Last week, Kigali hosted a two-day African Union and European Union ministerial meeting which convened over 500 participants including 68 foreign ministers, to among others mull ways of cementing Africa’s and European partnership. On the sidelines of the summit, The New Times Collins Mwai spoke to Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Péter Szijjártó who is also Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on a few multilateral and bilateral issues. Among aspects covered include vaccine access inequality, future of Africa-EU ties, Rwanda- Hungary ties among others. Below are excerpts: As the Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, what did you find to be key issues on the African Union and European Union ministerial meeting agenda? There are two key issues on the agenda. One is the cooperation on protective measures with regard to the pandemic and second is how we can cooperate with regard to address migration flows. These two issues have a very strong interdependence considering that the more the economic challenges caused by the pandemic on the continent, the more people could start seeking to migrate. Our understanding is that we have to work together on both aspects to improve circumstances on both aspects. As Hungary, we think that improved access to vaccines for all as well as increased investments on the continent will go a long way. As the two parties seek to have improved ties and cooperation, some would say that Europe and the Western world have often looked down on Africa limiting chances of cooperation… Our approach (as in Hungary) is based on mutual respect. When we build ties and relationship and carry out strategies, we are keen on respect. We are keen on considering both parties on an equal level. On the other hand, it is important for us Europeans to understand that we do not have to interfere with domestic issues of other countries, we do not have to judge other countries or think that we know what is better or good for another nation beyond the nation itself. As Hungary, we ensure it’s in a mutually respectful way. Speaking of equality, there has not been much equality in vaccine access with Africa having less than 10 per cent vaccinated while many European countries are over 60 per cent… We look at vaccines as a tool to save lives of people. Unfortunately, others see it as an ideology. That is why European authorities have not yet approved the use of the Chinese and Russian vaccines. We in Hungary have approved both which helped us be very quick in vaccination programmes and that is how we could open up the economy. We have donated over 400,000 vaccines to African countries including 100,000 to Rwanda. On the other hand, when it comes to development assistance, we have to work with African countries to modernize their economies otherwise circumstances could lead many to want to leave. That is why we have allocated $75m to carry out tied aid programmes in African countries in water management, agriculture and IT. We have allocated Euro 22M for Humanitarian assistance for development projects. When the UEFA European Football Championship 2020 kicked off in July, it was in a stadium with fans without masks thanks to access to vaccines. Same week, Rwanda and a number of African countries went into lockdowns uncertain on when vaccines would be available. Does inequality keep manifesting itself? The success of the European Unions protective measures is interdependent with the measures here in Africa. It is not only African countries that had challenges in accessing vaccines. The European countries too. The European Commission that they would be procuring vaccines on behalf of the European Union and European Countries were not able to negotiate with producers on their own. At the beginning, there were bottlenecks in production and producers delivered vaccines to US, UK, Israel and not EU member states. That is how we ended up buying Chinese and Russian Vaccines. And now we are doing as you are, we are building a vaccines factory that will produce vaccines based on license, we are in negotiations with Sinopharm and Sputnik. There was inequality on the sharing of vaccines which is partly due to the fact that demand was much higher than production capacity. You have severally mentioned illegal migration to Europe, what’ your position on the issue? Another important aspect is dealing with illegal migration. Europe has been under pressure. There is a big debate on what is the best approach. A majority of members are in favour of encouraging migration. A smaller number are in favour of stopping migration and tackling root causes of migration, we are in favour of this approach and are happy to work with Rwanda. Going forward, what are the potential avenues of cooperation between Rwanda and Hungary? Among the biggest avenues of cooperation is what I am coming back in November to launch, a tied aid programme. This means that the Hungarian Eximbank which is under the Foreign Affairs ministers’ portfolio will provide a $52M credit facility for Rwanda. It is a soft loan which means that it has a 0 per cent interest rate, paid back in 20 years with an 8 year grace period. The precondition of the credit is that there should be at least a 50 per cent Hungarian contribution. This means if you pick projects in agriculture, digitization, water management, education, we will provide the $52M with half the project being completed by Hungarian companies and the other half by local companies. This should work out very well. We hope that Rwanda can identify companies that can take part. Which aspects do you figure Hungary could have the most impact in Rwanda? One of the areas is upgrading agriculture technology, food processing technology, we understand that agriculture is rich in commodities and is yet to fully develop. We also see opportunities in irrigation, education, telecommunication, infrastructure upgrades among others. What aspect could Rwanda feature well in your economy? I am sure that there would be a big demand for generic agricultural products, coffee, tea. Lastly, what’s your take-home from the summit? Most important is how well we can follow up the outcomes, now that we understand the position of our African partners, we now have to follow up and take action to implement outcomes. We will be pushing for a clear action plan on agreed upon areas of cooperation.