Kagame’s Tourism Is A Lesson In How Not To Build Tourism

President Paul Kagame and his development strategist Claire Akamanzi. CEO of Rwanda Development Board

By David Himbara

President Paul Kagame wants to make Rwanda’s Tourism sector the leading driver of economic development. Towards that end, Kagame has spent a fortune on the sector. For example, he built the US$300 Million Kigali Convention Centre (KCC) for attracting conference tourists. KCC was launched in 2016. He also built RwandAir which consumed US$530 Million between 2013 and 2016 alone. In other words, Kagame spent a total of US$830 Million on tourism sector between 2013 and 2016.

So what are the results so far? Not good.

The US$300 Million Kigali Convention Centre

According to the 2017 Rwanda Statistical Yearbook, the total number of tourists who arrived by air in 2016 was 287,688. The breakdown of arrivals by air and by regions from where they came is as follows:

  1. Nationals (from abroad) — 61,203
  2. Europe — 57,276
  3. East Africa Community — 54,863
  4. North America — 34,847
  5. Rest of Africa — 32,723
  6. Asia — 23,193
  7. DR Congo — 17,268
  8. Rest of the world — 6,315

The 2017 Rwanda Statistical Yearbook also breaks down the subsections of Rwanda tourism that arrived by air in 2016. The breakdown is as follows:

  1. Returning residents — 83,868
  2. Visiting friends — 61,200
  3. Business — 37,660
  4. Transit — 37,525
  5. Holiday — 36,037
  6. Conference — 17,182
  7. Official mission — 12,046

As can be seen from the above breakdown, the number of tourists from rich countries — namely, Europe and North America — is low totaling 92,123 in 2016. Meanwhile, business, conference, and leisure tourists numbered 90,884. Clearly, Kagame tourism has a long way to go. Conference tourism is still very tiny — the subsector attracted a mere 17,182 in 2016.

Kagame tourism is truly scary


Kagame spent US$830 Million between 2013 and 2016 on Kigali Convention Center and RwandAir. But what has the sector earned so far? Rwanda’s earnings from personal, business, and professional tourism increased from US$304 Million in 2013 to US$380 Million in 2016. Enter the US$40 Million Arsenal deal in which the club’s players will wear ”visit Rwanda” to promote tourism. Evidently, Kagame never heard the saying that when you are in a deep hole already you stop digging.