Following the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, Rwanda committed to doing everything within its capacity to ensure that such atrocities do not take place again. This philosophy informed its peacekeeping missions which have not only helped restore peace and security in Africa, but also strengthened the country’s relations with the World super powers.
In an exclusive interview with The New Times Jean Mugabo, the German Ambassador to Rwanda, Peter Fahrenholtz, speaks about security and development in the region as well as an array of issues of bilateral interest.
How is the Rwanda-German relationship like?
The relationship between Rwanda and German is very good. We have very good political dialogue. Ministers, politicians, diplomats and members of parliament of Rwanda and German talk to each other about the situation in Rwanda, situation in the region, Africa and United Nations issues. So, we discuss and consult on many issues.
We believe that Rwanda is giving a good contribution to bring peace and security in Africa. Rwanda is contributing to peacekeeping missions and is one of the largest contributors to peacekeeping missions in Africa.
Rwanda also plays an important role for the stability of the Great Lakes region. We want to work together with Rwanda to help Africa achieve more peace, security and stability.
We also want to learn from Rwanda about Rwandan experiences on peace and security promotion in Africa.
How about development cooperation?
The development cooperation between Rwanda and Germany is doing very well. We are supporting Rwanda in vocational training, decentralisation and development of the business sector, and we are very happy that Rwanda is one the most successful developing countries in Africa.
We are very happy to work together with Rwanda to achieve more progress in development. We are very happy to contribute to Rwanda’s efforts to realise the vision 2020 to become a middle-income country.
And on the culture front...
We now have a German Cultural Institute in Rwanda, and we have introduced German language courses because we have seen that many Rwandans are interested in learning German. We are expanding our scholarships to Rwandan graduates to study in Germany and we are also supporting the film school where young Rwandan film producers are learning to make films.
We want to work together with Rwanda to preserve its cultural heritage from pre-colonial time, the time more than 100 years ago where the roots of Rwandan culture reside.
How about business...
We have had many German companies coming to invest in Rwanda and I would wish for more to come, but some of our companies have problems in this country and I wish that the Rwandan government would do more to solve the problems of these German companies.
Tell me more about the problems faced by German investments
The country is moving very well but some of our companies, not all of them, have some issues which need to be solved quickly. I cannot go into details but it has to do with taxation and the coordination of different government agencies. You know, Germany is one of the largest investors worldwide and one of the largest economies worldwide, and we would like to invest in Rwanda for sure, but we need to have success stories and then we will surely get more and more German companies coming here.
You have commended Rwanda for remarkable progress so far, as a development country, what tips can you share to achieving the country’s vision 2020?
It is still five years from now and I believe that if everything goes well, if the government does efficient implementation of its right decisions, if everybody in this country works hard and if the international economic environment is good, then it’s possible. But of course to become a rich country, is not easy, you cannot get it without hard work, it’s quite obvious, I am sorry to say that.
It requires very hard work for everybody to be able to reach middle-income level, Rwanda will become a rich country eventually. But it needs hard work by everybody, good government, good implementation and it also needs good business.
Germany supports Rwanda in different areas and you have said the plan is to expand. What will the focus be?
Our development cooperation is focused on Technical Vocational and Education Training (TVET), decentralisation and sustainable private economic development, and we cannot change this because we need to coordinate independent co-operations in these three areas. So, they are good choices because TVET is so important. If you have a young man or young woman trained as a carpenter or electrician, they will always get a good job but if you have just a bachelor of finance or business, it is difficult to get job nowadays because they are so many. But with good education in TVET, you will get a job immediately; it is a fact and the Rwandan government recognises this. They are really doing a lot of efforts to give good qualifications to young people and as Germany we have a long tradition in TVET. We were very happy when the Rwandan government asked us to support them.
Also decentralisation is very good because the highly centralised government does not work as the government is too far away from the people. So, it is the right choice to decentralise, to give the districts and sectors more resources, more money and competences because this is where development takes place, this is where the people live and you can see what the people need and then you can make the choices there on the ground to achieve the progress.
Germany is also a highly decentralised country; this is why Rwanda asked us to help them in decentralisation and governance.
What is needed for Rwanda to attract more foreign investments?
