Transcribed by Ange de la Victoire, TOP AFRICA NEWS Senior Reporter
On Wednesday, 30th March 2022, the Atlantic Council through its Africa centre hosted Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Min. Dr. Vincent Biruta together with the Minister of Environment Dr. Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya.
During the conversation, Rwandan officials commented on a number of issues including Rwanda’s stand on Russia-Ukraine war, the issue of M23 and DRC, election in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda’s work on dealing with climate Change, issues of Democracy and the case of Rusesabagina among many others.
The mission at the Atlantic Council is to contribute to a collaborative shaping of the global future and as one of the esteemed centres at the Atlantic Council, the African Center’s mission is to promote African voices and contribute to the strengthening of African nations influence in the transAtlantic dialogue as an enhancement to the African narrative promoting stability and positive growth.
The conversation with Rwandan Officials is significant as the world is trying to reshape a Coronavirus impacted economic sector and this is coupled with Russia’s war on Ukraine, soundly denounced by the majority of the global community, including Rwanda support for the United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the Russian invasion and sending Western allies into unprecedented consequences and collective action.
The audience was keen to hear what type of continued cooperation Rwanda expects from the United States in addressing a range of concerns.
In this context, the Rwandan ministers are visiting Washington and will provide an outlook on security matters, economic and social development, democracy, governance, and multilateralism.
The Wednesday’s conversation provides a platform for the Africa centre to receive first-hand information on these matters from the Foreign Minister and Minister of Environment.
Introduction to the Q&A session with Minister Biruta and Minister Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya.
You have been Minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation of the Republic of Rwanda since November 2019. Before that, between 2011 and 2019, you held three high level positions, Minister of Environment, Minister of natural resources, and Minister of Education…You served as the president of the National Transition assembly, from 2000 to 2003 and Minister of Public Works transport and communication from 1999 to 2008. Minister of Health from 1997 to 1999. After studying medicine in Belgium, you became a physician, right? Minister, Dr. Biruta I should say welcome. We are live in our studios of Washington DC and before we start, I would like to share with our audience, the coming participation of your colleague Rwanda’s Minister of Environment, Mrs Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya. She is the former ambassador to Russia and Belarus. My colleagues, senior fellows at the Atlantic Council, Africa centre will also join the conversation: Aubrey Hruby who be our lead on the economy. Cameron Hudson, our lead on security matters as usual, an external figure will bring her views from the ground. Today, Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa, who is a professor at Georgetown University will share her experience. First, let’s discuss together.
Q1 to Minister Vincent Biruta:
Mr. Minister Biruta. My first question. Very simple. What are your goals of your visit? You will stay here in Washington, who will you meet? Who have you already met? What do you expect from the Biden administration?
Min. Biruta: Thank you for the introduction and let me say that here we are visiting Washington DC to strengthen the partnership existing between the USA and Rwanda. We are working with the USA in many sectors, including defence and security, climate change, health, education, and many others.
We are here to engage with the administration to see how we can take that partnership further. They know that Rwanda is a player in many areas of the continent and we can cite security. We are contributing to peacekeeping operations. We are present in South Sudan, in the Central African Republic and Mozambique. And we are here to discuss about how the United States could contribute to these efforts to bring security back to these various areas, among others.
But we have also received support from the government of the USA to fight COVID-19, we have received vaccines, we have received ventilators from previous government and today we are talking about manufacturing of vaccines and we’re ready to partner with the US government to see how we can benefit from technology transfer, so that one day in the African continent will be a player in the fight against pandemics, including COVID-19, but the pandemics which could arise in the future.
I’d like to draw your attention on the actions already taken by this team more than a year after President Biden’s election. What is your appreciation of his first steps on the African continent?
Min. Biruta: We think that the first steps of Biden administration on the African continent are positive. When you consider the COVID-19 pandemic and the contribution of this administration to fight against COVID-19 on the continent. This government has tremendously contributed to vaccine acquisition for African countries….
