Alibaba founder Jack Ma signed three agreements with the Rwandan government to create an online platform for exporters to China, as well as facilitate tourism and e-commerce.
Under the three agreements, Alibaba will work with the Rwanda Development Board to support SMEs.
On Wednesday, Mr Ma and President Paul Kagame launched the Electronic World Trade Platform, making Rwanda the first country in Africa to do so.
Known as eWTP, the platform is designed to drive public-private dialogue on e-commerce. It was jointly created by the World Trade Organisation, the World Economic Forum and the Electronic World Trade Platform.
“The Electronic World Trade Platform opens up new frontiers in e-commerce and tourism for Rwanda, and will also boost the capacity and competitiveness of our entrepreneurs and businesspeople,” President Kagame said.
“Rwandan producers will be able to sell directly to a much larger set of customers than before, while bypassing costly intermediaries. This improves productivity and profitability. There really are no downsides to doing business on a global scale,” he added.
Mr Jack Ma said that Rwandan SME exporters to China will benefit from the innovative digital services provided by the platform and overcome many of the cross-border bottlenecks they experience.
“Entrepreneurs in Rwanda, and elsewhere in Africa, are ready to seize the opportunities offered by the digital economy. It is up to all of us to help them succeed,” he said.
“We are making new rules for the future, we are making improvements for the world trade,” he added.
With a net worth of over $32 billion — more than four times the GPD of Rwanda — Mr Ma owns Alibaba Group, one of the global leaders in e-commerce, retail, internet, AI and technology.
Under the agreements, Alibaba Group and the government will help SMEs to sell their products, particularly coffee and handcrafts to Chinese consumers through Alibaba’s online marketplaces.
Several brands of Rwandan single origin coffee are already available for sale on Alibaba’s Tmall Global platform.
The group’s online travel platform will also be used to promote Rwanda’s tourism.
Some 50 Rwandan university lecturers will also participate in Alibaba’s Global E-commerce Talent Programme to deepen their understanding of the industry.
Doing business online is still a budding concept in Rwanda. Although over 100,000 businesses are registered in the country, only a handful enjoy online presence, according to RICTA, an organisation that is campaigning for the adoption of a Rwandan Internet domain.
“Recent statistics show that e-commerce is going to drive the next phase of the Internet boom and also improve Rwanda’s digital landscape — doing business electronically without the seller and the buyer being in physical contact,” said Ghislain Nkeramugaba, CEO of RICTA.