The lifting of the decade-long ban on importation of right-hand-drive motor vehicles is likely to make Rwanda competitive in the regional transport and logistics services business.
It is estimated that Rwanda spends more than $350 million annually on logistics and transport, but much of this money benefits foreign-registered cargo transport firms.
Analysts believe it is against this backdrop that a presidential order of February 25 lifting the ban has officially allowed 20 tonnes cargo trucks and above, buses used for cross-border public transport and road tractors to be registered in Rwanda.
The order overturns part of the September 2002 presidential decree, which banned right-hand-drives in Rwanda. The decree came into force in 2005. And since then Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) has not been registering right-hand-drive vehicles.
“All motor vehicles to be registered in Rwanda must have a steering apparatus on the left hand side except the trucks having at least twenty (20) tonnes loading capacity, buses used for cross-border public transport and road tractors,” reads the presidential order.
The recent order, however, has maintained the earlier ban on registering left-hand vehicles in Rwanda. This means so long as the vehicle is to be used within Rwanda, they must be right-hand. And should regional vehicles be driven on Rwandan roads they must not spend more than three months.
Ban on right-hand drive vehicles was not received positively by some Rwandans who had hoped that the government would follow its regional peers, who allow drive right-hand-drive vehicles on their roads.
Earlier, studies on whether to switch from left-hand to right-hand-drive vehicles had indicated that at least 54 per cent of Rwandans were in favour of left-hand drive while only 32 per cent were against. The study was carried out by Dr Barisay Mahabubul, a transport economic expert at the Ministry of Infrastructure.
“A 40-tonne Mercedes Benz truck made in Europe costs $1,000 more compared with a right-hand-drive one. When a Rwandan is paying $3,000 per each left-hand-drive truck, other regional players where right-hand-drive trucks are allowed pay $2,000,” said Abdul Ndaru, vice-president of Rwanda long-distance transporters association.
Many Rwandans have also dropped out of business as the sector became increasingly unattractive to investors, a 2012 Road freight industry competitiveness study.
The study commissioned by Ministry of Trade and Industry shows that the numbers of Rwandans investing in the truck sector have dropped by 14 per cent in the past five years.
Col (Rtd) Dodo Twahirwa, executive chairman of Trinity Express, a local Rwandan registered bus company with a fleet to Burundi and Uganda welcomed the partial lifting of the ban, saying it is likely that more Rwandans will invest in cross-border transport.