So, considering the context, or COVID-19 pandemic, his administration has made very positive steps towards engaging the African continent, and we believe that after COVID 19, we will be able to engage more and contribute to the development of the African continent, hopefully now, obviously, this Africa, which America is re-engaging in is not the same as the one it might it may have been… the continent is changing a lot. There are extraordinary changes which could require a new approach.
China is the first trade partner of the African continent. The European Union is the first investor on the African continent. And you remember a few weeks ago, the President of the European Commission of Silicon Valley announced a huge Global Gateway infrastructure plan. Several regional powers are also playing their own game on the continent from the Arabic, United Arab Emirates to Israel. And I would like to speak with you about Israel, one of these new regional players on the African continent. Are you okay with Israel’s willingness to join the African Union as an observer?
Israel decided to open legally, its 11th embassy in Rwanda in 2019. It has been noticed as return of Israel on the African continent. What’s your opinion there? What do Africans have to win from this observer status?
Min. Biruta: Let me first explain what observer status for Israel to the African Union means. It means just that there is an ambassador who is credited to the African Union. And considering that Israel is having diplomatic relations with more than 40 countries on the continent and those countries are member states of the African Union. We think that it is in order for Israel to have that observer status to have an ambassador who is accredited in the African Union and it is not just only about diplomatic relations, we know that Israel is working with many African countries in various sectors, including agriculture, including security, including technology and many others.
For us to make sense that Israel has an accredited ambassador to the African Union, and to have an Israeli ambassador accredited to African Union doesn’t mean in any way that the African Union, (and this is all the policies of Israel, at least when it comes to the issue of Palestine, the African Union has its own position on that issue. And we believe that having an ambassador accredited with African Union will even give to the African Union member states an opportunity to engage more Israel on those issues. Having an ambassador accredited to the African Union doesn’t mean that we agree with Israel on everything. But it would mean that we’ll be able to engage Israel even on issues we are not in agreement with the government of Israel.
Speaking of the African Union, remember, your country chaired the African in 2018. And as a legacy left wide range of reforms of the African Union, in terms of funding, in terms of trade, the establishment of the largest free trade area in the world has been established during that time. Currently, the African Union is chaired by Senegal, what are your recommendations to strengthen those reforms and the African Union policy?
We believe that being Chair of the African Union or any other organisation is about to taking forward the agenda of the organisation. In the Senegal, we among others, take forward the reforms of the African Union, which were initiated in 2018. There are some which are being implemented but reform is about a process or Senegal will need to take these reforms and also to implement the African Union agenda, including the theme of the year which is related to nutrition. And also take for the unfinished businesses like silencing the guns, which was the theme of last year. But as you know, we all know, guns have not been silenced on the continent. So, we expect Senegal to take forward that African Union agenda during the chairmanship.
I have a few questions for you and your colleague, Minister of Environment, who used to be ambassador to Russia. My first question is for you, Minister, Biruta, your visit happens in a very unstable context, international context. Here at the Africa centre, one of our missions is to promote an African vision of world affairs in the short term, indeed, the sanctions against Russia have already caused a considerable rise of wheat prices, of which Russia and Ukraine are the first and second largest producers in the world. The price of the barrel of oil is already at its highest level.
Since 2008, the jump in food prices will have effects, especially on low-income households for whom food and energy expenses represent a lot in Africa more than anywhere else. Minister How do you assess the economic consequences of the Russia invasion on Ukraine in your own country? And we know that even before this war Rwanda was already hit by the effects of the pandemic, but how do you assess the consequences of this?
Minister Biruta: You have said it all. Russia and Ukraine are players in the world economy. And as far as Rwanda is concerned, we think that we will be affected by the prices of oil of course, and we will be eventually affected by the prices of and the availability of fertilisers which we used to import from Ukraine. The other may be element is related to food, the food itself, wheat, we used to import a 64% of wheat from Ukraine and we are likely to have a shortage. We are looking to alternative sources where we can have wheat from and we believe that we will be affected. But for example, for wheat, wheat is not an important element of the food system in Rwanda. We can easily find alternatives. But the first reaction is to consider alternative sources of oil, of wheat or fertilisers. We have put in place, a team under the prime minister office, which is working on these alternatives while also monitoring the situation around the world. And we believe that we will be able to have mitigation measures to prevent our population to be highly affected by Russia Ukraine war and the sanctions that will follow.
