The Vision City housing development by UDL in Kigali’s uptown neighborhood of Gaculiro will be a one-of-its-kind community in the region, with a high quality housing mix, infrastructure and amenities on its doorstep, and mirrors the country’s rapid development and rising living standards. UDL’s CEO Liliane Uwanziga Mupende explains how by being in the business of building complete neighborhoods is also taking the company into the creation of ‘secondary cities’ and “the multitude of investment opportunities for any investor coming into Rwanda”.
The growing rate of rural-urban migration, currently at about 4.8%, is creating need for more houses, and the government aims to achieve at least a 35% rate of urbanization by 2020. How is UDL taking advantage of this challenge and turning it into an opportunity with its housing project?
It’s important to balance the role of rural and urban population. That is what the government has tried to capture well in the initiative introduced through secondary cities. How can these secondary cities reach out to rural areas and internationally? These cities are seen as a strategic solution to rural-urban migration and the balance between the two.
We at UDL see this as an opportunity for investment. We started Vision City in Kigali as one of our pioneer projects, however our interest is to start investing in these secondary cities as well.
The next step will be to invest within the commercial area of Muhanga district, as it is strategically placed as a city that helps us to extend out to neighboring countries too. People crossing the southern border have to go through Muhanga, which has already started to attract regional investments in addition to national ones.
We are not limiting ourselves to Kigali and are looking to expand towards other provinces. We are primarily trying to fit within the government’s vision. Our ultimate goal would be to expand outside the country.
Vision City is the biggest residential housing project in Rwanda to date and the flagship of UDL’s portfolio. What will this project mean for Kigali and what amenities will it include?
Vision City is going to be a one-of-its-kind in the region, as we are offering amenities and infrastructure that do not exist elsewhere on that kind of scale.
Vision City offers a comprehensive neighborhood. By buying a home there, one has all the basic infrastructure and amenities needed to live in comfort and convenience: asphalted and lit streets, pedestrian walkways and areas, open public and recreational spaces, and a town center providing access to basic amenities less than a kilometer away from home.
Right now, as Kigali is structured, having easy access to city amenities most of the time requires the use of cars. We are offering a new environment to people where everything will be easily accessible.
We are not just selling houses; we are selling an entire environment; we are in the business of building neighborhoods.
According to the City of Kigali, to be able to bridge the housing gap of about 3,000 units per year, a lot of investment in the real estate industry are needed. How are you luring those investors?
The housing study looks at resolving the issue of demand as well as housing quality through the creation of a new stock of houses, while also upgrading existing houses.
We at UDL are focused on the area of creating new housing opportunities. In expanding the reach of our investments to attract potential partners and investors, we explore the use of different media platforms and targeted investor packages, among others.
Subsequent phases of Vision City, the town center and our upcoming commercial development in Muhanga, among others, are potential areas for investors to partner with UDL.
How important is Rwanda’s diaspora for your business? Are you also targeting it?
The diaspora is a key market for us; this is the reason why we do engage with the respective representatives around the world, especially given that the diaspora actively contributes to Rwanda’s transformation. We have, however, introduced into the market a unique product that attracts both local and foreign buyers.
Where does Rwanda stand in its development right now?
Rwanda is rapidly developing, and with the integrated and targeted interventions both from the public and private sector, a great transformation is very evident. We still have a lot more to do, hence the multitude of investment opportunities for any investor coming into Rwanda. The government continues to put in place strategic incentives aimed at easing and enhancing investment and we at UDL are glad to be beneficiaries of these incentives.
As Africa is becoming a growing investment destination for both advanced and emerging economies, what do you think is making the African continent so attractive?
In the past, “developing countries” were considered as left behind countries, or those that had not made great achievements. I look at things with a different perspective. Africa is the next best place to invest because there are plenty of opportunities to be explored and it is strategically merging into regional economic clusters targeted at maximizing absorption of investment from both the emerging and advanced economies.
It is also by far the youngest continent in the world and will boast the largest workforce globally, which is both an opportunity and a challenge. What are the challenges to take those people to the productive sector?
