The much awaited flight will help save time, get more fresh produce to the French market and, most probably, create more jobs, exporters told Doing Business.
Currently, the national carrier operates in more than 28 countries in Africa, Europe, North America and Asia.
Yvonne Makolo, Chief Executive Officer of RwandAir, told Doing Business that their first commercial flight from Kigali to Paris is likely to start by the end of this year.
According to Theoneste Ntagengerwa, Spokesperson of the Private Sector Federation (PSF), once it happens, it will be a significant advantage to the local business community, especially those in the horticulture industry, which needs such means to deliver their perishable produce to France in a timely manner.
“Most of our exports are from the horticulture sector and in most cases perishable goods. Now, this [new route] will ease things. The people exporting to France should explore it,” Ntagengerwa said.
“There are a lot of business opportunities to tap into for both business people in Rwanda and France.”
The new destination will also help business people from both countries to enhance their networking, he noted.
Member states of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, or La Francophonie, countries and regions where French is the first or customary language, account for 20 per cent of global trade. During the La Francophonie Economic and Trade Mission in Kigali, on July 12, Louise Mushikiwabo, Secretary-General of La Francophonie, urged Rwandan businesses to exploit opportunities within the French-speaking community.
That week, more than 100 companies from 25 French-speaking countries were in Kigali to meet about 250 Rwandan counterparts for prospective business partnerships.
Besides, business and trade ties between Rwanda and France are also on a steady mend after, in 2021, the two countries turned a page following nearly three decades of animosity. In May 2021, on the first day of French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Kigali, the two countries signed two bilateral agreements, including a framework for bilateral cooperation, and another on sports and talent development.
France’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness, Franck Riester, and 30 French companies, visited Rwanda, in October 2021. The French companies expressed interest in investing in Rwanda in different sectors including health, transport, construction, environment, as well as bringing new technology in different fields of agro-industry and agri-food industry.
It means a lot to the horticulture sector
Robert Rukundo, chairperson of the Horticulture Exporters Association of Rwanda (HEAR), said: “We have been waiting for this [direct flight to Paris]. It means a lot to the horticulture sector and business, in general.”
“We have been having challenges connecting to France. The only option was Ethiopian Airlines, whose ticket charges have been skyrocketing. And then it has been connecting flights and we have been losing some of our products in terms of quality, it [Ethiopian Airlines] being the only available option.”
As noted, when transporting Rwandan cargo to France, the flag carrier of Ethiopia has to first land in Addis and the trip takes more than 17 hours.
Sakina Usengimana, founder of Afri-foods Ltd, exporters of premium fresh vegetables and fruits from Rwanda, said some of the challenges they face include connecting through the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, or Brussels, in Belgium.
“We are also expecting a competitive rate from RwandaAir as it will be a different flight and it will cut unnecessary charges and cost from our side and client side,” She said.
“We usually export fruits, especially avocados and other vegetables, and the flight usually takes 24 hours since it is transiting and not a direct flight. But with RwandAir flying straight to Paris, we expect it to take 12 hours or less.”
Rukundo said the prices of airline charges earlier increased from Rwf1.8 million to Rwf2.2 million, the latest being Rwf2.5 million because of the rise in fuel costs and taxes. As noted, the cost is $2.67 per kilo in terms of gross weight.
“Our markets are going to open up because we are getting a direct flight to France; saving time and getting to the market with good quality products. This means flying more products and increasing production which means an increase in employment opportunities,” Rukundo said.
Yves Ngenzi, the Coordinator of the Kigali-based East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP), thanked policy makers “who take these decisive and proactive actions to steer regional airlines to greater heights.”
Ngenzi said: “Air connectivity and affordability has been a major challenge throughout the region.
“This new route will help address issues of limited connectivity and, hopefully, reduce fares which are currently high, between Africa and Europe.”