VENTURES AFRICA – Rising from the ashes of a deadly genocide two decades ago, Rwanda has transformed and positioned itself to become the most competitive economy in East Africa and 62nd globally; this rating beats that of Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, and East Africa’s regional hub for financial services and telecommunications, Kenya.
It’s relatively tiny land mass of 26, 338 square kilometers is sandwiched between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, while also sharing a boundary with Uganda and a close proximity to Kenya. Looking rather insignificant when the entire view of the African continent is taken in, Rwanda’s potentials far exceeds its size, and this is evident in the kind of innovative ideas that are already springing up around the country.
Rwanda ranks well by a number of economic indicators, and this explains why it is beginning to host and incubate its own startups. Apart from its impressive rating by the World Economic Forum, the World Bank ranks Rwanda as the 32nd easiest economy to do business in globally, this ranking places Rwanda above the likes of the BRICS, Israel, and France. Specifically, It ranks highly in the areas of starting a business, registering property, getting credit and protecting investors; this makes it, in theory and structure, an excellent startup hub in East Africa.
A significant share of investors looking to invest in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole head towards Rwanda. Liquid Telecom has just declared its intentions in that directions and Swedish-based Telecom firm, Millicom, did same earlier in the year, saying it also plans to build a tech incubator called “Think” in order to attract ambitious entrepreneurs and provide seed funding of about $15,000, structured training and coaching sessions to boost their potential in return for equity in scalable businesses that emerge from the incubator.
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Sub-Saharan Africa: Emerging African Events Markets – Who Are The Next Generation? | International Meetings Review ⇒
South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Egypt have long been continental leaders in business events. These countries have seen continuous growth in the meetings sector as they ploughed into their respective industries.
But now a new breed of conference managers are emerging in Africa – and we’re not talking about Rwanda with its new convention centre or Zambia with its steady rise in hosting mining and agricultural exhibitions.
These countries are only just beginning to realise the impact that business events and incentives have on the economy and, as such, are only now getting serious about investing in the MICE industry.
Meet the Y generation in African business events.
While the growth and success of companies like Java and other consumer related businesses is often attributed to Africa’s growing middle class, Ashley says this narrative is “a little bit misleading” because the middle class is not that big in Kenya.
“I think here this middle class term is used loosely. I grew up in a middle class in the US. You could pump petrol and qualify to buy a house. Which service station attendant here can even pay rent without struggling?” he asks.
“There is no middle class I know of historically that had to send their kids to private school to get a decent education, or deal with mortgage rates of nearly 20%, or the levels of crime and lack of infrastructure.
“So this is a very unique middle class. They are hard-core survivors.
People who have had to overcome odds that are still stark.”
He notes Java customers are people who “have a certain income that allows them a quality of life that many can’t afford”. At Java a large cappuccino and muffin will cost you just about $4.5 while a lunch meal of chips, burger, vegetables on the side and a glass of juice would cost an average of $10.
“Yes, we grow because of Kenyans who are able to afford our products ̶ but I feel it almost an insult to call that group middle class. They are people who have overcome incredible obstacles just to get to where they are.”
Focusing on the Kenyan clientele
Although in the early days two-thirds of Java customers were expatriates and affluent Asians, today the outlets mostly attract a Kenyan crowd. Ashley says making Java “a Kenyan brand” was a key goal for its co-founders.
“We would have this case where a waiter would favour the expat tables to get a better tip because Kenyans were not as good tippers as maybe people from the US. So we had to train staff to understand that they should truly give a good experience to everybody. We were really passionate about developing something that Kenyans would embrace.”
The Java boss believes this focus on Kenyan clientele and local talent are some of the reasons for Java’s success.