Diplomatist Business Editor, Kanchi Batra interviewed the new High Commissioner of Rwanda to India, where the envoy discussed Rwanda’s strategic relationship with India and how the two countries continue to evolve and cooperate to add value to their relations. She also talked about the unique aspects of Rwanda’s business culture and exciting opportunities for future growth.
Q.How has been your experience since you began your diplomatic assignment in India?
I am glad to be enjoying the 10th month of my stay in New Delhi and I feel proud to represent my country in this great Nation. Since my arrival in this incredible country, I have enjoyed full support from everyone despite the COVID-19 pandemic that messed up everything. Most importantly, the Government of India has been very supportive and even gave me the opportunity to present my Letters of Credence to His Excellency the President of India through video conferencing. I must take this opportunity to thank the Ministry of External Affairs and other Government Institutions for their continued support. I look forward to also present my Credentials to the Heads of State of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives. The Diplomatic Corps has also been supportive and still continues to be. With the support from various Indian Chambers,our Mission has organized a good number of vibrant virtual meetings on Trade, Investment and Tourism opportunities in Rwanda. More similar sessions will continue to be organized.
Q. How can Rwanda become an important stakeholder in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA)?
The AFCFTA, that officially commenced on 1st January 2021, will boost intra-African trade, promote industrialization and competitiveness and contribute to job creation. This agreement, which is a very significant catalyst to Africa’s integration all parties involved for it to be a success. Rwanda had the privilege of hosting the historic signing of this agreement on March 8th, 2018 and it is with such privilege that comes responsibility. Rwanda, through the able impetus by H.E. President Paul Kagame, has offered its contribution till the institutionalisation of the AfCTA. It is Rwanda’s responsibility to lead by example as it has done in a number of other instances. Rwanda can become an important stakeholder by making sure we liberalize our trade policies and by doing so empower other countries to emulate. Rwanda is partisan of a clean and equitable world trade environment and supports a healthy business and trade between the African Continent and the rest of the world. The AFCFTA also feeds into Pan-Africanism and builds a stronger African agency. This agreement catalyzes the work of the African Union Reform that is underway and championed by H.E. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, whose mandate is to build on the spirit of PanAfricanism and create a cohesive system within the Union that engages every African within or outside the continent. By championing the reforms of the African Union, Rwanda is in a position to better influence the uptake and smooth operationalization of the agreement, considering it highlights and attempts to solve a number of issues such as the lack of coordination within the Union and with other Regional Economic Communities (RECs). These are some of the ways that Rwanda can play an active role in the implementation of the AFCFTA.
Q. It is remarkable to see how Rwanda transformed itself so quickly and bounced back into international reckoning after the 1994 genocide.
In July 1994, soldiers of the Rwandese Patriotic Army liberated Kigali, and put an end to 100 days of genocide against the Tutsi in which over one million of innocent lives perished. The new Government inherited a Country littered with mass graves, bodies laying on roadsides and courtyards, flattened buildings, demolished bridges and an empty central bank. Everyone wrote us off . Twenty-six years later, thanks to an innovative national policy, blending justice and reconciliation, those who perpetrated the crime of Genocide and completed their sentence, live side by side with the families of the survivors of the Genocide, peacefully and reconciled. Today, Rwanda stands as a model for speedy and remarkable post-conflict recovery. It is a story as told by several different UN agencies, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Commonwealth of Nations and, yes, Rwandans themselves. Rwanda today has the following:
One: It is one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa;
TWO: Some of the lowest crime levels on the continent;
THREE: A universal health care system. This has helped move Rwanda towards achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
FOUR: One of the least corrupt countries in Africa. This is according to Transparency International’s annual surveys and several other international organizations.
FIVE: One of the most business-friendly economies in Africa.
SIX: One of the highest levels of women representation in political leadership positions. For example, it is currently 63.3% of the MPs in Rwanda’s Chamber of Deputies are women—the highest such representation anywhere in the world.
SEVEN: A vibrant political landscape with 11 registered political parties—and all of them are represented in Parliament. The list goes on.
Rwandans have a strong determination, to push for more development and to improve their lives at an even faster rate.
Q. How would you describe the relations between Rwanda and India? What are some of the projects that the two countries are developing in the near future?
Bilateral relations between India and Rwanda have been growing stronger and stronger over the years and our intention is to bring it to greater heights. Rwanda is happy to enjoy a strategic relationship with India.In 1999, Rwanda officially opened its Mission in New Delhi and posted a Chargéd Affaires. Rwanda appointed its first resident Ambassador in New Delhi in 2001. Since 2018, India has opened a resident Mission in Kigali and the first High Commission is fully operational with the first High Commissioner. This is a very important step in strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries. India and Rwanda enjoy high-level contacts and have exchanged bilateral visits at the highest level. The bilateral cooperation between India and Rwanda has grown to cover a broad range of areas including development cooperation in infrastructure, agriculture, energy, education, training and capacity building. It has expanded beyond development cooperation to include defense and security, Health, Culture Exchange and institution to institution collaboration. Rwanda is a beneficiary of Lines of Credits from India and quite a number of projects and programmes are in pipeline. Today, Trade and Investments constitute the main pillar of our economic cooperation. Rwanda imports goods from India, including mostly pharmaceutical products, Iron and steel and machinery and equipment. There is potential for Rwanda to export coffee, spices, essential oils and pulses to India. The establishment of the India–Rwanda Innovation Growth Program which is currently operational is a sign of mutual commitment to promote science, technology and innovations. We want to support Indian businesses to work directly with Rwandan businesses for our mutual gain. There are also new areas of cooperation to explore, including, the fields of Science and Technology, Digitalisation, Petroleum and Gaz, Skills development and Environment.
