In a saga that begun with the illegal freezing of UTC founder Ayabatwa’s bank accounts on August 8, the Kagame Government confirmed in a statement to the BBC on August 23 that it had effectively seized UTC. The Commission of Abandoned Properties is set to formalise the seizure of UTC on August 29 on the basis that the $20 million limited liability company has been abandoned since its principal shareholder, Ayabatwa, does not live in Rwanda. All of this without involvement of any court of law as guaranteed by the Constitution and Rwandan Company Law.
Senior Advisor to the group, David Himbara, laughed off Rwanda government’s justification for what he called reckless and immoral grabbing of UTC. “Can you imagine Microsoft Corporation being seized in Britain because Bill Gates does not reside in UK? An incorporated company is a separate and legal entity from its shareholders. UTC is an excellent corporate citizen operating a well managed facility in which over 80 businesses do business, with a workforce of over 400 people. Where Rujugiro or other shareholders reside is irrelevant to UTC’s first rate operations.”
When asked to comment on the implications for Ayabatwa, Himbara said: “Ayabatwa is a highly successful Pan-Africa industrialist operating and trading across Sub Sahara Africa and even beyond. In the broader realm of things, Ayabatwa’s investment in Rwanda is tiny and only significant in emotional sense of wanting to assist his desperately poor native country to transform its largely informal business into formal private sector. The loser here is Rwanda. And of course UTC mall does not have wheels – it will sooner or later revert to its owners when a law aiding government in Rwanda comes along as bound to happen.” As to why UTC was seized, Himbara cited a combination of factors. “First, the ruling party in Rwanda is the largest business group in the country dominating almost all sectors and hates competition. It’s own mall, Kigali Towers, has failed to attract customers. Secondly, the government needs cash injections since donor funding was withheld last year. Rwanda has resorted to drawing down its foreign reserves that currently cover less than three months of imports. Rwanda is in economic and financial dire straits.”
The operators of UTC are not entirely resigned to the loss of this prime asset. There is always hope that sanity will prevail at the last minute in Rwanda. The realisation that seizure of the $20 million asset will destroy what is left of Rwanda’s reputation as a serious investment destination might permit sound logic and evert what is clearly a reckless public policy action.