Question to Minister Mujawamariya
You have been ambassador to Russia and Belarus. You spent there five years, four years, maybe six years, six years? Just one question about this experience in the Russian society. Our audience is curious of hearing an African vision of this Ukrainian crisis…A lot of African countries decided to abstain in condemning Russia’s invasion at the UN General Assembly. How do you analyse these votes? But that what does it say about Africa these days?
Miniter Mujawamariya: Thank you very much. Based on what my colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said, we have expressed ourselves as Rwanda as the United nation’s based on principle. We have voted, we didn’t abstain, we voted based on principles. And considering the issue of Russia and the Ukraine, and taking into context of environment of course, it will affect not only the people of Ukraine or Russia. Let’s consider those problems as climate change issues: As you know, Rwanda is now facing impact of climate change, even if we are not playing a big role in contributing to the problem. But the climate change is affecting us coming from faraway the same way those problems they will affect us, even if they are Geopolitical Problems…for the issue of climate change, the way we are devising strategies and methodology to be part of the solution that is how the minister was saying that we are devising strategy for other sources in other part of World, how to solve the problems that are caused by the problem of Russia and the Ukraine.
We’ve been following very closely what Rwanda has been doing with the Green Fund, and wanted to understand how you think the lessons learned from the Green Fund can inform overall scaling of climate finance for African countries?
Minister Mujawamariya: Yeah, thank you very much. First of all, for the last two decades, Rwanda has put environment climate change at the heart of everything we do. We say, policy, programmes, and projects. We have made sure that each step we take, we take it with environmental caution and of course, we have created Rwanda Green Fund to make sure that all the support we are getting, all the financial, we are getting pass through one basket, which is our Rwanda Green fund. It has helped a lot, it has created green jobs, and it has very rehabilitated some of the cities into green cities and of course, we look forward to do more with Rwanda Green Fund. And it is an example that can be emulated by our sister countries on African continent. And we have started receiving different delegations coming to learn from us how and how much we are doing for the country through Rwanda Green Fund.
Question to Minister Biruta
Honourable Minister Biruta, You know, Rwanda has positioned itself as a hub of doing business and attracting investment for the region by doing, you know, rapid business, doing business reforms, by working with RDB to be a one stop shop. And you know, that’s kind of the first phase of what you did on the investment front. Now, it seems to me and I would love your reflection that you’re taking Rwanda brand more to the global stage. So, I think about the fact that the basketball Africa league is hosting their final tournament in Kigali, the fact that you’re sponsoring football teams abroad, so speak to us about this next iteration of Rwanda as investment promotion efforts globally.
Minister Biruta: First of all, I may come back to the question on the voting at the General Assembly on the Issue of Ukraine. I want to say that voting at the UN is a matter of sovereignty, each country votes according to its own interest and assessment of the issue at stake. And that was done to the General Assembly on the issue of Ukraine. As my colleague said, Rwanda voted along the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. The territorial integrity, sovereignty and so on. But other member states, including African countries, voted according to the assessment of the issue. And they based on their own interest on the historical background many other factors, but it is a sovereign matter when it comes to voting at the General Assembly.
Now, coming back to the question in relation to soft power and how Rwanda is investing in sports event. Yes, sports play a very important role in promoting relationship between nations, but it is also a matter of it can be considered as an investment. As you mentioned, Rwanda has hosted Basketball, basketball, Africa League, and will host again the finals in the coming months. These last days, there have been a tournament in the Senegal, in Egypt and the finals will take place in Rwanda in the coming months and we are also investing in Arsenal, investing with Paris Saint Germain for us to promote tourism. And those investment had contributed a lot in promoting Rwanda in the UK, in France, but even beyond because football and sports in general, they go beyond the countries where these teams are based and you know how many people are watching Premier League and other tournaments around the world and Visit Rwanda has been everywhere around the world and we have started to benefit from those investments.
