Rwanda and Qatar cement ties with airport deal

President Kagame and the Emir of Qatar witness the signing of three agreements between the governments of the two countries. (Courtesy)

On May 4, 2017, Rwanda and Qatar signed an agreement establishing diplomatic relations

The agreement reaffirmed the growing bilateral ties between the two countries and possibly setting in motion future agreements, mainly in the business.

Since then, a number of senior officials’ visits have been held between the two countries.

Previously, Qatar was represented in Rwanda through its mission in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania while Rwanda was represented in the Gulf state through its mission in the United Arab Emirates.

This changed when both countries established resident embassies in their respective capitals.

In November 2018, President Paul Kagame held a state visit to Qatar during which both countries signed agreements of cooperation air service, reciprocal promotion, and protection of investments as well as economic, commercial and technical cooperation.

Kigali also received high-level delegations from Doha.

Prominent among them was the one, in April, of the Emir of Qatar, His Highness Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who led a high-powered delegation of senior government officials and business executives to Kigali.

During the three-day state visit, the Emir and President Kagame witnessed the signing of four bilateral agreements in the areas of culture, sports, cooperation in the field of tourism and business events, among others.

Fast forward, the icing on the cake, came on Monday, when Rwanda and Qatar Airways, which operates direct flights to Kigali since 2012, signed three agreements that saw the two parties set up a joint venture to build, own and operate Rwanda’s future international airport in Bugesera District. 

Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda's Minister of State in charge of the East African Community, said this is “an important investment that will cement our relationship and cooperation.”

Nduhungirehe said the two countries “enjoy excellent relationships” based on mutual respect, trade, and investment.

“Qatar is an important economy both in the Middle East and in the world,” he said.

Last month Qatar and Rwanda signed a visa exemption agreement to grant citizens of both countries with visa-free entry.

Rwanda also signed a deal with Qatari owned French football club, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), to promote the visibility of Rwandan brands and tourism.

Although the Rwanda-PSG deal might be a separate arrangement, the economic partnership between Rwanda and Qatar has been growing with Kigali hoping for more investments from the Gulf state. Observers say Qatari could also use Rwanda as a gateway to Africa.

 Rwandan Economist, Dr James Ndahiro, believes that in the realm of people to people ties, Rwanda stands to benefit too.

“We are likely to get professional benefits as Qatar is an advanced country in many areas,” he says.

Qatar is widely regarded as the most advanced Arab state for human development.

By and large, Ndahiro says, the Rwanda-Qatar relationship is a good relationship, particularly because, one, “there are no [political] conditions attached” to deals.

 “This is a pure business transaction, which is a win-win situation for both countries, unlike what you find in these other multilateral funding institutions whereby you get [funds] after a long time, and with conditions attached,” he said.

“My second feeling is that this is a relationship with a partner that has sufficient funds and they are willing to take risks. It is not like borrowing from a bank. Here, you are in it together and for the long-term.”

James Karuhanga, a Rwandan Barista working in Doha told The New Times that the high-level visits between the two capitals “have greatly added value.”

He noted that when he first arrived in Doha, a year ago, locals knew nothing about Rwanda.

But a lot changed when Kagame visited Qatar and the Emir of Qatar also visited

“Lately, Rwandans, although very few here, feel known and respected. And things are looking very good,” Karuhanga said. “I hope many more Rwandans are now going to take advantage of this new opening and come here.”

Under the agreement that was signed on Monday, Qatar Airways will hold 60 per cent shares in an international airport being built in Bugesera

The new airport is being redesigned to accommodate seven million passengers per year, and will be completed by 2022. Passenger capacity is set to increase in subsequent phases of the airport expansion.

The proposed airport is expected to support the national carrier’s expansion plans in the long-term.

Ndahiro says that besides the business deals, Rwanda will act as Qatar’s gateway to Africa.

“I think for them this is a big connection to Africa. This gives them an alternative; it is a diversification strategy on their behalf,” Ndahiro says.

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

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