Understanding the PR landscape in Rwanda

David Kezio-Musoke

Once it was believed that PR practice in Rwanda is a profession of beautiful smiles and pretty faces. Some of the ‘would-be’ clients of such services might not necessarily understand the trade and might not see any reason why they would procure PR professional services.

With the inclusion of multi-national brands in the hospitality industry like Marriott and Radisson Blu and more government private partnerships attracting more foreign investments Kigali would certainly demand for more professional PR expertise.

Today the PR industry has been blessed with news such as the announcement of Volkswagen’s interest to set up shop in Rwanda. Such news is complimented by the increased competition among the three telecoms Tigo, MTN and Airtel Rwanda.

Scanning for a credible PR agency
Without being a prophet of doom, there are no entirely fully-fledged PR agencies and those you find offering this service are either advertising or marketing agencies and will most probably hire a consultant for the PR pitch.

Smocking out the most skilled PR practitioners can be an ambitious task. PR practitioners might have one skill and lack the others that should consolidate the expertise you looking for. It’s a belief that being simply a writer (formerly a practicing journalist) qualifies one to be a practitioner. This is an entirely wrong perception.

In Rwanda today some ‘ad agencies’ could offer you the skillful vision that your brand demands. Some might be limited in understanding and offering the significant hints for improving your communication needs.

However there are some other limitations.  Some of the few PR practitioners including those representing big brands blindly think the practice is tailored to being a brand spokesperson or simply issuing press releases. And yet cooperating with a professional PR outfit and probably a fully-fledged agency would undoubtedly save some of these companies hours of planning and execution.

PR is basically mainly about stakeholder mapping, media relations and reputational management. However the three might not necessarily benefit from what Rwanda’s media landscape has to offer.


Opportunities that Rwanda’s media offers to PR
Currently there are four types of media in the country. They include the traditional type of media, hybrid, social and privately owned.  

Some people might not know this, but Rwanda has a modest number of newspapers. Some argue that they might never be able to satisfy particular professional standards. The New Times, which is relatively the most read and most popular, was first issued in 1995. To date it is the only English publication that is also printed daily and those who publish it will shy away from telling you that it doesn’t circulate more than 5,000 copies (ABC Circulation).

It is also surprising to note that information attributed to Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Agency’s (RURA) statistics of 2016, the number of licensed newspapers in Rwanda is 54 and online news publishers are 34, of which only the dailies Imvaho (which is printed in Kinyarwanda) and The New Times are more visible.

Given that the newspaper reading culture in Rwanda is low and slowly growing, its important to note that the duo (The New Times and Imvaho Nshya) will always have a place in the nation’s media space because of their government affiliations. How significant that space is, can be left to anyone’s speculation.

In relation to the two dailies, one would also expect that advertising expenditures on print would be significantly lower than that in other media. However that is not the case. Some companies place adverts in print and might not necessarily care whether they will realize any return on investment; it’s simply a way of ‘positioning’ to be perceived as being supportive of these two. Imvaho Nshya and The New Times therefore take the lion’s share on print media’s advertising spends.

On the other hand it is worthy to note that online readership of news is on the rise, and the numbers of those visiting websites of Rwanda’s leading newspaper brands are higher than the number of those visiting the closest newspaper stand.

In Rwanda today there are 3.6 million Internet subscribers (RURA, Q2 statistics - 2016). The Internet penetration rate has grown to 33 percent. With more affordable smart phones, online publishers are growing and Igihe.com, which publishes, in Kinyarwanda, French and English is the most engaging online news channel (Alexia statistics).


Top 10 online news publishers in Rwanda:

  1. Igihe.com
  2. Ukwezi.com
  3. Inyarwanda.com
  4. Umuryango.rw
  5. Umuseke.rw
  6. Imirasire.com
  7. Bwiza.com
  8. Kigalitoday.com
  9. Inyarwanda.com
  10. Imvaho Nshya 
  11. KT Press     

Only 8% households watch TV while radio remains the king
In Rwanda it’s not easy to mention media and ignore radio and TV for obvious reasons. Radio remains the dominant player and TV presents an illusion of sorts. RURA has since established that there are a paltry 11 licensed free to air television stations, 3 licensed pay TV and 32 radio stations as of June 2016.

With these figures the TV media platform is not exactly an effective form of content distribution and the regulator will tell you that there are not more than 60,000 active Pay TV subscribers in the country.

This is supported by the 2012 ‘Fourth Population and Housing Census’ which revealed that across the nation, the percentage of households with televisions is low and accounts for just 8 percent.

According to that census, “There are 13 times more chances of a private household having a television. About 38 percent in Kigali as opposed to 4 percent in the Northern and Western provinces.”

In the same survey about 64 percent of private households have a radio set and obviously this percentage is higher in urban areas.

Where are the big advertisers?
Ipsos was the first to launch media monitoring services in Rwanda in August 2013, being a bonus to the PR landscape. The company is also involved in media and market research and is currently monitoring 8 radio stations, 5 print brands and was to start television monitoring in 2015.

PR practitioners should be aware that Ipsos ranked the biggest advertisers, grading them in the following top 4 categories.

  1. Corporate companies
    (accounting for 29 percent of the ad spend in Q1/Q2 of 2014)
  2. Financial services (18 percent of ad spend)
  3. Communication
  4. Tourism/Entertainment


According to Ipsos, companies that produce beverages like beer brands, publishing/education and transport also fall within the top 10 spenders.

In Rwanda a few seemingly rich advertisers will bargain for ‘Out-of-Home’ advertising and would certainly loose, since the recent decision to pull down billboards, which city officials attributed to the de-clustering.

Today advertisers are therefore seeking more options other than print and radio. Most are still shying away from digital PR, which not many of the practitioners know how to execute. While radio is growing, some industry experts have predicted a continued decrease in print advertising.

With the advent of on-line marketing, it’s pretty obvious that the readership of newspapers will go down. That means that the possible mass reachable via print will also go down hence budgets for print advertising.

A few of Kigali’s magazines including ServiceMag and Hope Magazine have succeeded to offer alternative opportunities to magazine readers. Their content however is quite commercial and full of advertorials, something that might not easily be sustainable to ardent readers.

Some future opportunities for PR practitioners

There are some opportunities for PR practitioners; the future seems bright as more brands and government institutions become more interested in the way they communicate.

The Public Relations Association of Rwanda (PRAR) was launched in 2008 with the mandate to boost the profession. However while you might argue that it’s more of a talk-shop, it has no substantial impact on the industry with fewer activities as compared to other regional PR associations.

The writer is the Head of PR at Inspire Communications keziomusoke@inspire.co.rw



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