We think we need to do more. We will do more, we have done it with football. We were doing it with basketball. But we have also invested in the infrastructures, which can allow us to host these sports event. And we didn’t mention cycling. Rwanda has become famous around the world. And every year we see more teams participating. And it is broadcasted everywhere. And this really sells the tourism sector of Rwanda. I think we need to invest more beyond cycling, football and basketball. Let’s continue to raise these national priorities.
You know, Rwanda took a very strong stance and measures to contain COVID-19 to vaccinate the population and even signed you know, an agreement with biontech to construct, you know, a factory in Rwanda.
Rwanda is progressing, other countries close to Rwanda and around the continent are not moving as fast and as we know, if we are not all protected, you know, we’re not going to go far in our fight against COVID. So, my question to you Honourable Minister Biruta is how does Rwanda plan to continue to lead together with institutions like the Africa CDC, the African Union and other regional bodies to try and increase vaccine uptake on the continent in order to reduce COVID infection around the continent?
Minister Biruta: Rwanda is ready to continue to do the right thing on the continent between fighting against COVID-19 and other issues. Rwanda is investing in vaccines manufacturing in partnership with by Biontech, but also in partnership with other countries like Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, and others. Rwanda is not doing it alone. And we have taken measures to fight COVID-19. We have been successful so far, because the pandemic is not yet behind us. We hope that will be the case but we are not there yet. But, we have invested, we have mobilised our population and that has allowed us to reach a vaccination rate of 62.5% of the total population now who have received the two doses of the vaccine. And it is a matter of investing in the logistics which were needed for us to receive the vaccine, but you also need to be able to store them properly and to be able to administer them to the population.
But it also a matter of mobilising, sensitising the population. And having vaccines and being able to keep them in the right place is not enough. We need to also have a health system which is functional so that the vaccine can reach everyone. We are also working with the African Union, you know, president is championing domestic health financing with the African Union. Our president is chairing the AUDA NEPAD and we are also working with other African Union member states to have a regulatory framework which will allow us not only to produce vaccine, but also to have them reviewed, regulated in the proper way. We are working on establishing the African Medicines Agency. It has been adopted by the African Union. Today we’re talking about establishing its headquarters and making it operational. We are trying to do the right things, but we are working with other member states of the African Union and we will keep doing that.
I wanted to ask about Rwanda as regional engagements: Rwanda has traditionally been able to project a lot of force and influence across the region. And we’ve seen that especially in the last year with deployments in the Central African Republic, and in Mozambique, I wonder if you could briefly characterise for us the state of those deployments, the timeline going forward for those deployments, and how you see that the mission right now and frankly, the threat in both of those countries.
Minister Biruta: Yes, Rwanda has deployed the troops in both the Central African Republic and the Mozambique or the Central African Republic, we have a contingent under the UN force, which is their MINUSCA. But as from December 2020, we deployed a force based on a bilateral agreement we had with the Central African Republic. When we deployed that force in December 2020, there was a serious threat not only on the government of Central African Republic, but also on our contingent and the UN, the UN MINUSCA and we decided to deploy a force under the bilateral agreement we had with the Central African government.
Because that force had had other rules of engagement different from the one of the UN, it was easy for the first intervene where it was needed. And that force contributed very much to allowing the Central African Republic to hold the presidential elections in December 2020, but also to have parliamentary elections. As we speak today, the situation has dramatically improved. And now they are working on political processes to have the security strengthened but also to have stability.
Coming back to that country. They are working with various partners, including the UN. But the force we sent there in December 2020 contributed tremendously to return of security in capital but also in the main cities of Central African Republic.
For Mozambique, we were approached by the government of Mozambique, to support them to deal with security threats, which was there. To deal with a terrorist group which has taken over the entire province of Cabo Delgado and we consulted member states of the region: South African Development Community, we consulted with them, we consulted the other partners, including the African Union, including the G5 members and we decided to send the force there to support the Government of Mozambique. That force started operation in July last year, but in less than two months, they are able to liberate an important part of that province of Cabo Delgado.
