Sunday, Dec 17, 2017
Others | Africa | Rwanda

Champion Investment Corporation

United vision creates unique business complex


1 year ago

Olivier Mazimpaka, Director of CHIC (Champion Investment Corporation)
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Olivier Mazimpaka

Director of CHIC

Kigali’s new $30-million complex in the central business district is in its first year of operation and the result of a united vision of 59 high ranking business people who formed CHIC and pooled resources to create a first-of-its-kind Rwandan complex for retail, commercial and entertainment activities. CHIC’s Director Olivier Mazimpaka explains how the project’s success turned initial skeptics into keen supporters and potential tenants.

 

In the developed economies of Europe, Asia and America, part of their success stories were collective investments, investment corporations. CHIC works as part of the Private Sector Federation’s program that encouraged Rwandan business people to form investment groups to invest in big business enterprises. Could you tell us more about CHIC’s origins?

Before, it was almost impossible to bring 59 highly ranked business people together in Rwanda. You know with our background of ethnic and regional groups, we come from a dark history. The government has really pushed a lot so that people forget about what divides them and actually see the benefits we can extract from our diverse cultural and ethnical backgrounds. So what was previously seen as a drawback is now a competitive advantage.

We are 59 business people, all from different ethnic and cultural groups. Before, there was no trust because it was the first time, the first contact. People used to get together for small business matters, but putting together 7 billion [francs] from your pocket was not easy. The government, along with several initiatives from various ministries, has helped a lot in showing people that it is indeed possible. Policies and laws were established to protect such initiatives, so that these developments were made stronger and least likely to be destroyed.

Previously there was no decent place to walk, to do business or to go shopping in Kigali city. The ones used for such practices were called Quartier Matheus and Quartier Commercial, and were very old houses, more than 50 years old. These places didn’t grow with the number of people attending them. The parking was becoming a sanitary issue. Even the electricity was a problem; houses were often burning because of electrical problems. The number of people, products and items were increasing but the infrastructure remained the same. So it started becoming dangerous to do business in such an environment.

That’s how CHIC started; the people from Quartier Matheus and others decided to join together and build infrastructure that was more adapted to the current situation. So we started an association and went through all the processes and requirements to become a registered company. People were put together to sign this agreement and to decide on how much would one share be.

After this, the time to put money together came. One share in CHIC was 50,000 Rwandan francs (currently the equivalent of approx $63). We are now 59 shareholders and we are almost similar on the amount of shares owned. This equal division of shares guarantees that no one is really taking over. We are not exactly on the same level but it varies between one to six shares; we are almost equal.

So, we then started looking for a plot. Where did we want to go? Did we want to go far from Kigali? Did we want to stay even though Kigali is expensive? Then people decided to dream big and we considered having a plot in Kigali. The plot we got was the former ETO, a technical school. It was hard to think about the possibility to build such infrastructure there. So we went through engineers, architects and the city of Kigali in order to build such a building. It was not obvious for people to believe in such a construction. They were used to having a single investor bearing the risk of such a project, but convincing 59 people into taking such a risk was not an easy task.

Luckily, everybody believed in the CHIC initiative and it even reached the President himself. From what I know, the President said, “Give them what they want, and we will see what happens.”

The time planned to finish the construction was respected, a first achievement. When we had our first visit from the former city mayor of Kigali he said, surprised: “We didn’t believe in you. You did it accordingly to the construction deadline. This shows that you can do even more.”

 

Does this mean you became a benchmark in Kigali and in the country?

This building is the first of its kind in Rwanda, the first of such great caliber. Bringing so many businessmen together to build and invest in such a thing was a risk! A risk that we overcame. Actually we are receiving offers from several people who wish to join and become members of CHIC, at whatever cost! People are offering up to 80 million [francs] for a share. But there is also a need to protect the corporation so that it doesn’t become a public society.

 

CHIC wants to become a leading investment corporation countrywide and expand outside of the country. What international ambitions do you have?

We are thinking about international expansion, but still need to mature. We are currently considering taking initiatives in the Northern Corridor. We are thinking about building shops along the corridor from Uganda to Rwanda. We attended the preparatory meetings. Our strength is that we are walking hand in hand with the private sector to gain more knowledge. We visited some shops and supermarkets in Nairobi and we invited a businessman from Botswana who successfully expended internationally, to bring us his expertise. We want to invite all interested figures to participate in our project and to allow us to gain greater knowledge of the situation. We are following the Northern Corridor and its opportunities for investment closely.

 

How are you promoting your complex to potential buyers/renters?

We realized that, once it was completed, everybody thought that it was not affordable. At first, the small businessmen didn’t want to come. So we had to go there and meet our buyers physically. We explained in detail everything that is included in the price. We negotiated the fares with them and convinced them of CHIC’s attractiveness both in terms of price and quality. We set up a sales and marketing team, and we also advertised our project on the radio and local newspapers. Tomorrow, for example, we are hosting a dinner with board members and outside businessmen to advertise CHIC to a broader audience.

 

What amenities will CHIC’s building offer?

