Kagame’s Tourism Strategy — Will It Create Prosperity?

By David Himbara

Paul Kagame became known as ”the digital president” after he spent $120 million to connect Rwandan districts with fiber optic cables. Once the fiber optics reached the districts, however, there no last mile infrastructure to connect the cables to the users. To this day, Kagame’s information superhighway has no goods to transport.

Kagame has found another silver bullet — tourism

Kagame has moved on to tourism with a big bang — the Kigali Convention Centre (KCC) and the new international airport are central to turning Rwanda into a tourism hub.

Kigali Convention Centre


That is why Kagame built the $300 Million KCC — Africa’s most expensive building complex. Construction of a $830 million international airport outside the capital city of Kigali is also underway.

Artist impression of the new international airport for Kigali.


Kagame’s reasoning is that Rwanda needs to go beyond conventional tourism of game reserves. Rwanda needs to enter a more lucrative tourism niche of meetings, incentives, conferences, and events (MICE) sector.

So what is the current status of Rwandan tourism relative to its immediate competitors in East Africa?

The comparative picture of East Africa based on tourism earnings between 2010 and 2016 looks as follows:

Kenya’s tourism earnings, 2010–2016

  • 2016 — $824 Million
  • 2015 — $723 Million
  • 2014 — $811 Million
  • 2010 — $800 Million

Rwanda’s tourism earnings, 2010 — 2016

  • 2016 — $390 Million
  • 2015 — $368 Million
  • 2014 — $304 Million
  • 2010 — $202 Million

Tanzania’s tourism earnings, 2010 — 2016

  • 2016 — $2.1 Billion
  • 2015 — $2 Billion
  • 2014 — $2 Billion
  • 2010 — $1.2 Billion

Uganda’s tourism earnings, 2010 — 2016

  • 2016 — $768 Million
  • 2015 — $1.1 Billion
  • 2014 — $791 Million
  • 2010 — $784 Million

While Rwanda’s tourism earnings almost doubled from $202 million in 2010 to nearly $400 million in 2016, its income remains small relative to its neighbors. Both Kenya and Uganda doubled Rwanda’s tourism earnings, while Tanzania drew nearly five times Rwanda’s income.

But what about Rwanda’s MICE sector which now represents Kagame’s particular tourism interest?

Kagame’s ruling party contributing to MICE earnings at KCC?


The answer to this question comes from the World Bank which helped Rwanda to design and implement MICE strategy. According to the World Bank, Rwanda’s performance in the MICE sector is as follows:

“visitors for conferences nearly doubled from 17,950 to 35,100 and revenue from MICE events increased from US$29.6 million in 2014 to US$47 million in 2016.”

So is the increase in MICE earnings from $29.6 million to $47 million in two years impressive? Is Kagame winning this time — unlike his information superhighway to nowhere? Will Kagame’s tourism strategy create significant prosperity? Methinks there is a long way to go, especially when Kagame has to pay the $300 million loan that built the Kigali Convention Centre. The gentleman has expensive taste.