Count on us during Rwanda’s AU chairmanship – Ethiopian envoy

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Amb. Lulit Zewdie Gebremariam during the interview in Kigali. Sam Ngendahimana.

Ethiopia is one of the latest countries to open an embassy in Rwanda in an aim to boost bilateral ties between the two countries. Rwanda and Ethiopia last year signed 11 bilateral agreements on; extradition treaty, mutual legal assistance, communication, information and media, youth and sports, tourism, education, culture and health.

Other aspects include; education, cooperation in prisons and correctional services, gender, women and children as well as water resources management. The New Time’s Collins Mwai had an interview with the country’s first envoy to Rwanda Lulit Zewdie Gebremariam for insights on progress with the implementation of these agreements, the African Union, among other issues.

Excerpts:

Rwanda has taken over the African Union chairmanship for 2018. Are there any expectations from Ethiopia on areas that ought to receive priority?

We do not have any specific issues that we would like to give priority but we expect that the African Union reforms will be adopted and serve to strengthen the organization and live up to the expectations of citizens.

There is a need to see progress in regards to the reforms and we expect that they will be implemented and goals achieved.

I would like to commend President Paul Kagame and Rwanda for taking over as chair of the African Union and for leading the reforms agenda. Ethiopia will stand with Rwanda through the process and their chairmanship at the African Union.

Speaking of reforms, how ready is Ethiopia to implement the 0.2 per cent levy on imports towards self-financing of the Union?

The 0.2 per cent levy is a very important decision which if implemented would see the continent finance most of its activities and initiatives.

Ethiopia is very much behind this decision and is ready to implement the decision. Ethiopia is one of the countries that are taking measures to implement it. Already a national committee has since been formed and is chaired by the minister of Finance and is looking into the implementation of the decision.

What would you say of the relations between the two countries currently?

The two countries have a long standing and excellent relationship and have a number of memoranda of understanding and agreements to cement ties.

The relationship has always been in a good state. Among the areas of close cooperation include political consultations in international matters, experience sharing, peace and security initiatives.

We also have trade and investment relations that have been growing over the years.

There were agreements signed last year aimed at further boosting this. We expect increased ties and partnership between the two countries through the implementation of the agreements.

When it comes to the agreements made so far and the level of interactions so far, there is need to provide a mechanisms that could bring us closer going forward. The two countries hold similar positions in international matters.

We believe that the relationship that has aspects such as investment, private sector interaction, trade will create opportunities for increased sharing of experience and cooperation.

Ethiopia has previously mentioned ambitions of deepening trade ties with Rwanda, how far with that and what are some of the opportunities?

At the African Union level, the two countries are working towards the realization of the continental free trade area which will increase trade across the region and increase integration.

Recently, I had a meeting with the private sector federation and I learnt that there is a need for leather and textile in the local market and we believe that Ethiopia can support in such aspects. The trade agreements should help in the development of such aspects in trade and integration.

What are some of the opportunities for Rwandan businesses in Ethiopia?

The two countries have agrarian economy. They export and at the same time import agricultural products, mainly food products. These are areas the two sides can tap into going ahead.

What do you make of Ethiopian investments in Rwanda?

There is quite some activity by Ethiopian business people in Rwanda and I have also come across some business people from Ethiopia who would like to make new investments here.

During the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s visit to Rwanda last year, there was mention of the need for the two countries to learn and share experiences. What are some of the avenues that can serve towards the goal?

The countries engage in quite a number of similar initiatives such as regional peace and security issues hence the need to exchange best practices.

There are certain areas where they can learn from each other based on their levels of expertise. For instance, Ethiopia can learn from Rwanda’s agricultural practices while Rwanda can learn from Ethiopia’s Aviation sector.

This can be achieved by increasing interactions not only of government officials of the two countries but also citizens and private sectors from the two countries.

I cannot think of new avenues, we have existing mechanisms such as political consultations and a joint permanent ministerial committee to review the implementation of agreements. We need to strengthen these mechanisms and use them further as well as people to people integration. When there are people to people ties, it opens up to other aspects such as business and investment.

Ethiopia has been taking part in East African Community summits as an observer state for a while now, any specific targets and interests in EAC?

Ethiopia has been participating as an observer in the East African Community. Ethiopia is also a member of IGAD and COMESA. Since 2015, we have been a member of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects.  That is the aspect that Ethiopia is interested in.

For a while now, there has been talk on Rwanda importing power from Ethiopia, what is holding this up and any chance it could be cleared soon?

In 2014, there was an MOU on the cooperation in the energy sector. Ethiopia is expected to sell about 400MW of electricity to Rwanda. For this to happen and be realized, the electric grid between Ethiopia and Kenya has to be completed.

Upon its completion, Ethiopia will be able to sell power to Rwanda.

Ethiopia has huge potential for hydro-electric power and has a potential to generate 45000Mw from Hydro-power alone.  Development of energy projects has been on the development agenda for quite some time now for domestic and export purposes.

The fast industrialization of the country in aspects such as railway among others requires big hydro-electric power.

Exporting electricity has been a major income earner for the country with plans to expand to Rwanda and Tanzania.

Ethiopia is expecting to earn about USD 290 M annually once the Ethiopia-Kenya distribution line is complete in 2019. So far with the exports to some neighbouring countries, Ethiopia earned about USD800M in 2013-2015. The situation is encouraging.

During your time as ambassador, do you have any specific goals and initiatives that you hope to champion?

There are a number of agreements that are still pending in regards to actualization and I would like to see most of them implemented. Particularly trade integrations, cultural integration as well as people to people exchanges. I would also want to see a lot more private sector exchanges between the countries and also continuation of experience sharing.

For instance, we have a group coming into the country next week for benchmarking from Rwanda in aspects of construction permit efficiency. We have had a number of bench marking studies and more are set to come in the near future.

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