Pierre Célestin Rwabukumba :“Making Kigali an influential international financial center”
Launched in 2011, The Kigali Stock Exchange is celebrating its first decade in a buoyant context: increased activity, democratization of market finance, regional integration projects… A series of achievements that owe much to the current CEO of the institution, Pierre Celestin Rwabukumba, the “father” of the Rwandan financial center. Interview.
Interview by Jacques Leroueil, in Kigali
As CEO of the Kigali Stock Exchange since its inception, you are for Rwandans the public figure of this institution. However, few know about your previous life. Could you briefly tell us about it?
After completing my secondary education in Rwanda in the 1990s, I had the opportunity to pursue my education in the United States, where I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of Buffalo (New York State). Frankly, economics was not necessarily my first choice, but the subject has always interested me insofar as its mastery is often essential to understand the major issues of our time and beyond, to be able to propose relevant solutions in managerial positions. Just after graduating from university, I started my career in the financial services industry in New York, holding various positions in this sector (compliance services, stock brokerage, investment banking). However, I soon felt the need to return to Rwanda and participate in one way or another in the development of my country. It is this desire that pushed me to return to Kigali at the end of 2004, where I joined the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR).
What was your role at BNR?
In view of my financial experience acquired in the United States, I was tasked, with a group of colleagues, with an evaluation mission on the feasibility of a national capital market. At the time, this project of having a national stock exchange was not necessarily welcomed by the major international financial institutions (IMF, World Bank), which considered it premature and not very relevant economically. On the contrary, we thought that it was a tool of financial sovereignty and that as such, we had to make this initiative a reality; even if it meant starting small. After all, if developed countries could benefit from the advantages of this formula, why not us? That was our philosophy on this subject. It is also useful to recall the socio-political context of the time. The country, in a post-genocide situation, had just adopted a new Constitution (in 2003), its Vision 2020 development plan and started to lay the foundations of the first major state institutions (Ombudsman of the Republic, Pension Fund, Investment Promotion Agency, etc.). Everything had to be done, especially in the field of concern to me, preparing the national financial framework.
Indeed, this financial framework was inherently much broader than just the capital markets component…
Yes, it was. We had to create from scratch the legislation and the institutions that would constitute the Rwandan financial market, and we did so by relying in particular on the Financial Sector Development Plan (FSDP); a program based on the development of 4 pillars (the banking sector, the contractual savings institutions [life insurance, fire and accident insurance, government pension and retirement funds], the payment systems and the capital markets) and which I coordinated from 2006 onwards. In the capital market, for example, the establishment of the stock exchange itself was only part of a larger ecosystem that included the implementation of appropriate regulation (e.g. Collective Investment Schemes (CIS) and the establishment of a market regulator (the Capital Market Advisory Council, which later became the current Capital Market Authority). This is how we laid the foundations of what is today the Rwandan financial market (banks, insurance, capital markets…) and that I was subsequently entrusted with the task of putting the Kigali stock market on track.
Could you tell us about the beginnings of the Kigali Stock Exchange?
We started with the means at hand, until we gradually formalized things. For example, at the very beginning of the project, we did not have dedicated offices and the first meetings between collaborators were usually held either at our homes or in hotels in the city! However, as early as January 2008, we set up the Rwanda Over the Counter Market, an OTC trading structure where trades were mainly in bonds and a few foreign (especially Kenyan) cross-listed securities. In fact, this initial period allowed us to build up our experience and gradually increase our power until we were able to offer investors a complete stock exchange structure, the current Rwanda Stock Exchange (RSE), which we officially launched in January 2011, at the time of the IPO of Bralirwa (the country’s leading brewer, a subsidiary of the Dutch company Heineken, editor’s note).
What is the state of play of RSE?
It is a stock exchange that is just ten years old and, on the whole, benefits from the current positive momentum in Rwanda, while of course facing the challenges that are specific to new institutions. In addition to the bond segment, which is dominated by Rwandan treasury issues, our listing now includes ten companies with a total market capitalization of $4 billion, the latest company to go public being MTN Rwanda, which took the plunge last May. In terms of trading volumes, 16 billion Rwandan francs ($16 million) in equities and 39 billion Rwandan francs ($39 million) in bonds were traded in 2020, a sharp increase (88% for the bond market and 242% for the equity market) compared to the previous year. We are also working to fully automate securities trading, a process that has already begun with the Central Securities Depository (CSD). Finally, with regional integration underway within the East African Community, the next key step will be the establishment of a common East African capital market infrastructure. This will hopefully link the region’s four existing stock markets (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania [Burundi is also considering the establishment of its own exchange]) in the second half of 2021.
You spoke about the challenges facing a young institution such as the RSE. What are they?
They are numerous. In the short term, and despite real progress in this area, market activity is still low and the limited number of listed securities (10) is currently holding back investment opportunities. Moreover, the general public remains poorly educated in stock market matters. The same is true for companies, which are most often trapped in traditional financing schemes (self-financing and bank loans). This is not to mention the fact that corporate governance is still imperfect, with companies still reluctant to open up their capital, to communicate and to share their profits. It is this overall situation that explains why we need to further increase our efforts in terms of communication and education, like our recent initiative for companies, called the Investment Clinic (IC). The objective of this program will be to identify the gaps in SMEs’ ability to optimally welcome potential investors, and to put these companies in touch with other relevant technical assistance ecosystems (consulting firms, audit firms, etc.) in order to best support them. These challenges are first and foremost opportunities for future growth. More than ever, it is a question of making Kigali a financial center with regional, if not international, influence.
Rwanda has recently created a government agency in charge of this issue, the Rwanda Finance Limited. How would you define the role of this new organization?
Rwanda Finance Limited is the financial equivalent of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) – the government agency responsible for attracting foreign investment to the country. Its mandate is clear: to develop and promote the Kigali financial center, the so-called Kigali International Financial Centre (KIFC). It is this set of financial actors based in Rwanda, gathered under the generic term of KIFC and structured and organized under the leadership of Rwanda Finance, which aims to become a first-class financial center, capable of both attracting foreign investments and generating highly skilled jobs in finance for the country. Rwanda’s stability, growth, and sound planning are widely acclaimed in Africa and internationally.
A final word. When you leave your position as CEO of the Kigali Stock Exchange, for which legacy would you like to be remembered ?
That of having laid the foundation of a perennial work that will continue in the direction that all our teams and partners have driven, because it goes without saying that if there is a legacy, it can only be collective. The balance sheet attached to an institution such as the Rwanda Stock Exchange cannot be associated with a single person. I am only the public figure of the stock exchange, which represents the common efforts of all stakeholders, who made the Rwandan financial center what it is today. From this point of view, there is no doubt that my successors will be able to capitalize on the achievements already made to go even further.