Rwanda’s Financial Sector Is Hollywood Horror Movie

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Rwanda’s financial sector is a Hollywood horror movie and the plot is thickening by the day. The latest horrific episode is the announcement that Banque Populaire du Rwanda (BPR) is to soon to be taken over and become part of the Atlas Mara Group owned by Bob Diamond, an American banker and former Barclays Bank chief, and his Ugandan partner, Ashish Thakkar.

Diamond and Thakkar already took over the financial arm of the Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) in 2014.

BRD was already a Hollywood horror film complete with murder long before Bob Diamond and Ashish Thakkar entered the Rwandan scene. Back in 2008, a German business group bought 25% of BRD to use it to build their African Development Corporation (ADC). ADC romance with Rwanda lasted one year ~ they left BRD in 2009. BRD CEO, Theogene Turatsinze resigned and moved to Mozambique where he was later to be murdered.

Back to BPR – who will Diamond and Thakkar find in that Bank? No other than Ephraim Turahirwa, the CEO of the Bank. Turahirwa is the former CEO of Tristar Investment, the ruling party’s conglomerate nowadays known as Crystal Ventures Limited. Kagame has literally planted his own men in every money-making body.

So anyway, who is making these deals behind the scenes? Is it just the CEO of Rwanda Inc working by himself? Is Tony Blair Strategic Advisor to the Rwanda Development Board, whose role is “to significantly increase the level of private investment in Rwanda and to improve deal conversion” assisting? Or advices are sought from elsewhere?

There are other mysterious characters in this horror movie. Check out the Kagame appointees in Bank of Kigali that no doubt wheel and deal in Rwanda’s financial sector.

In 2009, Kagame appointed Lado Gurgenidze, the Chairman of Bank of Kigali. Gurgenidze is a former Prime Minister of the Republic of Georgia, among other things. At the same time Kagame appointed Marc Holtzman a director in the same bank. But here is the most interesting bit. Marc Holtzman served as Vice Chairman of Barclays Capital when Bob Diamond was Barclays Bank’s boss. There can be no doubt therefore that Gurgenidze, Holtzman and Diamond are a network deeply embedded in Rwanda’s troubled and tiny financial sector and directly-linked to the Rwandan head of state.

Why do I say Rwanda’s financial sector is “troubled” and “tiny”? It is troubled because it is not transparent. The shadowy deals and characters are not known to most Rwandans. And yet Rwandan workers and pensioners own the assets we are talking about. For example Rwandan workers hold no less than 25% of the Bank of Kigali through the Rwandan Social Security Fund. But have the Rwandan contributors ever heard of Gurgenidze and Holtzman? And how many Rwandans know the real story behind the newly-announced takeover of BPR? Very few, if any.

The Rwandan financial market is not only murky but tiny – and it is unlikely to grow precisely because it is a black hole unknown to most people. Incredibly, there has been a talk that this weird sector will soon become a financial hub for East Africa. What a wishful thinking. Listed on Kigali Stock Exchange are six companies – Bank of Kigali, Bralirwa, Kenya Commercial Bank, Nation Media Group, Uchumi Markets and Equity Bank. Market capitalization of the Rwandan Stock Exchange is about $4 billion, but if we remove the four listed Kenyan companies, market capitalization drops to about $1 billion.

By comparison, Nairobi Securities Exchange has nearly 70 companies, with a market capitalization of K.Sh2,422 billion or $25.5 billion.

What a horror movie this is!

Dr David Himbara

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