In the meantime, SADC forces also joined in. Today we are working with a government of Mozambique forces and the SADC forces and the situation has very much improved and today we are talking about working on the stabilisation phase. And that stabilization phase will lead us to be able to determine when we be able to withdraw and let the Mozambican forces take over or either Mozambican forces themselves or with another region of force. But the operation is not time bound. It is a result bound. So, we are still there, we are working in making some progress, working with the region, working with the Government of Mozambique and once we think that the stability is there that the government may take over, then we start withdrawing our forces. But we need to just acknowledge that the results are there, and we were happy with them.
I wanted to quickly ask about Rwandan Congolese relations, and the status of your interests there specifically in the eastern DRC. There have been some statements made by your government in response to the M 23 violence going on, I wonder if you can just update us on where the status of relations is right now with your neighbour there.
Minister Biruta: The relationship between Rwanda and DRC are good. There has been that incident you are referring to, but both governments have been in touch and discussing both the situation, but the reality is that there have been armed groups which have remained active in the eastern part of DRC not only M 23 we are referring to but there are other groups like FDLR which has been there since 20 years now. So, there are armed groups, which are still active in eastern DRC. But we are talking with the government of DRC and dealing with those incidents like the one which happened two days ago. But in general, the most important is that the Governments are talking and the relationship is good.
What do you answer to, to the Congolese army who accused your country of backing these rebels’ movement?
There has been a statement by the armed forces of DRC, there has been a clarification from our government. And our ambassador has had a meeting with the minister, my colleague of DRC. So, both governments are talking and sometimes there are those statements, which sometimes are out of emotion, but we need at some point to go down and deal with the reality instead of going out and making statements. But there has been a statement from the Armed Forces of DRC. There has been a clarification from our government. In the meantime, we are talking to each other.
And here I have two complimentary questions about the situation in the DRC. A few weeks ago, it was the anniversary of the Addis Ababa Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC in the region. On the occasion of this ninth anniversary last month, the Congolese chief opposition leader Martin Fayulu, considered by many congolese, as the President of the DRC, wrote a letter to the UN General Secretary to regret this agreement has been flawed from the very start with these specific commitments required from the DRC. And he was regretting that the other countries and he mentioned Rwanda, that were not held accountable to any of these pledges, and particularly on democratic issues, what would you like to answer to these to the statement?
Min. Biruta: Let me start by saying that we recognise President Felix Tshisekedi as President of DRC. As far as that mechanism is concerned, there have been achievements. What Mr. Fayulu mentioned, he has his own assessment. And you know, that he’s ready to accuse Rwanda of anything. And every opportunity is good for him to accuse Rwanda of everything going wrong in the region and beyond. That is his own assessment, but we stick on the assessment which has been made by heads of state of the region concerned with that mechanism and I believe that there have been achievements, there have been shortcomings and that is the reason why that assessment was made, and I believe the heads of state participating in that meeting have taken measures to address remaining issues. But that how it goes forall the other processes.
Let’s stay on these issues. I heard you met with Secretary Sherman here in the United States during your visit, and the question of human rights in your own countries have been raised there with the case of Paul Rusesabagina, who was the hero of the hotel Rhonda, everybody knows, what did you say to her when she raised that because many US NGOs and everywhere, maybe upset and have raised important protests against this when he was convicted.
Minister Biruta: As we discussed that issue, among others, and we agreed that we should let the court do their work and the government of Rwanda could not interfere in court proceedings, and we just need to wait for the courts to do their work. And we need to respect the institutions of Rwanda and institutions of USA, and they have, you have and any other person has the right to have concerns, but we need also to respect the institutions of every country. to respect its sovereignty and that’s the best way to build a strong partnership between countries.
