The scent of freshly painted walls mixed with the residue construction aroma is what welcomes visitors into the premises holding the headquarters of one of the oldest post-genocide Rwandan companies.
A new building, the location of the headquarters, is a better picture that tells what AKAGERA BUSINESS GROUP (ABG) represents in the Rwandan economy; the very few companies that believed the promise that the shattered nation presented, agreed to work and make a country proud hand in hand together with the people of Rwanda.
Besides having taken the front line investing in a country that at the time was considered a failed state and a no go destination for the word’s investments, ABG has expressed leadership in Rwanda on various grounds. Prior to its current location in Karuruma, an outskirt suburb in Gasabo district of the city of Kigali, ABG was among the companies that were requested by the city council to evacuate from old buildings which were to be demolished and replaced with new structures.
As a leader that the group has been ever since 1998 when it started only as the sole distributor for Toyota, ABG embarked on construction of its current headquarter building which has strongly changed the face of the area it is situated.Thus, it is no coincidence that while the rest of the world viewed Rwanda as a failed state, the Gorajia brothers who founded AKAGERA MOTORS saw a promise that the country offered; one of rejuvenation and reconstruction and they wanted to contribute and partake in it. “I joined two years after the founding of AKAGERA MOTORS, but matter-of-fact, nothing had taken shape yet in the country.
Business was very slow and facilities were limited, but according to the philosophy that I found with the company, it was clearly spelled out that making profits was not the principle reason for the company’s presence in Rwanda, but rather substantial contribution to the country’s reconstruction was,” said Kumar Karanam, the Director of Finance and Operations.
And indeed as it had been intended, ABG has had tremendous impact on the economic development of Rwanda directly and indirectly.
In a more direct manner, ABG currently ranks among the 10 biggest taxpayers in Rwanda, a contribution that cannot by any means be overemphasized. Over the last decade, it has been the contribution in taxes by companies such as ABG that has enabled Rwanda to attain her current level of development; constructing the necessary infrastructure and delivering on the needs of the public, hence, positioning Rwanda not only as a beckon of hope on the African continent, but also a story of rebirth told proudly today. ABG now counts 230 employees, 95 percent of who are Rwandans. The impact that this has on the welfare of multiple families in the country and subsequently the entire economy is undoubtedly enormous. Besides the permanent staff however, the company on numerous occasions employs casual workers , hence, trickling money deep into many Rwandan homes.
Rwanda’s business environment strongly improved year on year, and so did ABG
Beginning with the year 2005, the promise of reconstruction that the new Rwandan government made in the wake of the genocide is what attracted investments in ABG and started to take shape. Infrastructure development became a priority for the government and being a trading company that it is, ABG was strongly benefited therefore, it started to register steady growth forward going. For instance, a quick look back in the early 2000’s, the Director General of ABG, Kamanzi Symphorien recollected that the group, which currently has nine companies on its portfolio, was just a single car trading company.
In real time numbers, the comparison in terms of the group’s turnover is inconceivable. From an annual turnover of about 8 billion Rwf in 2005, ABG in less than 10 years has more than tripled that amount. “Although, we have been able to grow as a company in the last decade, this has not been in isolation with the rest of Rwanda. We are kind of a direct mirror image of what happens in the country, thus, our growth is a sign that Rwanda is on a steady path to achieving her dreams,” Mr. Kamanzi said.
Making efforts to account for which ones in the various reforms that the government of Rwanda implemented in the recent years supported ABG’s growth, Kumar emphasized that the establishment of blue channels, which allowed private companies to own their warehouses, was a great move.
“Unlike in the past, today we offload from our own warehouse and therefore, can easily kick off with distributing the commodities to our customers. This move on the side of the government not only enabled us to scrap the expenses we paid in the past on warehouse fees, but also has facilitated us to be more efficient in serving customers since little time is wasted,” Kumar said. Having begun operations in the automotive industry, ABG is proud of a positive impact that the group has had on transport in the country, but mostparticularly public transport.
On a general note, AKAGERA MOTORS is the largest car importer in Rwanda and has over the years responded to the automotive needs of the government, general public and NGOs operating in the country. In executing its services, ABG in addition to being the sole distributor of Toyota acquired Mahindra, Ashok Leyland and Hino. Through the distributorship, the 17-YEAR-old company in Rwanda has engaged in the importation of vehicles that are localized and tropicalized to the demands of the local terrain.
Explaining how the tropicalized vehicles have served the interests of Rwanda over the years, Mr. Kamanzi said, it means that the vehicles imported by AKAGERA MOTORS are made straight from Japan destined for the Rwandan terrain and ready to work within the altitude and consume the available fuel without adverse challenges.
Annually, the company collects fuel samples from all pumping stations in the country, which are sent to the vehicle manufacturers who also ensure that the engine placed in each vehicle can consume the particular fuel and remain in good state”, hence, people who chose to buy vehicles from other sources run on risk of having engine problems and the ones they buy are not made strictly for the local terrain which is kind of unique and needs attention,” Kamanzi explained. Specifically for the public transport sector, ABG’s role has been one of a pioneer indeed. At the onset of reforms in the sector, the government preferred big buses (Toyota Coasters) to mini buses, which were relatively expensive for the local transport operators to purchase.
