THE WAR WAS STILL RAGING IN RWANDA when Praveen Moman, a Punjabi entrepreneur, came looking to start a tourism business in the late 1990s. Driving over hills ringing with the sounds of gunshots, the budding entrepreneur carried a seemingly absurd hope of building a luxury lodge among the green volcanoes of northwestern Rwanda, where clients could visit the mountain gorilla, itself a victim of the ongoing violence.
Moman arrived in the region with ambition and audacity. “I was aware of the menace,” he told me. “I wanted to do something big.”
Moman was ahead of his time, and strikingly so. Fifteen years ago, Africa, and particularly its troubled centre, was seen almost exclusively as an exotic high-risk investment destination for the brave and adventurous, for those with privileged connections to Africa’s dictatorships and large pools of capital to risk. Most investors had all but forsaken central Africa after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide killed more than 800,000 people in three months. The aftermath of the genocide tore the region apart. The Rwandan conflict spilled over into neighbouring Zaire (now called Democratic Republic of Congo), sparking a war that toppled one of its presidents, killed another, and drew in armies from nine different countries.