First of all, we have tight security. The price of our facilities is $20 per square meter, including the taxes, security and sanitary costs. Before, when someone rented a place, they had to hire a watchman and parking was restricted. So we offer parking security thanks to our collaboration with the ISCO Intersec Security Company, the best in the country.

Furthermore, we have installed three big electricity generators so that power is never lacking.

Another huge advantage is that when you come to CHIC, you just park your car and you can access all our services easily. Now we have six banks and we are installing three more. There is no other place in Rwanda where you can find more than six banks together. This is without counting the many restaurants, barbershops, boutiques, insurance companies and offices that CHIC has to offer.

Now we are looking to install a supermarket. Once we have the supermarket, we will have it all! From a spa to a Clinique to pharmacies and wine shops! Everything will be in CHIC. All you have to do is park your car and walk – a unique advantage.

 

Are you eyeing other businesses?

We are currently thinking about the next phase of expansion. We are looking for another place to build similar initiatives, but we are now thinking about apartments. We have an idea called “talking city”, where we would have all kinds of apartments from high, middle-class and affordable ones, with swimming pools, games and modern supermarkets.

We are also thinking about going green. For example, we want to use solar energy in our parking, and possibly the rooftop. There is a huge initiative from Rwanda to incite people to go green and we want our houses to become part of this initiative. We have already invested in re-usable water treatment and a multi-functional water-recycling system.

The second initiative would be to cover our parking and rooftops with solar cells. A similar project, the Garden City Mall, is now fully operational in Kenya thanks to a German investor that we have also contacted. We have already submitted our plan to the city of Kigali in order to use these renewable energies as quickly as possible.

 

How would you say you impersonate the Made in Rwanda spirit?

All 59 people in CHIC are Rwandan. We are totally Rwandan, both in terms of labor and expertise. Even the constructors and designers are Rwandan! We are purely local from the start to the end, however we welcome international expertise to learn more.

 

How do you want CHIC to be perceived by both the local and international communities?

First, that CHIC is not limited to Rwanda. Before, it was not obvious to everybody to believe in what we did. However, we are open and willing to learn more from different perspectives. We thrive on outside expertise!

Rwanda is growing globally and we do not want to lag behind. We see CHIC as a global actor, an actor that is connected to the outside world, an actor that is not limited to the local market. A week ago we met with a big Turkish business group to discuss a possible partnership. Our board members pushed for a visit to their facilities in order to gain further insight into the products and services they have to offer. We are quite advancing in that business area and we need now to partner more.

For our talking city project, we want CHIC to own 50% to 70% of the installations. The rest of the ownership will be covered by both local and international partners. We later want CHIC to have a multicultural and global perspective in its business activities.

 

What do you think is driving the increasing momentum in international interest in Africa in general?

African countries are now being effectively connected together and they have shown great efforts towards continental stabilization. Even though these efforts are unequal between countries, the leading states have thrived to reduce bureaucracy and other barriers. For example, companies and governments are joining together to enhance the tourism sector’s attractiveness. This dedication to openness and to inter-state collaboration is an example of the governments’ initiatives to attract investors. I can’t speak on behalf of other countries, but I can tell you that Rwanda has already decided to go that way. For us, it’s more than a decision; it started as a policy and became a culture, a policy we are working on to make our state greater and more attractive.

 

As former Director of the ICT Center of the University of Rwanda, how well positioned is Rwanda to achieve its ambitious goal of becoming the ICT hub of the region?

Before, the infrastructure capabilities of the country were incomplete. The Government of Rwanda has invested a lot of money in building new infrastructure – as underlined by the NICI plan (National Information Communication Infrastructure), which includes all Rwandan districts – and the ICT initiative, targeted at improving quality of service in several areas such as school and hospital. These initiatives have increased Rwanda’s visibility as a technologically developed country.

Furthermore, Rwanda has worked a lot on reducing and removing taxes related to IT equipment. The plan was first to synthesize and install the required infrastructure in order for information technologies to become service oriented. Now, all the districts’ representatives are required to pledge, in front of the Head of State, to the inclusion of the ICT initiative in their programs.

Rwanda has also made an acute effort in educating university and training center students and staff members to properly use these new technologies. Before, the skills to use such materials were lacking, so Rwanda has invested time and money to develop its IT education. For example, nowadays, most Rwandan business people know that they must have at least a website and that they must use social media. It’s not only a policy; people now understand that it is a requirement. All our ministers and governmental agents are now regularly tweeting, and instantly show what is going on in order to set the example in terms of connectivity and use of ICT for the East African Community and countries. It is this dedication to communication and technology that has made Rwanda an ICT hub.

Several initiatives have been put together to demystify ICT, which enhances integration through communication. Nowadays, you can go down to rural areas in Rwanda and see that people are becoming familiar with this technological language. People know how to communicate; people know how to use these tools thanks to the many initiatives that are being put in place.

Business people are also being encouraged to use such developments. Before, when constructing a building, they use to think solely about water and electricity. Now, we also think about internet connectivity. In CHIC’s building for example, you will find that every room is equipped with an internet port with fiber-optic cable. We understand that it’s a necessity for the building, a requirement that wasn’t present beforehand. 



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