Yesterday,Israel opened its embassy in Rwanda after 50 years since the two countries established diplomatic relations. This is the first time Israel is opening an Embassy in an African nation in eight years after Ghana’s in 2011 and their 11th on the continent.
This follows a series of meetings between President Paul Kagame and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which they agreed, among other things, to open an Israel embassy in Kigali.
The New Times’Julius Bizimungu had exclusive interview with Yuval Rotem, the Director General of Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs on wide ranging issues, including Israel relations with Rwanda and Africa in general, the controversial refugee issues as well as trade between Rwanda and Israel.
Below are excerpts:
Your Prime Minister has met the Rwandan President many times in the past two years. What does this signify?
It means trust between leaders, trust between countries, and above all, it is an interest of both countries to take their relationship into a different direction that benefits their people.
It also means that both countries are ready for the next move.
Within this context, we have now our embassy opened here which is a better symbolism and better practicability, with desire on Israel side, to move this relationship forward and see what areas of cooperation, of collaboration and above all, what we can advance in the interest of both countries that benefits you (Rwanda) and us (Israel), in economic area, in the political area, and the strategic area. That is the business of politics and diplomacy.
Earlier this year, Ron Adam, the first resident ambassador presented his credentials to President Kagame. This looks like a historical moment. How significant is it?
For us this is very eventful because this is our embassy number 11 in Africa, and I think there was, to some degree, something unreal in Israel diplomacy that one of the friendliest country to Israel – Rwanda, we didn’t have an embassy in its own capital.
At the end of the day, you can see it is a correction of Israel diplomacy.
We in the Foreign Ministry insisted for quite a while to give practice to the declaration of Israel principle that Israel is going back to Africa.
You cannot go back to Africa without having an embassy in Kigali.
RwandAir is expected to start direct flights to Tel Aviv. What potential does this have in promoting exchanges between the two countries?
You don’t have better means to advance bilateral relations between countries if you don’t have direct flights from one place to the other place. This is the best way that you can measure the interest of relationship between two countries.
The moment you are going to have direct flights, it means that there will be tourism between countries, there will be more business traffic, and above all, it is going to help people to people relationship.
When I see our relationship with other countries, the best option and the best measure to advance the cause of this relationship is always direct flights.
So, by signing this agreement (BASA) we facilitated the air carrier of your country and hopefully, next, for our carrier to come over here, and that will enhance significantly our relationship.
Are there trade and business prospects that can be leveraged on?
When your country’s growth is at about 6 per cent to 7 per cent a year, there is a room for many countries to come over here and knock on your door and see what else they can contribute to this growth.
Israel and Rwanda seek to strengthen cooperation in agriculture and security, among others. What is the existing partnership in these areas and other sectors like?
It is never enough. We can always do more and I think that is what you are going to see beyond the opening of the embassy.
We are already establishing the agricultural centre of excellence in Rwanda. This is the biggest project of Israel Foreign Agency, MASHAV.
We are making significant investments to be able to bring knowledge and knowhow to the people of here based on Israel experience, that hundreds of farmers and people who are dealing in agriculture in Rwanda will be trained and they are going to be in position to have by far more quality, by far more quantity, and above all, it is going to bring more income to the people.
This is exactly the kind of cooperation that we are looking forward to enhance, to the extent, and I think [this] will give first layer of cooperation which is as important as we move to the second layer of cooperation, which is ICT.
This is a sector that your country is seeking to make a very significant step forward, and given the fact that Israel is a powerhouse of creativity, in entrepreneurship, in high-tech, this is a place where we can even have more relevant relationship between our two countries.
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