Rwanda markets gear up for funding injection: Rwanda's development model is all set for extensive foreign investment, but the country's stock exchange struggles to attract capital.

Author:Thomas, David
Position:WEF 2016: RWANDA
 
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For all the excitable talk about Rwanda's economic emergence, the gap between ambition and reality can be stark.

Nowhere is this more apparent than a visit to Rwanda's tiny stock exchange. Visitors are greeted with a glimpse of the country's equities trading hub--a series of well-worn plastic whiteboards more reminiscent of a college classroom than an international financial centre.

In a country which has transformed itself from backwater to development model in just a few years, reminders of a less successful past are always just around the corner. Yet the tiny number of stocks on the whiteboard holds a warning for Rwanda's economic planners. Despite the positive headlines, securing investor interest is by no means a given.

"Rwanda's economy has grown at a very high rate over the last decade, and to be able to sustain this, the economy should be able to access long-term funding that will promote growth and the development of big-ticket investment projects. Many businesses require funding that cannot be provided by the banking sector," says Robert Mathu, executive director of the country's Capital Markets Authority.

Despite GDP growth of 6.9% last year and effusive write-ups from the International Monetary Fund, the investment picture continues to be patchy. According to a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the response of foreign investors to recent government reforms "has not been encouraging", with FDI inflows accounting for just 5% of GDP.

The stock market ought to be a major conduit for Rwandan companies seeking long-term funding from domestic and foreign investors--yet it had a total capitalisation of just $1.6bn in September 2015. Given the protracted efforts of government, regulators and the stock exchange, this may come as a surprise. Many of the building blocks needed to expand the market are already in place--paperless trading, moves to full automation --yet the bourse still lists only seven stocks.

Celestin Rwabukumba, chief executive of the Rwanda Stock Exchange, says that no bourse is an island--and argues that the wider economy must be geared towards listings. "We can't operate in isolation, we are there to support the existing economy. The legal framework is ready--you can raise whatever money you want at the moment--ETFs, REITs, capital through equity and debt. The soft infrastructure is there, now what is remaining is to chase business."

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