By SEYI OLOJO
Real GDP growth of Rwanda reached 6.1% in 2017 and was estimated at 7.2% in 2018, supported by strong growth in services (4.1%) and industry (1.5%), particularly manufacturing. The key drivers of spending in 2018 were household consumption (5.8% of GDP) and investment (2.9%). The fiscal deficit was an estimated 4.3% in 2018, down from 4.8% in 2017, thanks to increased investment (from 23.4% of GDP in 2017 to 25.3% in 2018) and reduced grants, despite strong tax collection driven mainly by improved tax compliance and the introduction of an electronic tax payment system. Public sector debt increased to 41.1% of GDP in 2018 from 35.6% in 2016, but risk of debt distress remains low. With inflation low and the exchange rate relatively stable, monetary policy continued to be accommodative in 2018.
Inflation was estimated at 0.9% in 2018, much below the 8.2% in 2017, thanks to the lower cost of food and nonalcoholic beverages. The exchange rate remained relatively stable throughout 2018. In 2018, the foreign exchange rate pressures on the Rwandan franc remained modest due to continued improvements in the external sector resulting from a 15.8% increase in exports and a 1.4% increase in imports. The currency depreciated by 1.4% against the US dollar in 2017, far below the 9.4% in 2016.
The current account deficit widened to an estimated 8.4% in 2018 from 6.8% in 2017 due partly to a deterioration in the terms of trade to –3.6% in 2018 from 7.7% in 2017. Goods exports increased sharply by 29% and imports by 14.9% between January and May 2018, compared with the same period in 2017.
Tailwinds and headwinds
The economy is projected to grow at 7.8% in 2019 and 8.0% in 2020, supported by export growth resulting from the Made in Rwanda policy, continued public investments such as the Bugesera airport, and the country’s strong record of implementing reforms to achieve its long-term development goals. Inflation is projected to edge up to about 4.0% in both 2019 and 2020. Fiscal policy will continue to aim at prudent borrowing and fiscal consolidation to keep debt sustainable. The fiscal deficit is projected to reach 4.4% of GDP in 2019 but to decline to 3.6% in 2020, reflecting prudent borrowing and increased domestic resource mobilization. Rwanda’s economy has enjoyed a good governance buildup that has allowed for great strides toward deeply entrenched and respected good governance principles and toward structural transformation facilitated by broad-based growth. The country’s bold policy reforms present an opportunity for increased investment and job-creating growth. In terms of social developments, Rwanda has translated its strong growth into reduced poverty and improved equality. The poverty rate fell from 56.7% in 2005/06 to 39.1% in 2013/14, while income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, decreased from 0.52 to 0.45.
Given the drought in 2016 and 2017, Rwanda’s high reliance on rain-fed agriculture poses a risk to its economic outlook. Diseases and pests, such as the bronze bug and the fall armyworm in maize, could also reduce agricultural production. Rwanda’s suspension from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, following its decision to ban secondhand clothes and shoes, could depress exports and thus growth prospects if the growth momentum in tourism and mining receipts is not sustained. Finally, an oil price increase could raise the country’s import bill.
Insecurity and instability in the Great Lakes Region, particularly the civil unrest in neighboring Burundi and the ongoing violence and Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, remain a source of fragility for Rwanda. Increased violence is likely to affect Rwanda’s trade because Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes Region are among the country’s major trade partners. Rwanda also needs to improve its savings rate, which is low compared with regional peers—around 13% of GDP, well short of its investment rate of 26%.
Source: African Economic Outlook (AEO) 2019