Kigali Centre opens in time for AU Summit

Saturday July 9 2016

The Kigali Convention Centre. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

The Kigali Convention Centre. FILE PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By BERNA NAMATA

Rwanda has finally opened the Kigali Convention Centre just in time for an Africa Union Summit that starts in the capital this weekend.

The centre, comprising the 292-room Radisson Blue Kigali hotel and conference hall that can seat 2,500 people was to be completed in three years from 2009 but was delayed by lack of funds.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame said the completion of the centre at the fourth time of asking was motivated by the AU offering to host the summit in the country.

“On the fourth attempt, it was due to pressure of opportunity that was presented by AU offering Rwanda to host the AU summit.  The design is truly Rwandan and the implementation global,” President Kagame said when inaugurating the facility on Friday. 

The centre will host the 27th AU summit between July 10 and July 18 that is expected to be attended by more than 3,500 delegates. Thereafter, the government hopes the facility will boost conference tourism receipts to help it cover debt accumulated on the project.

The inside view of the KCC's main conference

The inside view of the KCC's main conference room with the total capacity of 2600 seats. Photo: Cyril NDEGEYA

The project cost increased substantially from $300 million due to interest charges on external borrowing.

“True to the Rwandan spirit, we tried to put up this facility years ago and we failed, not once, not twice but thrice. On the fourth try we succeeded. I say Rwandan spirit because we have failed many times but have succeeded more times than we have failed,” President Kagame said.

The government spent $120 million from the proceeds of its $400 million Eurobond to repay an outstanding loan secured from Citibank, NA, London branch.

It also incurred additional costs from hiring a new contractor — Turkish engineering firm Summa after Chinese company, Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG) was fired over delay and quality concerns.

The original design was done by Spacial Solutions, a Germany-based firm, whose contract was later terminated.

BCEG faced the dilemma of negotiating design changes with the original designers of the project.

But the government has embarked on promoting MICE (Meetings, Incentives Conferences Incentives and Events/Exhibition) to boost tourism receipts as it seeks to diversify its economy.

Already this year, the country has hosted the World Economic Forum on Africa which brought it over 1500 delegates.  Later this year, it is expected to host the Africa Hotel Investment Forum.

According to Rwanda Development Board (RDB), total revenues based on MICE tourism in 2013 were $49 million. This is projected to triple to $150 million in 2017, 16 per cent of all national export earnings and 34 per cent of the overall tourism receipts.

AU Summit Agenda 

The summit is being held under the theme: “2016: Year of Human Rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women”.

“Successful African women have a tendency to quickly concede and compromise. When we get into institutions, we conform to the existing culture instead of transforming them to work for the other half of the population. Let us be consensus builders but not at the expense of the gender equality struggle,” said Dr Dlamini Zuma, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), during the opening session of the third African Union (AU) high level panel on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Kigali, Friday.

She added that progress to implement the Maputo Protocol – which calls for among other things, political and social equality - is too slow.

The protocol was signed 13 years ago, but its goals are yet to be fully achieved, according to Dlamini-Zuma.

“When we call for at least 30 per cent of women representation in decision making, some men bitterly complain that they are becoming an endangered species. This is in spite of the fact that they still hold 70 per cent of public positions and yet are less than 50 percent of the population,” Ms Dlamini-Zuma said.

Currently, Rwanda continues to lead the continent on women empowerment with women accounting for 64 per cent in parliament.

Other issues expected to be discussed during the summit is the AU roadmap for withdrawing its peacekeeping mission in Somalia as well as Africa’s withdraw from the ICC. 

During the Summit, AU is expected to launch the AU Passport a flagship project of Africa’s Agenda 2063 with the view to facilitate free movement of persons, goods and services around the continent - in order to foster intra-Africa trade, integration and socio-economic development.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma has described this initiative as both symbolic and significant, calling it a “steady step toward the objective of creating a strong, prosperous and integrated Africa, driven by its own citizens and capable of taking its rightful place on the world stage.”

Aspirations 2 and 7 of Agenda 2063, respectively, envision an Africa that is ‘integrated’ and ‘united’, and the introduction of the Common African Passport as an effort towards realizing integration and unity on the continent.

The first group of beneficiaries will include: AU Heads of State and Government; Ministers of Foreign Affairs; and the Permanent Representatives of AU Member States based at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The highlight of the meeting is expected to be the election of the new chairperson of the AU Commission. 

Candidates include Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Botswana’s foreign Minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, Equatorial Guinea’s foreign minister and Dr Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, former vice president of Uganda who also already been endorsed by the East African Community.  

The summit presents Rwanda with its best chance to realise its ambition of becoming a regional conference hub.