The DRC is set to become a member state of the East African Community. And so, I really just wanted to understand what some of the challenges as well as opportunities are with membership. Obviously, expansion, including South Sudan has been a bit challenging. And so, it would be great to just hear your views on, you know, the new member coming in.
Minister Biruta: Actually, DRC has become a member of the East African community since two days now. And I think it is a great opportunity for the community and the members of that community to have DRC as a member of the East African community. I cannot say that there will be challenges. Today, I see only opportunities to have DRC in the community which has grown now to a population of 250 million and maybe more. So that is a great opportunity for Rwanda and for the other members of the East African community.
Challenges which are in the community and not only related to South Sudan and you know, we are not expecting DRC to bring additional challenges to community, we should expect DRC to bring additional opportunities.
As to the questions asked by our audience. There are so many questions. I cannot, you know, choose all the questions. But this would like to draw your attention still on the DRC. On a letter written by Gregory Meeks, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the next elections in the in Congo. He said to President Biden, we write you to encourage your attention and prioritization of the upcoming election in the DRC. This could be a pivotal election for the DRC. And we must ensure that the people of the country are finally fully enfranchised where they will for the country’s leadership reflects the votes cast at the polls. So, these sentences are extracted from the letter of Gregory Meeks, wrote to the President of the United States, which clearly shows that the Congress wants to keep an eye on the DRC election. Remember, during the last elections, President Kagame me as president of the African Union was in his way you know during the results of the election When he was interrupted, it seemed he wanted to find a compromise between the players. But we never knew about what happened then. Can you tell us what you expect from the upcoming elections in the DRC?
Minister Biruta: Elections in the DRC belong to Congolese. Maybe I should stop there. We don’t have any legitimacy or any plan to interfere in Congolese elections. We hope that the elections will be peaceful, and that Congolese will be able to exercise their democratic rights. That the only thing I can say about it.
When our president was chairman of the African Union. It was no more that he finds a way to intervene and find solution to the crisis, which was there and hopefully the crisis was resolved and DRC was able to have a president, which is good. But we should not make comment on DRC election. That issue belongs to sovereignty of Congo and the Congolese.
Okay, I’m continuing on the economic aspects. Rwanda has invested in fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and capabilities, and is also developing its capacity to become a green financing hub. Could you tell us the value of this focus for the integration of Africa and the role Rwanda is playing? I think it’s for you, Madam Minister:
Minister Mujawamariya: Thank you very much. Rwanda has put environment at the heart of everything we do. When we talk about climate finance, when we talk about green investment, even Rwanda development Board now is encouraging all investors to go green. So, that is something that we are eager on. And even our Ministry of Finance, is making sure that the planning and budgeting of all institutions go green, and we are ready to continue in that process, because it will show our policy coherence and the political consistence in whatever we do, and our green economy should be the only way we can save our planet starting by Rwanda.
Another question on economics, from one of the attendees about the US Rwanda trade mission that will take in place very soon on in May. There is a question about how could you facilitate opportunities for American business people to meet successful business owners from Rwanda, who operate in the region?
Minister Biruta: We welcome investors from the US and from other parts of the world. And this is the reason why Rwanda has put in placeall the mechanism to attract investors and facilitate investment In Rwanda. We havean institution, the Rwanda Development Board, which is in charge among others of promotion of investment, there are incentives which we placed to attract investors, and let me use this opportunity to urge American companies, American investors to come to Rwanda and look for opportunities to invest in our country, but we have institution in place, we have incentives and we are every year we areworking towardsimproving the business environment in our country and is the reason why we are attracting investment from the US, this is the reason why we’re having that trade mission and having investments from other parts of the world as well.
Minister Mujawamariya, there is a question here for you. What areas of investments in environment that US government or companies can invest in? Specifically, what would you prioritise? Of course, what are challenges? But I think you already answered about that. What are challenges that Rwanda has, that we can say this is where we need much collaboration?
Minister Mujawamariya: Yeah. Thank you very much. The area of investment we have include the E-mobility, sustainable urbanisation. Climate smart agriculture and of course, Renewable energy. Those are the areas of investment or green projects project.
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