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Pack up and get out: Rwanda convention center contractors tossed out

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Not too long ago it was reported that the Rwandan government, utterly frustrated over the now three-year delay in finishing the new national convention center and the adjoining hotel, both to be managed by Radisson Blu when completed, had launched a full-scale forensic audit into the work carried out by the contractors so far.

It now appears that the results were so negative that the company was told to pack up and get out, something reported in by a regular source from Kigali.

It could not be confirmed if a planned visit to Beijing by Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo and others is connected to this development but if so it would suggest that Kigali is keen to limit any diplomatic fallout over the decision to bring in a Turkish construction group to finish the job.

The initial contracts for this center which will also include a technology park, aimed to boost yet further Rwanda’s drive towards digitalizing the country – many say that the country is in pole position in comparison with her East African neighbors vis a vis IT developments – was signed several years ago already. If recollections serves right it was in 2009 that the Chinese company was contracted and the opening of the complex expected by late 2012, in time for a major continental conference of the African Development Bank.

Funding clearly is not a problem as Rwanda’s first ever Euro-Bond raised enough money to dedicate towards the completion of the convention center with enough to spare for other major infrastructure projects. Allegations have been flying around however for the past two years though over the slow progress made by the contractors, then compounded by further stories over the use of inferior steel and other components, which in the long run could have devastating consequences about building safety and lifespan.

Equally overdue is a private project, the Marriott Hotel, which should also have been ready at least two years ago and where opening was postponed time and again with the company tightlipped over both causes and the anticipated opening of the hotel.

Rwanda has a history of dealing decisively with investors and contractors when they fail to deliver the promised goods, as was seen with the Libyan investment by Lap Green in the national telecom operator, which was eventually stripped of its operating license after failing several times to comply with directives given by the national regulators or provide remedy when cited for shortcomings in services. A similar case is pending over the Libyan co-owned Laico Umubano Hotel, formerly known as the Novotel Kigali, where as a result of non-performance vis-a-vis the privatization contract the hotel was put on the block for sale after Libya failed to upgrade and renovate it to the expected standards.

Rwanda is keen to push strongly into the MICE market and therefore needs added meeting capacity over and above the present facilities at the Kigali Serena Hotel and Convention Centre, to meet the country’s ambitious targets in terms of MICE visitors and their projected revenues they bring with them. Chinese company have been sweeping the board for many construction contracts, from roads to bridges to railways as well as civil works. This is often tied to the financing of a project when China ties funding to the use of Chinese companies but in part also over the often low quotations given, outbidding traditional contractors from other parts of the world and notably of those resident in the region. This has often caused tension with local contractors who employ local personnel while the Chinese companies regularly import their entire workforce down to office cleaners and tea ladies, both proverbially and factually speaking.

Source: Prof. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa Correspondent

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