Rwanda has a history of strong economic growth, high rankings in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, and a reputation for low corruption. Rwandan GDP grew 9.5 percent in 2019 before declining 3.4 percent in 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the first recession since 1994. In late 2020 and early 2021, the Government of Rwanda (GOR) took significant policy reforms intended to return the economy to growth, improve Rwanda’s competitiveness in selected strategic growth sectors, increase foreign direct investment (FDI), and attract foreign companies to operate in the newly-created Kigali International Financial Centre. In February 2021, the GOR amended the Law on Investment Promotion and Facilitation (Investment Code), the Law on Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing, and the Company Act. The GOR passed a new law governing partnerships and a law governing mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. The Rwanda Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) was also created to curb money laundering and terrorism finance. The country presents a number of foreign direct investment (FDI) opportunities in sectors including: manufacturing; infrastructure; energy distribution and transmission; off-grid energy; agriculture and agro-processing; affordable housing; tourism; services; and information and communications technology (ICT). The new Investment Code includes equal treatment for both foreigners and nationals in certain operations, free transfer of funds, and compensation against expropriation; the 2008 U.S.-Rwanda Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) reinforces this treatment.
According to the National Institute of Statistics for Rwanda (NISR), Rwanda attracted $462 million in FDI inflows in 2018, representing five percent of GDP. Rwanda had a total of $3.2 billion of FDI stock in 2018, the latest year data is available. In 2020, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) reported registering $1.3 billion in new investment commitments (a 48 percent decline from 2019, and an 89 percent decline from 2018, due to COVID-19), mainly in manufacturing, construction, and real estate. FDI accounted for 51 percent of registered projects. With $324.7 million committed in seven projects, the United States topped origination countries with 13.2 percent of the total investment commitments to Rwanda.
Due to the economic impacts of COVID-19, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the Rwandan economic outlook from “Stable” to “Negative,” citing higher public debt and deteriorating exports, tourism revenues, and diaspora remittances. Moody’s changed Rwanda’s outlook from stable to negative due to potential lowering of returns on past GOR’s investments in transportation and tourism that would “raise credit risks associated with Rwanda’s relatively high debt burden, which had been rising before the coronavirus shock and is being exacerbated by it.”
Government debt has rapidly increased over the past few years to more than 70 percent of GDP in 2021, but most of these loans are on highly concessionary terms. The result is that the GOR holds cheaper debt than the average low-income country while maintaining a higher debt-carrying capacity. Development institutions such as the World Bank, African Development Bank, International Monetary Fund, and others have offered to lessen or suspend debt repayment terms for less developed countries such as Rwanda because of COVID-19. However, as of March 2021, Rwandan authorities had not requested debt service suspension from official bilateral creditors as envisaged under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) supported by the G-20 and the Paris Club. As of March 2021, Rwanda had neither incurred external payment arrears nor accumulated domestic arrears.
Many companies report that although it is easy to start a business in Rwanda, it can be difficult to operate a profitable or sustainable business due to a variety of hurdles and constraints. These include the country’s landlocked geography and resulting high freight transport costs, a small domestic market, limited access to affordable financing, and payment delays with government contracts. Government interventions designed to support overall economic growth can significantly impact investors, with some expressing frustration that they were not consulted prior to the abrupt implementation of government policies and regulations that affected their businesses.
While electricity and water supply have improved, businesses may continue to experience intermittent outages (especially during peak times) due to distribution challenges. The GOR is planning to meet more than 100 percent of the country’s power generation needs through various power projects in development. Some investors report difficulties in obtaining foreign exchange from time to time, which could be attributed to Rwanda running a persistent trade deficit.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||49 of 180||https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2020/index/rwa|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||38 of 190||https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/
|Global Innovation Index||2020||91 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-economy|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2020||N/A||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet//|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||$830||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
Note: According to NISR, stock of U.S. FDI in the country stood at $182.67 million in 2018 (most recent data available)
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Over the past decade, the GOR has undertaken a series of policy reforms intended to improve the investment climate, wean Rwanda’s economy off foreign assistance, and increase FDI levels. Rwanda enjoyed strong economic growth until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, averaging over seven percent annual GPD growth over the prior decade. Rwanda also enjoys high rankings in the World Bank’s Doing Business report (38 out of 190 economies in 2020 worldwide, and second best in Africa) and a reputation for low corruption. In 2020, Rwanda experienced a 3.4 percent GDP contraction, marking its first recession since the 1994 genocide.