Q. Foreign investors have been impressed with the transformation and development that have taken place there under the leadership of the country’s enigmatic leader President Paul Kagame. Please, also explain to us which kinds of investment opportunities there are for Indian companies in Rwanda?
Since its liberation in 1994, Rwanda has enjoyed a politically, stable and peaceful environment characterized by sustained economic growth over the past 15 years and has proven to be a role model for the African continent. The Visionary leadership of HE President Paul KAGAME has inspired the country and the people of Rwanda to be united, accountable and to think big. Today, Rwanda is a fast developing, transformed and stronger nation, with zero tolerance to corruption. The country has seen its GDP growing at an average rate of between 6 and 8% annually and Rwanda was in the middle of an economic boom prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic growth rate exceeded 10% in 2019. In order to attain this commendable achievement and sustain the social-economic transformation of the country, the Government of Rwanda is always prioritizing investment in manufacturing, education, health and agriculture with a special focus on science and Information technology as driving force of progress in all the sectors of the economy. Rwanda’s past achievements with respect to ease of doing business have been driven by the focus on creating an enabling investment environment, offering business-friendly regulation, an efficient supported process, commitment to foreign ownership and multiple incentives, for exporters and priority sectors. Today, Administrative requirements for investors are less than 50% compared to neighbouring countries. The report ranks Rwanda the 2nd place in Ease of Doing Business in Africa and 38th in the World. It’s largely because of the good policies and conducive business environment, that there are more than 130 Indian investors and businesses established in Rwanda. To name but a few, those include Airtel, Sahasra electronics, Virunga Biotech Ltd, Marasa Holding, Accacia Property Development, Kabuye Sugar Works Sarl, Imana Steel Rwanda Ltd, Rugabano Tea Company Ltd, Gisovu Tea Company Ltd and Pfunda Tea Company Ltd. It is important to note that most of the investments from India are in the key priority sectors that Rwanda is promoting namely Manufacturing, Agro processing and ICT. We, therefore, encourage more Indian investors to continue investing more in these above-mentioned key sectors of our economy, as well as in the sectors of Health and Education,Infrastructure, Agriculture, Energy, Tourism.
Q. What initiatives are being adopted by your country to boost tourism flow?
Rwanda presents excellent tourism assets ranging from natural attractions such as the worldfamous mountain gorilla in the Volcanoes National Park, 13 species of primates in Nyungwe National park, about 700 species of birds, fl ora including the orchids, to the unique culture and heritage that make it a desirable destination for any type of tourist. The Government of Rwanda developed and implemented sustainable tourism-related policies and guidelines, and plans for the development and promotion of tourism. This made Rwanda become a world leader in conservation practices with more than 8.9% of its land base protected as national parks (Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe National Park; Akagera National Park), with the most addition of Gishwati – Mukura National Park in 2015.Rwanda took decisive actions to limit the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health of its citizens, visitors and wildlife. Mitigation measures & guidelines were put in place immediately in the hospitality & tourism industry following WHO’s announcement of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. International flights, as well as RwandAir flights, were halted in March 2020 and national parks stopped both tourism and research activities. An economic recovery plan and a Resilience Fund were established with Tourism as a priority sector. RDB and other institutions are currently implementing the recovery-related activities stated in the plan. Despite challenges with preventing the COVID-19 pandemic to spread, Rwanda re-opened for tourism activities as well as the resumption of International travels for visitors arriving by Charter flight, effective 17th June 2020 and for visitors arriving by scheduled commercial flights as of 1st August 2020. In line with COVID-19 prevention measures and health standards to ensure everyone’s safety, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) is working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) to ensure visitor’s guidelines for health and safety are respected. Rwanda’s airports have put in place measures needed for a safe environment in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The measures are based on the Public Health Corridor which was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in collaboration with International Air Transport Association (IATA) and World Health Organisation (WHO). Strategic priorities of the Government of Rwanda in Tourism include; Grow investments in tourism infrastructure, including development of the Kivu Belt, Build the capacity of the private sector to provide first-rate levels of service delivery and accelerate growth of Meetings,Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions(MICE) tourism revenues.Through RCB Proactive focus on MICE sales and bidding for international conferences and events will continue. In the new normal, Rwanda will also continue to strengthen its international positioning, Innovative tourism marketing and promotion including digital marketing. There has been also a large push for new technology since the pandemic for Rwandan tourism to thrive in the future.