As Ki­gali grows its in­flu­ence, cau­tion is key

The East African - - NEWS - By BERNA NAMATA The Eastafrican

RWANDA IS steadily gain­ing ground in its quest for po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and diplo­matic in­flu­ence around the globe.

Last week­end, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Vik­torovich Lavrov, held talks with Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame. Then early this week, a Chi­nese mil­i­tary del­e­ga­tion was in Ki­gali ahead of the visit by China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, ex­pected in July.

Ob­servers say that over the past 24 years, Rwanda’s for­eign pol­icy has evolved from heavy reliance on in­ter­na­tional donors to an en­er­getic and in­de­pen­dent ac­tor.

Rwanda has 34 diplo­matic mis­sions around the globe. It has also taken in­ter­na­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, ac­tively en­gag­ing in peace­keep­ing — in mis­sions, mak­ing it the fourth-largest troop con­trib­u­tor to the United Na­tions.

Most re­cently, the coun­try has been ac­tively ad­vo­cat­ing pan-african­ism and show­cas­ing it­self as a model of African in­te­gra­tion by open­ing its bor­ders to cit­i­zens of the world with a 30-day visa on ar­rival.

As the African Union chair­per­son, Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame he has been in­stru­men­tal in push­ing through the Africa Con­ti­nen­tal Free Trade Area agree­ment. Rwanda was the third coun­try to rat­ify the AFCTA and the first to rat­ify the Pro­to­col on Free Move­ment of Per­sons on the con­ti­nent.

“Ma­jor in­ter­na­tional pow­ers like Rus­sia and China are look­ing to build new part­ner­ships with Rwanda be­cause of its strate­gic lo­ca­tion at the heart of a dy­namic re­gion. With ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture projects planned across the East African Com­mu­nity and the Great Lakes, Rwanda is seen as an im­por­tant ser­vices and lo­gis­tics hub link­ing cen­tral Africa with both the south­ern African states and the coast,” said Phil Clark, an ex­pert in in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at the Lon­don-based School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies.

“Rus­sia and China also view Rwanda as a well-trained, dis­ci­plined mil­i­tary part­ner — which in key respects is sim­i­lar to them­selves — and there­fore an im­por­tant ally in their cur­rent mil­i­tary ex­pan­sion across Africa,” Mr Clark added.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Pri­tish Be­huria, Hallsworth Re­search Fel­low, Global De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Manch­ester, over the past two decades, Rwanda’s for­eign pol­icy has be­come in­creas­ingly vis­i­ble in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs.

“Rwanda has also been in­creas­ingly in­volved in dis­cus­sions on African in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and has taken bold moves in ban­ning sec­ond­hand clothes de­spite the with­drawal of the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act ben­e­fits by the US.

Since the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment and Pres­i­dent Kagame have suc­cess­fully pre­sented them­selves as lead­ers of pan- African am­bi­tions and more na­tion­al­ist ones in re­la­tion to in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, a fastchang­ing in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment may see the coun­try as more im­por­tant within the con­ti­nent than its size may im­ply,” Mr Be­huria said.

For coun­tries like China, In­dia and Rus­sia, part­ner­ships with the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment may be im­por­tant for ben­e­fits at the con­ti­nen­tal and re­gional level (EAC). This is es­pe­cially true dur­ing Pres­i­dent Kagame’s ten­ure as AU Chair­per­son.

“Clearly, the in­ter­ests of these coun­tries is not sim­ply benev­o­lent and there may be some de­gree of re­source ex­trac­tion that has been a fea­ture of re­la­tion­ships with West­ern donors,” Mr Be­huria un­der­scores.

How­ever, ob­servers note that while more in­ter­est from dif­fer­ent su­per­pow­ers means more op­tions for the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment. Ul­ti­mately, how the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits will de­pend on how it ne­go­ti­ates space for deals that re­flect the na­tional in­ter­est and needs of the pop­u­la­tion.

“In Rwanda, job cre­ation for a very young pop­u­la­tion re­mains a key chal­lenge. If the gov­ern­ment can use such in­vest­ments to pro­vide in­vest­ments in sec­tors that can cre­ate such em­ploy­ment, it could have last­ing ben­e­fits,” Mr Be­huria said.

Yet the gov­ern­ment must re­main at­ten­tive to the risks of for­eign in­vest­ment with­out tech­nol­ogy trans­fer.

This is com­mon in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries where in­vestors come for a short pe­riod and no lo­cal com­pa­nies are sup­ported to ab­sorb tech­nolo­gies be­fore they leave. This is par­tic­u­larly true for ‘foot­loose’ sec­tors like ap­par­els in coun­tries like Le­sotho where Agoa ac­cess did not lead to last­ing ben­e­fits. Sim­i­lar pres­sures may ap­ply in Rwanda.

New in­ter­ests from ris­ing pow­ers may not come with in­vest­ments given the lim­ited do­mes­tic mar­ket and low man­u­fac­tur­ing base within the coun­try.

Pic­ture: File

Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, an ad­vo­cate of pan-african­ism, has been push­ing for Africa’s in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion.

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