The RDB ( ) was established in 2006 to fast-track investment projects by integrating all government agencies responsible for the entire investor experience under one roof. This includes key agencies responsible for business registration, investment promotion, environmental compliance clearances, export promotion, and other necessary approvals. New investors can register online at the RDB’s website (https://rdb.rw/e-services) and receive a certificate in as few as six hours, and the agency’s “one-stop shop” helps investors secure required approvals, certificates, and work permits. RDB states its investment priorities are: 1) export; 2) manufacturing including -textiles and apparel, electronics, information communication and technology equipment, large scale agricultural operations excluding coffee and tea, pharmaceuticals, processing in wood, glass and ceramics, processing and value addition in mining, agricultural equipment and other related industries that fall in these categories; 3) energy generation, transmission and distribution; 4) information and communication technologies, business process outsourcing and financial services; 5) mining activities relating to mineral exploration; 6) transport, logistics and electric mobility; 7) construction or operations of specialized innovation parks or specialized industrial parks; 8) affordable housing; 9) tourism, which includes hotels, adventure tourism and agro-tourism; 10) horticulture and cultivation of other high-value plants; 11) creative arts in the subsector of the film industry; 12) skills development in areas where the country has limited skills and capacity.
In February 2021, Rwanda made significant changes to the Investment Code to address previous investor complaints and included new incentives to attract investments in strategic growth sectors. The GOR created the Rwanda Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), passed a law on Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing, and passed a law on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters to fully criminalize money laundering and terrorism financing and align the country with OECD rules. The GOR amended the Company Act and passed a law on partnerships to allow professional service providers to register as partners rather than limited liability companies.
In 2020, The World Bank Ease of Doing Business report indicated that Rwanda made doing business easier by exempting newly formed small and medium businesses from paying for a trading license during their first two years of operation. In addition, the GOR reduced the time needed to obtain water and sewage connections to facilitate construction permits. It also began requiring construction professionals to obtain liability insurance. The country also upgraded its power grid infrastructure and improved its regulations on weekly rest, working hours, severance pay, and reemployment priority rules.
Several investors have said a top concern affecting their operations in Rwanda is that tax incentives included in deals negotiated or signed by the RDB are not fully honored by the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA). Investors further cite the inconsistent application of tax incentives and import duties as a significant challenge to doing business in Rwanda. For example, a few investors have said that customs officials have attempted to charge them duties based on their perception of the value of an import regardless of the actual purchase price.
Under Rwandan law, foreign firms should receive equal treatment regarding taxes and equal access to licenses, approvals, and procurement. Foreign firms should receive value added tax (VAT) rebates within 15 days of receipt by the RRA, but firms complain that the process for reimbursement can take months and occasionally years. Refunds can be further held up pending the results of RRA audits. A few investors cited punitive retroactive fines following audits that were concluded after many years. RRA aggressively enforces tax requirements and imposes penalties for errors – deliberate or not – in tax payments. Investors cited lack of coordination among ministries, agencies, and local government (districts) leading to inconsistencies in implementation of promised incentives. Others pointed to a lack of clarity on who the regulator is on certain matters. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Technical Assistance (OTA) provided tax consultants to RRA to review auditing practices in Rwanda. The OTA program concluded in 2020 and produced a standardized tax audit handbook for RRA’s auditors to use. RRA has also instituted improvements to its systems that will automate certain processes and make many more processes digitized. Per RRA, it is now able to handle VAT claims in real time due to these changes.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Rwanda has neither statutory limits on foreign ownership or control nor any official economic or industrial strategy that discriminates against foreign investors. Local and foreign investors have the right to own and establish business enterprises in all forms of remunerative activity.
