Over the weekend the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation organized an upcountry tour in the Southern and Western provinces for members of the diplomatic corps for them to have an experience of the diversity and beauty of country beyond the City.
Among them was the Deputy Head of Mission of the Israeli Embassy to Rwanda, Leo Vinovezky, who is based in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.
Ambassador Vinovezky spoke to The New Times’ Collins Mwai on the similar history and experience of Israel and Rwanda and the bilateral relations between the two countries.
Both countries share unfortunate past experiences, what best practices in the two countries can enable them to facilitate recovery and development?
Unfortunately we cannot change the past, however, what we can do is to build the present and to dream and invest into the future, preparing the future generation by investing in youth and women and in innovative and creative ideas coming from the communities. That’s what we have been doing in Israel over the past 66 years.
Since we went through different but similar nightmares; the Holocaust and the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, we can understand each other better or relate to it. Still, our duty is to remember and remind and not forget.
Both countries continue to face emerging threats to their peace and stability, in the case of Rwanda there is FDLR while in the Isreali case there are terrorism threats from groups such as Hamas. By your country’s experience, what is the best way to deal with emerging threats?
We continue to face terror threats; even as we speak rockets are still being fired into Israel, which is unacceptable and we have to protect our population. We have a commitment.
This diplomatic excursion gave me and my colleagues the opportunity to see that Rwanda has created mechanisms of cooperation and initiatives with neighbouring countries which are meant to be strategic in the sense that if they were created jointly, they should be conserved and protected jointly. In my humble opinion, these joint conservation and protection will go a long way in ensuring peaceful relations with neighbouring countries.
We are also trying to do the same with the Palestinians, Jordans, Egyptians and other neighbors to establish cooperation beyond security issues. These are in areas related to commerce, energy and other resources, amongst other areas.
This is our approach too. You have a beautiful country and a beautiful people, colorful villages and towns. The capital, Kigali, is amazing and you have transformed your hospitality and generosity in a trade mark.
Rwanda has continued to face a challenge of Genocide denial, is it a challenge in Israel, how have you dealt with it?
It is also a huge challenge that we are facing, we still have a few people who speak out. However the world is aware of what happened in Europe during the Holocaust. Life is life and one of the problems is that many of the survivors are old and some have passed away.
When it comes to testimonies, we are preparing our memorial centers in Israel to document and teach about the events to the current and future generations. We are also encouraging our youth to visit the concentration and death camps in Europe to see firsthand what went on there. Our Ministry for example, organizes delegations of Israeli diplomats to visit the camps in Europe.
I believe it is an area we can cooperate and learn from each other on how to prepare future generations to give life a chance. Recently the Auschwitz Institute signed an agreement with the Peace and Security Commission at the African Union aimed to create an African network for genocide and mass atrocity prevention through educational tools.
Another similarity between the two nations is the criticisms from part of the international community due to how they dealt with various challenges, by your light, what’s the best way to deal with such criticisms?
Depends on who criticizes and depends on what kind of society they represent. At times the best actor to determine how to deal with specific challenges is the countries under that specific threats. There are times countries should take leadership and not be afraid to speak out on some issues as Rwanda and Israel have done several times. The good news is that there are countries that share specific ideas, experiences and values on various issues so that in future these countries will not be alone in time of conflict or crisis.
On to matters of bilateral relations and agreements, has there been results from the various agreements signed between the two countries?
When you sign agreements, they should mean commitments which should be implemented to visible results. It is these results that encourage more people and institutions to be part of this process.
Agreements bring hope and good atmosphere. Last June for example, our Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman together with Rwanda's former Minister of Agriculture Dr. Agnes Kalibata, inaugurated the Rwanda-Israel Center of Excellence for Horticultural Development, where we plan to expose the farmers to the best practices from Israel.
This is in the areas of modern technologies applied to agriculture. It will be an initiative for the benefit of a wide section of the population, in this case farmers, agriculture trainers, agribusiness and so on.
There has been consultations between the two governments on a range of issues as a result of the signed agreements. As I mentioned, in last June, FM Liberman met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Louise Mushikiwabo, with whom he signed a memorandum of understanding to upgrade relations between the two countries.
Later, FM of Rwanda visited Israel specially at a time that Hamas was launching thousands of rockets on Israel. Beyond that, as we discussed with high officials at the Ministry of Education, we are also looking at the possibility of bringing Israeli lecturers and professors to Rwandan higher learning institutions to build capacity of students here.
As a result of the cooperation between the two countries together with Israeli and Rwandan institutions, we have almost 200 students from Rwandan agricultural colleges going to Israel for at least 1 year where they are exposed to the latest technologies and best practices. The impact is already visible.
Summarizing, agricultural sector progress has been remarkable as well as the foreign relations between the two nations. We are in contact with your Ministry of Sports and Culture to promote cooperation also on these areas. We will be more than happy to introduce the Rwandan people to Israeli musicians, writers, painters and film makers.
What of business to business relations?
This year in June, the minister of Foreign Affairs was accompanied by a delegation of more than 65 representatives of Israeli companies who met with officials from the Rwanda Development Board for them to work on business to business relations. B2B. That is the way we are continuing to promoting the business communities in both countries.
We need to work together on several levels beyond governments; there are is a lot to work on together, people to people.
We are also looking at working on projects here jointly with other countries, what we usually call Trilateral Cooperation: Israel, Rwanda and a third country. This trilateral cooperation also enable us to learn from each other. Rwanda can learn from Israel and Israel can learn from Rwanda.
Our agency for international cooperation and development, Mashav, has been training hundreds of Rwandans in Israel, in a vast number of fields, like Health, Agriculture, Education, etc. We share with our friends knowledge, expertise and give technical support.
Opportunities in the EAC?
The fact that Rwanda belongs to this community is good news because it creates new possibilities and opportunities for all the countries in the region especially for enterprises as there is a bigger market. It seems that Rwanda is doing well, growing and developing in such a wonderful way.