This is Part Four of a six-part series on African Investment
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Rwanda’s foreign minister says her country is committed to strong peace, stability, integration among East and Central African countries.
Louise Mushikiwabo made her comments a recent three-day meeting of the New York Forum Africa held in the Gabonese capital, Libreville. The group brings together international investors and African business leaders on the continent in an effort to foster partnerships.
Mushikiwabo said Kigali seeks robust bilateral relations with its neighbors to better the lives of citizens in the region.
In an interview with VOA, Mushikiwabo said Rwanda works closely with its regional partners to dismantle trade barriers to create what she called “an enabling environment” for strong business growth.
“We are the first country in East Africa to wave work permits for citizens of East Africa… While President Paul Kagame was chairing the East Africa community, he pushed for some of the trade barriers to be dismantled. So we do have a strong commitment to East Africa for our region to become a good environment for business,” said Mushikiwabo.
Experts say Rwanda has recently become a tourist destination in the East Africa, in spite of the 1994 genocide in which hundreds of thousands of people perished. They laud the government’s development of the potentially lucrative sector.
Mushikiwabo said Kigali has introduced a radio program to encourage citizens to take advantage of a growth in tourism.
“We had to do a lot of [outreach] through the communities beyond the main city of Kigali where people know the other countries surrounding Rwanda…We went to the different provinces talking about the benefits of being one region,” She said.
“Anytime we make progress in terms of our integration, especially economic integration, we always make sure that people are informed of the opportunities. We advertise, we go out of our way to let our people know what they can get in, say, Kenya or Uganda or Tanzania. We’ve also increased transport from one country to another.”
The recently launched Rwanda Air flies to neighboring countries almost twice daily, and in some cases a few times during the week. Mushikiwabo also said there are also regularly leaving Kigali for other East African destinations as well.
A desire to increase tourism has also brought increased internal security. Mushikiwabo said it’s been tightened following the 1994 genocide.
“We have made sure that security is the number one priority for the country where people can freely circulate on the territory, where people can walk at night, where people can leave their house unlocked in some of the neighborhoods…and we’ve more than just the traditional security measures also made the average person understand that security is something they need to be part of,” said Mushikiwabo.
She denied recent accusations the Rwandan military provided up to 300 fighters as well as weapons and ammunition to rebels battling government forces in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
“It’s one of the areas that Rwanda and Congo has worked very hard on. After we normalized relations, we made sure that we continue to talk -- that our security and defense leaders meet often, talk often, work together have joint operations in the region,” continued Mushikiwabo.
“We also very much put time and value into security in both countries…So we take security very seriously and that is how Rwanda has been able to move away from insecurity and even to grow so much, economically.”
Mushikiwabo said Rwanda is committed to the economic empowerment of its people. She said the government is implementing measures to help Rwandans realize their economic potential.
“One is to create economic opportunities, but before one gets to economic opportunities, one has to get the average citizen involved in activities that will lift people out of poverty Wave done that [with] a number of programs…that are inspired by our own tradition. The tradition, which is not just Rwandan but very African, of neighbor helping neighbor. We have taken some of these traditional mechanisms and injected them with a bit of modern finance, and included them in our economic programs.”
She said the government is continuing to find innovative ways of creating jobs including encouraging entrepreneurship and adding value to the country’s main exports, coffee and tea.