Enugu Preps to Reap Big from Conferencing Like Kigali

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Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

SATURDAY POLITY 

Laurence Ani

For years, the Enugu International Conference Centre has sat somewhat like a blighted monument on a conspicuous space overlooking the Enugu State Government House, the High Court and House of Assembly, its imposing structures drawing inquiries from curious visitors to the city and evoking memories of what might have been had the project not succumbed to the inexplicable whims of realpolitik. This has been the situation for a little over a decade. That is until the recent decision by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to complete the project and put it to its intended use as conceived. 

The Enugu International Conference Centre may have seemed exceedingly audacious to many and, perhaps, way ahead of its time when development on the project began about fifteen years ago. But it is not a vanity project. And neither is Ugwuanyi’s determination to complete it a vainglorious quest. Its economic potential far outweighs the cost of letting the edifice to lie in utter ruin. Ugwuanyi understands this. No experience elsewhere offers a more reassuring optimism and inspiration better than how Rwanda has successfully harnessed the benefits of its growing reputation as a major destination for international conferences and events.

Its capital, Kigali, has played host to international events such as the African Union Summit, World Economic Forum on Africa, Interpol General Assembly, Africa Public Relations Association Annual General Meeting, and a few other high profile meetings, with the Kigali Convention Centre and Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village serving as major venues. It was also recently ranked by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) as Africa’s second most preferred city for international meetings and events, coming only behind South Africa’s Cape Town.

This is despite being in the throes of a genocidal war that resulted in the estimated deaths of one million people just 25 years earlier. This positive turnaround – and the accompanying benefits – are in no way accidental; it was a reputation the country doggedly sought and carefully nurtured.

Cynics may however wonder if there really is any big deal about such statistics. To them, it possibly amounts to nothing more than some bragging rights. But there is implicit economic value in these statistics and the answer could be gleaned in the fact that 38,745 conference delegates visited this East African country, specifically Kigali city, last year. The chief executive officer of Rwanda Convention Bureau, Nelly Mukazayire, sheds light on this: “Tourism is the country’s largest foreign exchange earner and MICE (acronym for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) brings in 20% of all tourism revenue. MICE tourism contributed $56m 2018, and this year we intend to increase it to $88m.” 

Indeed, Rwanda’s other accolades such as being adjudged as one of Africa’s fastest growing economies was significantly fueled by earnings from its booming service sector such as tourism, particularly wildlife and conference hosting. The huge economic leap had also been helped by the substantial institutional reform launched to encourage investments by eliminating impediments to new and existing businesses. These reforms have resulted in Rwanda being ranked 29th globally and second in Africa in the World Bank 2018 Ease of Doing Business Report.

Enugu can similarly reap bountifully from the economic opportunities that a completed conference centre with an international standard would offer. Its long established reputation as a largely secure and peaceful state with a green and serene capital far removed from the giddy bustle that plague most modern cities, plus the presence of an international airport, places it in better stead. A completed international conference centre will make it an even more attractive business and leisure destination.

Sitting on a large expanse of prime location measuring 10.1 hectares, this is one structure you could actually describe as state-of-the-art without tongue in cheek. The main conference hall is a 3,600-capacity auditorium, essentially a spherical bowl with an exterior skin of glass curtain. The smaller conference hall is a hexagonal structure with an internal area coverage of 987.45sqm and 1500 seating capacity. The design also includes an 800-capacity dome that can seat 500 banquet guests. Located roughly two kilometres away from the Enugu International Airport, other high points include its close proximity to a number of boutique hotels and three-starred facilities, apart from the one to be sited within the premises.

The move towards the project’s completion is indicative of Ugwuanyi’s determination to transform Enugu into a regional economic powerhouse, consistent with its storied history as a city that attained global reckoning in 1909 when coal was first mined in the then colonial enclave which would later become, at various times, the capital of Southern Province, Eastern Region, East Central State, and old Anambra State. So when the governor says Enugu is open for business, it’s not just a fancy catchphrase. The recent World Bank Doing Business in Nigeria Report that pronounced Enugu as the third best state to start a business is testament to that.

Equally significant is that its imminent completion clearly shows the governor is not blinkered by the typical narrow-mindedness of politics that compels elected officials currently in the saddle to jettison predecessors’ projects, regardless of their viability. For him, a project’s capacity to positively impact the people’s wellbeing and catapult his vision to make Enugu a thriving economic hub trump every other consideration.

–––Ani wrote in from Enugu