Foreign nationals may hold shares in locally incorporated companies. The GOR has continued to privatize state holdings with the government, ruling party, and military continuing to play a dominant role in Rwanda’s private sector. Foreign investors can acquire real estate but with a general limit on land ownership according to the 2013 land law. While local investors can acquire land through leasehold agreements that extend to a maximum of 99 years, foreign investors can be restricted to leases of 49 to 99 years with the possibility of renewal. Freehold is granted only to Rwandan citizens for properties of at least five hectares but may also be granted to foreigners for properties in designated Special Economic Zones, on a reciprocal basis, or for land co-owned with Rwandan citizens (if Rwandan citizens own at least 51 percent). However, according to an October 2020 draft law, freehold tenure would continue for Rwandan citizens on lands of at least two hectares and freehold tenure for foreigners could be approved by a Presidential Order for exceptional circumstances of strategic national interests. Long-term leases (emphyteutic leases) in residential and commercial areas for both citizens and foreigners acquiring land through private means would be increased to 99 years compared to the current 20 and 30 years, respectively. As of April 2021, this draft law had not yet been finalized. The Investment Code includes equal treatment for foreigners and nationals regarding certain operations, free transfer of funds, and compensation against expropriation. In April 2018, Rwanda introduced new laws to curb capital flight. Management, loyalty, and technical fees a local subsidiary can remit to its related non-residential companies (parent company) are capped at two percent of turnover. Companies resolving to go beyond the cap are subject to a 30 percent corporate tax on turnover in addition to a 15 percent withholding tax and an 18 percent reserve charge.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
In February 2019, The World Trade Organization (WTO) published a Trade Policy Review for the East African Community (EAC) covering Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The report is available at:
RDB offers one of the fastest business registration processes in Africa. New investors can register online at RDB’s website ( ) or register in person at RDB offices in Kigali. Once RDB generates a certificate of registration, company tax identification and employer social security contribution numbers are automatically created. The RDB “One Stop Center” assists firms in acquiring visas and work permits, connections to electricity and water, and support in conducting required environmental impact assessments.
RDB is prioritizing additional reforms to improve the investment climate. In October 2020, RDB launched electronic auctioning to reduce fraud by increasing transparency. The new system reduces the time needed to enforce judgments, reducing court fees and allowing payments electronically. RDB hopes to amend the land policy to merge issuance of freehold titles and occupancy permits; introduce online notarization of property transfers; implement small claims procedure to allow self-representation in court and reduce attorney costs; and establish a commercial division at the Court of Appeal to fast-track commercial dispute resolution.
Rwanda promotes gender equality and has pioneered several projects to promote women entrepreneurs, including the creation of the Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs within the Rwanda Private Sector Federation (PSF). Both men and women have equal access to investment facilitation and protections.
The Investment Code provides incentives for internationalization. A small and medium registered investor or emerging investor with an investment project involved in export is entitled to a 150 percent tax deduction of all qualifying expenditures relating to internationalization including: 1) overseas marketing and public relations activities including launch of in-store promotions, road shows, overseas business or trade conferences; 2) participation in overseas trade fairs not supported by another existing initiative; 3) overseas business development costs; 4) market entry and research costs such as costs of establishing a legal entity in a foreign market, salary costs of employees stationed in foreign market, and cost of analysis of market opportunities, supply chain and entry requirements. The Commissioner General of RRA approves qualifying expenditures in consultation with the CEO of RDB. Eligible registered investors receive pre-approval of qualifying expenditures through a joint review process administered by the RRA, RDB and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM). An eligible registered investor may claim the tax deduction on a maximum of USD 100,000 of qualifying expenditures in each year. There are no restrictions in place limiting domestic firms seeking to invest abroad.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Rwanda is a member of the WTO, the East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of the Great Lakes, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Rwanda ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement in March 2018, and the agreement entered into force in 2019, but its implications for the region remain unclear.
The United States and Rwanda signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2006 and a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) in 2008. Rwanda has active BITs with Germany (1969), the Belgium-Luxemburg Economic Union (1985), and the Republic of Korea (2013). Rwanda signed BITs with Mauritius (2001), South Africa (2000), Turkey (2016), Morocco (2016), the United Arab Emirates (2016), and Qatar (2018), but these treaties have yet to enter into force. Rwanda signed the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EAC and the European Union; this agreement has not yet entered into force.
Rwanda does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States. Rwanda has double taxation agreements with Barbados, Mauritius, the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, the Bailiwick of Jersey, Singapore, South Africa, Morocco, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.