One of the challenges that come with a huge young population is the need for a balance between the need for direct employment creation versus entrepreneurship, as well as addressing the increasing demand for off-farm jobs, given that a large percentage of the youth are inclined towards settling in urban areas. In order for governments to be able to create employment for a growing youth population, they have to provide innovative solutions. In Rwanda there is a lot of investment in human capital with a special focus on encouraging entrepreneurial mindsets.
Regional integration is one of Africa’s key priorities, as the continent had the lowest level of intra-regional trade compared to other continents. How is Rwanda working to enhance its regional links?
One would start by highlighting the strategic and integrated investments within the East African Community in logistics, human capital, and infrastructure investments among others. This is evidenced by several joint initiatives that have already been successfully rolled out, among which are the one network area, one Eastern African tourism visa, unified immigration and administrative procedures, and online governmental solutions.
One can also observe that major infrastructural investments are made as a region rather than as individual nations, such as the oil pipelines, railway systems, and one-stop border posts, all aimed at making our economic integration easier.
The aim is to eliminate double costing, create simplified business environments, and most importantly learn from each other’s experiences.
For natives of the region, it is easy to work within all of this region’s countries with free movement within the region, without needing to obtain visas. Many companies that are establishing in Rwanda are looking at the entire region as an investment opportunity.
As UDL, we are convinced that being successful in the Rwandan market will help us to expand within the entire region.
In addition to that, looking at the recently concluded African Union Summit that was held in Kigali, great emphasis was laid on how we can, as a continent, make trade easier between us, e.g. through the launch of the one African passport. We want to increase our economy’s potential. We want Africa to be perceived as a strong cluster, with Rwanda being one of this initiative’s drivers.
You spoke about the pipeline or the railway corridors, some of the different projects Rwanda is now embarking on, with the KivuWatt plant being a pioneer project globally. How will these megaprojects benefit the construction sector?
I think they will significantly influence the construction sector by bringing innovative solutions that will address some of the basic needs that come with housing, such as lowering the cost of electricity.
The country is also changing the way it was traditionally structured: from a low-density housing organization to a high-density one. People are now living in compact city environments and rural settlements. With clustered and compacted development, one must look towards renewable and sustainable energies. Getting alternative energies that are a lot more affordable and environmentally friendly than the traditional ones, such as coal for instance, may greatly affect day-to-day living standards.
Megaprojects will also help us to be self-reliant and not import as much as we are doing right now. We do have renewable energies that we can use in order to reduce our dependency on fossil and non-renewable energies.
Beyond construction, energy production will help local industries. For instance, in our Special Economic Zone, we do now have plenty of construction material industries taking up, many companies have settled there in order to produce materials that we are still importing from China, Turkey, Italy, etc. This helps us to exploit our local resources, create jobs, reduce importations, and grow our exportations. One of the companies that come to mind is Strawtech, which is manufacturing construction materials locally and therefore contributing towards alternative building solutions. Megaprojects find innovative ways to address challenges, such as power and water shortages, which in the long term will benefit all of us.
The Kigali Master Plan is a key point of Vision 2020. It includes supporting the development of the city as a center for information technology and emphasizing green and sustainable development practices. How is Kigali being positioned as the ICT and innovation hub of Africa?
Kigali is definitely strategically placed for that. Many see the fact of being a landlocked country as a disadvantage, whereas we adapted that into a true advantage. In order to be a hub we must not only see ourselves as a physical entity, but as a wider platform that can be accessed through all forms of infrastructure. You see different players in the market embracing this in their investment portfolios for example Rwandair, Korea Network (formally ORN), Positivo among others.
There is also an intentional national investment into creating online platforms that will ease citizens’ access to governmental and private sector services, financial services, etc.
Furthermore, in hosting and organizing regional and international conventions and events, the government is exposing the country to the world. To host such events, Rwanda has focused on making it convenient for people to come in to the country, invest, reside, work, and relax with ease and comfort.