Realizing the challenge, ABG through AKAGERA MOTORS initiated a leasing product through which the company enabled public transport operators to attain their required fleets and pay back in installments.
According to Mr. Kamanzi, through the arrangement, ABG facilitated the birth of various public transport companies including among others Virunga, Volcanoes and Impala all of which are the leading transport operators on the roads that link Kigali city to other provinces.
However, aside from the impacts generated through the company’s operations like a responsible corporate citizen, ABG undertakes social transformation projects like educating vulnerable and orphaned children among others. For instance, ABG has over the years constructed over 50 bus shelters across Rwanda in which passengers find protection from bad weather while they wait for buses. Setting sight into the future, AKAGERA BUSINESS GROUP sees greater possibilities for herself and for Rwanda. “There is a lot that has not been utilized and which can potentially yield much more growth. All we need is to keep pursuing our individual and national goals with diligence,” Kumar said.
The diamonds adorning ABGs crown
From just AKAGERA MOTORS in the late 90s when the company was initiated, the Group now enumerates nine companies including:
AKAGERA PAINTS & HARDWARE was initiated in 2006 and offers a one-stop solution for materials ranging from paints, tiles, construction material & chemicals, and sanitary products.
AKAGERA PAINTS & HARDWARE is the exclusive distributor for Basco & Dura Coat Paints in Rwanda and carries Jaquar sanitary products.
AKAGERA ELECTRONICS was established in 2010 and exclusively represents Samsung brand in Rwanda. The division offers product range of Consumer Electronics (CE) and Hand Held Phones (HHP) for Rwanda and Burundi. The products span from televisions, phones, home appliances, air conditioning systems, information technology systems and business to business solutions. Samsung Electronics currently stands as one of the world’s largest vendors in the mobile phone and smartphone markets, fuelled by the popularity of its Samsung Galaxy line of devices. Samsung is also one of the largest vendors in the tablet computer market, thanks to its Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab collection, and is regarded as pioneering the hand-held tablet market through the Samsung Galaxy Note family of devices.
Also, the Samsung brand has been the world’s largest maker of LCD panels since 2002, the world’s largest television manufacturer since 2006, and the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones since 2011. In 2008 ABG established AKAGERA AUTO ZONE and acquired sole distributorship for Chloride Exide, Bosch batteries, Yana Tires (Sameer Africa), Bridgestone, BF Goodrich (USA), Yokohama (Japan), Maxtrek, Wanli Tires, SunLube and Exxon Mobil Lubricants.
AKAGERA AUTO ZONE supplies to a network of government organizations, non-government organizations, transport companies, institutions, fleet accounts and end retail consumers.
The division serves as a one-stop shop for all vehicle needs.
AKAGERA CAR RENTALS since 2010, thedivision serves customers by offering car rentals and fleet management to meet the markets growing needs. Fleet management offers GPS tracking of vehicles, maintenance of vehicles within the fleet and much more.
AKAGERA CAR RENTALS pioneered the operational lease product for medium size vehicles for corporates in Rwanda. ABG customer base for operational leases include corporates like Bralirwa, TIGO, Banque Populaire, Prime Bank, Skol and KK Security to name a few.Akagera Trading, which was established in 2008, trades in a product range of 3,000 plus SKU’s from various suppliers around the world. Akagera Trading supplies over 300 super & mini markets in Rwanda bringing the right product and quantity at the right time while building relationships with 40 different manufactures and importing its products from Kenya, United Kingdom, Belgium, USA, India, and Italy.
AKAGERA TRADING provides a wholesale distribution network for FMCG for major brands wanting to distribute in Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
AKAGERA MEDIA was also was founded in 2008 to offer advertising infrastructure in the form of billboards, wall frames, wall branding, and bus shelters all across Rwanda in major cities and the interior countryside as well as providing giveaway materials and corporate gifts. Akagera Media has strategically placed media infrastructure, which gives the best impression that any advertiser would seek after in the Rwandan market.
AKAGERA CONSTRUCTION, which was established in 2012, is the newest division of ABG. Akagera Construction has the ability to design and build commercial, industrial, and residential infrastructure in Rwanda and Burundi with strategic partners from Italy. Currently, the newly founded division is undertaking the construction of a mega commercial complex in central Kigali, AMAREMBO City Plaza, which is believed that it will become Rwanda’s icon in construction.
AKAGERA MOTORS is the oldest of all ABG’s establishments having begun operations in 1998. The company is the exclusive distributor for Toyota (Japan), HINO (Japan), Mahindra & Mahindra (India) and Ashok Leyland (India). AKAGERA MOTORS is responsible for revolutionizing the public transport sector of Rwanda by being the first to offer vehicle financial leasing for medium and large size buses.
AKAGERA OFFICE MATION on the other hand represents ABGs spirit of continued growth, which always seeks for ways to increase contribution to the public and is still under construction and expected to hit the market soon. The division will bring to Rwanda some of the world’s most sought after business software solutions for management, finance and accounting among other technologies.