After Rwanda implemented higher tariffs on imports of secondhand clothing and footwear in 2016, the U.S. government partially suspended African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) benefits for apparel products from Rwanda, effective May 2018. Many other Rwandan exports to the United States are still eligible for trade preferences under the Generalized System of Preferences and AGOA. In 2020, Rwanda enjoyed a trade surplus of $24 million with the United States due in large part to AGOA-qualified exports of coffee, tea, and tree nuts.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The law protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights. Investors involved in commercial agriculture have leasehold titles and can secure property titles, if necessary. The Investment Code states that investors shall have the right to own private property, whether individually or collectively. According to the 2013 land law, foreign investors can acquire real estate, though there is a general limit on land ownership. Freehold is granted only to Rwandan citizens for at least five hectares (12.5 acres) and to foreigners for 1) properties located in designated Special Economic Zones, 2) on reciprocal basis or 3) on land co-owned with Rwandan citizens (if Rwandan citizens own at least 51 percent). However, according to the October 2020 draft law, freehold tenure will continue for Rwandan citizens on lands of at least two hectares (five acres) and, under a Presidential Order, freehold tenure for foreigners will be approved for exceptional circumstances (strategic national interest investments). The GOR will increase long-term leases (emphyteutic lease) in residential and commercial areas for both citizens and foreigners acquiring land through private means to 99 years compared to the current 20 and 30 years, respectively. While local investors can acquire land through leasehold agreements that extend to 99 years, the GOR has limited the lease period for foreigners to 49 years, in some cases. Such leases are theoretically renewable, but the law is new enough that foreigners generally have not yet attempted to renew a lease. Mortgages are a nascent but growing financial product in Rwanda, increasing from 770 properties in 2008 to 13,394 in 2017, according to the RDB. In 2020, RDB reported registering 16,624 mortgages in 2019.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Investment Code guarantees protection of investors’ intellectual property (IP) rights, and legitimate rights related to technology transfer. The GOR approved IP legislation covering patents, trademarks, and copyrights in 2009. A registration service agency, which is part of the RDB, was established in 2008 and has improved IP right protection by making the registering of all commercial entities and facilitating businesses identification and branding possible.
The RDB and the Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) are the main regulatory bodies for Rwanda’s intellectual property rights law. The RDB registers intellectual property rights, providing a certificate and ownership title. Every registered IP title is published in the Official Gazette. The fees payable for substance examination and registration of IP apply equally for domestic and foreign applicants. From 2016, any power of attorney granted by a non-resident to a Rwandan-based industrial property agent must be notarized (previously, a signature would have been sufficient).
Registration of patents and trademarks is on a first time, first right basis so companies should consider applying for trademark and patent protection in a timely manner. It is the responsibility of the copyright holders to register, protect, and enforce their rights where relevant, including by retaining their own counsel and advisors. Through the RSB and the RRA, Rwanda has worked to increase protection of IP rights, but many goods that violate patents, especially pharmaceutical products, make it to market nonetheless. As many products available in Rwanda are re-exports from other EAC countries, it may be difficult to prevent counterfeit goods without regional cooperation. Also, investors reported difficulties in registering patents and having rules against infringement of their property rights enforced in a timely manner. The GOR is proposing a new IP law that will organize a patent and trade office for Rwanda.
As a COMESA member, Rwanda is automatically a member of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization. Rwanda is also a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and is working toward harmonizing its legislation with WTO trade-related aspects of IP. Rwanda has yet to ratify WIPO internet treaties, though the government has taken steps to implement and enforce the WTO TRIPS agreements. Rwanda is not listed in USTR’s 2019 Special 301 report or the 2019 Notorious Markets List. In July 2020, Rwanda acceded to the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at .
Rwanda conducts anti-counterfeit goods campaigns on a regular basis, but statistics on IP enforcement are not publicly available. A few companies have expressed concern over inappropriate use of their IP. While the government has offered rhetorical support, enforcement has been mixed. In some cases, infringement has stopped, but in other cases, companies have been frustrated with the slow pace of receiving judgment or in receiving compensation after successful legal cases.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
|Host Country Statistical Source*||USG or International Statistical Source
||USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other|
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)||2020||$ 9.96 billion||2019||$10.35 billion||http://www.statistics.gov.rw/
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical source*||USG or International Statistical Source
||USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other|
|U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions)||2018||$182.7 million||2018||n.a.|| BEA data available
|Host Country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||2020||n.a.||2020||n.a.||BEA data available at
|Total Inbound Stock of FDI as % host GDP||2018||n.a||2020||n.a.|
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/Top Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||Amount||100%||Total Outward||Amount||100%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- $500,000.|
Inward Direct Investment according to IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (http://data.imf.org/CDIS). Data on Rwandan outward FDI is not available.
Data on Rwanda equity security holdings by nationality is not available. According to a 2019 BNR report, portfolio investment remains the lowest component of foreign investment in Rwanda mainly due to the low level of financial market development. Portfolio investment stock amounted to $109.3 million in 2018, a 5 percent increase from 2017 levels. In 2018, Rwanda recorded foreign portfolio inflows of $5.9 million compared to $0.3 million in 2017.
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||Amount||100%||All Countries||Amount||100%||All Countries||Amount||100%|