The 7th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit is due in Beijing from September 3-4. The forum brings together China and some 53 African countries. With China’s contribution, in terms of funding and other contribution to Africa having risen from $5 billion to $60 billion in 2015, its influence on the continent is growing.
Ahead of the summit, The New Times’ Hudson Kuteesa talked to Charles Kayonga, Rwanda’s Ambassador to China, on the importance of the summit as well as Rwanda’s relations with China.
The FOCAC summit is just around the corner. Beijing looks ready. How has Rwanda benefited from FOCAC?
Rwanda has gained across all areas of cooperation under FOCAC. We have had political exchange where respective leaders have visited each other and shared experience, thus deepening trust and the base for continued cooperation. At the economic level, we have had projects including the Kigali road expansion, the expansion of Musanze Polytechnic, and the construction of the Government offices complex, among others.
READ ALSO: President Kagame to speak at FOCAC summit
In social development, a number of students accessed scholarships to study in China, and hundreds of (water) wells were constructed, contributing to the improved wellbeing of our rural communities. The number of Chinese citizens travelling to Rwanda has also increased owing to accelerated people-to-people relations that have allowed cultural exchange and awareness between the two countries.
African envoys in Beijing have been taking part in preparations, working hand in hand with their Chinese counterparts. From an African envoy’s point of view, have the consultations been satisfactory, and do you believe that this FOCAC will put into account the interests of the ordinary African citizen?
The FOCAC Beijing Action Plan 2019-2021, which is the main document outlining the programme of action in the next three years was initiated by both China and Africa, represented by the Chinese Government and South Africa as the FOCAC co-chairs. Embassies representing African countries in Beijing contributed to the document. The design of the plan takes into consideration the visions of both China and Africa, namely the two millennium goals and the AU Agenda 2063, and, by implication, our individual national plans. The planning process also took into consideration the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These respective visions are very clear in their end state, which is sustainable economic transformation and the wellbeing of the people. The Beijing Action Plan is detailed, covering all the sectors: political, economic, social development, culture and people to people, peace and security, and international cooperation. Each sector is further dissected and actionable programmes are outlined to ensure t
hat it is comprehensive.
Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, said that focus will be on industrial development, infrastructure, trade and investment, human resource development, science education, culture and health, environmental protection as well as peace and security. According to you, which of these fields is more important to Rwanda?
No country can depend on one field alone. That is why we aim to cooperate in many areas. However, since we can’t achieve cooperation in all the sectors at the same time, we prioritise. That is why for Rwanda, our vision being to build a knowledge-based and service-oriented economy, we started on investment in our human capital, in education, skills development, and health. Our vision has not changed. It is still one targetted at a knowledge-based economy, but to achieve high standards of living for our people by 2050, we seek to build industries to add value to our raw resources and provide employment for our increasingly skilled youth.
President Xi Jinping visited Rwanda recently. What did the visit mean for the two countries’ relations?
President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rwanda tells a lot not only about Rwanda, but also about China, and President Xi, in particular. This was the first visit to Rwanda by the President, and by any Chinese President for that matter, but it was his fourth visit to Africa since coming into office in 2013. China has made cooperation with Africa a strategic choice since the 1950s, but President Xi has given it new impetus, seeking deeper and more mutually beneficial cooperation. For Rwanda, the visit by Xi Jinping is another vote of confidence in our leadership and their effort to transform the image of the country. It is important to remember that Rwanda, like China, is a product of a revolution, and carries on the struggle, this time, for the emancipation of the people from poverty and underdevelopment.
Rwanda is enjoying stability and steady economic growth. This presents an opportunity to Chinese investors. Are you having a number of consultations so far from Chinese investors wanting to come to Rwanda? And which ones in particular?
Yes, an increasing number of investors are expressing interest in coming to do business in Rwanda. There are several companies that we have already put in touch with Rwanda Development Board and the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Some of the companies would like to invest in construction material production, agro-processing, electronics, car manufacturing, and mineral processing, among other sectors.
Which Rwandan products have market in China?
Coffee, tea, handicrafts, minerals, and tourism. Processed goods remain very limited. This is the reason we need industries in order to increase exports of processed goods to China.
Some observers have argued that China wants to be the new coloniser of Africa. What is your take on this?
About colonising Africa, well, there is a forum where the two sides meet and discuss win-win strategies for cooperation. This is hardly an environment or strategy for colonisation.