda of understanding, which saw establishment of an electronic world trade platform, or eWTP.

The agreements are intended to strengthen cooperation in support of Rwanda's economic development by promoting policy innovation, enabling cross-border trade of Rwandan products to Chinese consumers, facilitating tourism to Rwanda, and providing capacity building to empower the growth of Rwanda's digital economy.

eWTP is a multi-stakeholder global initiative promoting public-private dialogue to foster a more effective and efficient policy and business environment to enable small and medium-sized enterprises to participate in cross-border electronic trade.

Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, said the platform will open new frontiers in Rwanda's e-commerce and tourism, as well as boost the capacity and competitiveness of the entrepreneurs.

He said Rwanda will continue to make major investments in education and broadband infrastructure to accelerate growth in technology-linked industries that drive prosperity in upper income economies.

"In the latest World Bank Ease of Doing Business report, Rwanda ranked as the 29th most business-friendly country in the world, up from 41st position last year. We will work harder, smarter and faster to improve the position. I'm glad that Alibaba Group is helping us to be on the right path," the president said.

According to Clare Akamanzi, the chief executive officer of the Rwanda Development Board, eWTP is in line with the country's development priorities.

"Our development priority as a country is to improve income levels of our people and that means increasing our per capita income. To do that, we need to ensure that our people have sustainable jobs or sources of income," she said.

Akamanzi said eWTP provides a good opportunity for entrepreneurs to maximize their income. By selling directly to consumers, they avoid costly intermediaries.

"When it comes to the specifics of export numbers, we are improving productivity by using e-commerce. All of these are directly linked with our goal as a country, and so when our president met Jack Ma to discuss about the platform, we were excited because it was a perfect fit in our big development agenda," she said.

Jack Ma, the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, said Rwanda makes things happen instead of complaining, as evidenced by how it picked up fast after the 1994 genocide.

"What impressed us most about Rwanda is not only the products but the government's leadership. The government is efficient and transparent," Ma said.

Within a short time of piloting the eWTP, he said Alibaba sold more than 1,000 packets of Rwandan coffee to Chinese consumers.

"I'm informed that farmers earn $8 from the coffee sold to the US. The US on the other hand, can sell the coffee at $16. However, through the eWTP platform, a farmer can sell his coffee at $12," he said.

Ma said Alibaba will work in partnership with the Rwandan government to prove that any country can be successful.

"We believe that Rwanda convinced the Alibaba Group; it changed our vision, and our view of Africa and Rwanda, in particular. Now we will make the world change its view about Rwanda and Africa in general. If Rwanda can be successful, 80 percent of the countries in the world can be successful," he said.

Ma believes that Alibaba's eWTP is not helping Rwanda to globalize, but that Rwanda is helping the globalized to improve globalization. 

"In order to face the future, we need to build up the new facility and infrastructure for the global trade. The letter 'T' in eWTP stands for trade, training, technology and tourism. Through these four elements, we believe we can enable the small businesses, farmers, youth and women in Africa to succeed," he said.

Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial will share expertise in inclusive financial tools, such as mobile payments, to support the Rwandan digital economy.

Alibaba also is committed to providing capacity building to academics, policy makers and entrepreneurs on how to grow a digital economy.

This is being done through the Global E-commerce Talent program (GET), a five-day course to boost the competencies of Rwanda University teachers and deepen their understanding of the e-commerce industry, so that they can train digital talent and future entrepreneurs to compete in the global economy.

In January, Alibaba will host a three-day workshop for Rwanda policy makers at its Hangzhou headquarters to showcase the nature, capabilities and promise of a new digital economy through first-hand experience with digital finance, logistics, e-commerce and big data industries.

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