I know that Rwandan government has deployed many efforts to get more investment but there are still more potential avenues in Rwanda. There is a very good business environment, I think Rwanda should aim bigger and make more efforts to attract top-notch investors from countries like Germany and other first world economies.
But in order to do this, I am just asking the Rwandan government to put more efforts to solve the problems of the existing investors in Rwanda. We need to solve these problems quickly and then we will get more investment for sure. Also we hope to have Investment World Show at the end of this year in order to try to bring investors from Germany. This year, we have had 37 German investors come here to look for investment possibilities and we have hundreds of German companies working in Kenya. So, I want these companies to invest here and I am getting so much more interest and I think the timing is good at the moment.
Let’s shift focus to Burundi, What is Germany's stand on the violence and instability?
We regret very much that the situation has come so far. We regret that Rwandan people have to suffer under the instability of what is taking place at the moment in Burundi. This is not how it should be. If you have good governance, these things should not happen. Burundi is already a poor country and it should focus the resources it has on development and improving the welfare of its people.
Burundi is still one of the poorest countries in Africa and there has been no much progress in the last ten years.
When you look at Rwanda for example, what it has achieved in the last ten years, it’s a great achievement.
So, my advice to Burundi would be please solve your problems, find a good way forward peacefully, without violence and get down to work on economic development of the country.
How about Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a third term?
I think he would be very wise to step aside. That would be the wise choice. What we need with our leaders is leadership wisdom. We don’t need controversy or conflict, we need wisdom in leadership to be a good example for everyone in the country. Our advice to the incumbent President would be “please use wisdom and the best seems to be that you just step aside and let the country move forward”.
What if the situation becomes worse, should there be an intervention?
Burundi is an African country. First of all, the problem should be solved by Burundians themselves. If they are not able, then it is up to African countries and African institutions to help Burundi to solve the problem, and I am very happy to see that African Union is engaged, that East African Community is really committing to find a good way forward. The foreign ministers met in Bujumbura and the heads of state also meet. So, Africa is engaging in helping Burundi.
No country should need help to solve its problems, a country should safeguard its autonomy and solve the problem by themselves, but Burundi obviously needs help and we are supporting African efforts to help Burundi.
Currently over 25,000 Burundians have crossed to Rwanda. Is Germany offering any support for their well being?
Well, we stand ready. As far as we know the UN has money available, also European Union offered support a few days ago. But we are watching how the situation develops and if there is not enough money, we stand ready to contribute.
The German International media relay station in Kigali stopped transmission in March after 50 years of existence in Kinyinya, Gasabo District. What is the background to the closure of the Deutsche Welle (DW) station?
From the German perspective, we are concentrating more on satellite TV and internet to reach people. DW has a new model to broadcast on short wave from other antennas. And we will not use short wave as much as before, but a few hours per day because we don’t need 24 hours per day. Obviously 50 years ago, the only international medium was short wave for everyone. There was no internet, no satellite TV at that time but over the decades, short wave is less and less important.
We have a contract with the Rwandan government and according to this contract, we have to give back the terrain, where DW stands now. And that is completely okay because we have an agreement to do so and we will honour this agreement and return this terrain. That’s a big area and of course Kigali is a growing city and obviously, most of this terrain is not used, there are just some antennas. So, we fully understand the Rwandan government wants to use this terrain for other purposes.
We are dismantling everything now and we will return this land to the Rwandan government in 2016. This is not our land but there is a lease agreement signed by Rwandan government and DW, this agreement had expired in 2011 but we agreed on extension of five years, so now it’s the time. This is a normal thing.
Finally, there is an on-going debate in Rwanda over the change of the constitution to allow President Kagame run for office in 2017, any comments?
It is not up to me to say who should be the next president of this country or the constitution should be changed or not. It is really not up to me to say anything about this. It depends on what the Rwandan people want and what is the best for this country.
Rwanda has been very successful for the last 21 years. It has achieved tremendous amounts of security, stability, peace, progress, the life of everybody is getting better, and also the future should be like that.
Politically, it depends on what the majority of people want. If the majority or everybody in the population want the same thing, then what can go wrong? That is the most important thing that every country in the world needs to have. The problem is divergence when some part of the population wants to do this and another part wants to that or some political leaders want to do this and the population want to do that. In Burundi for example, where is the consensus of the population?
This is why democracy is the best system; it is about what the majority of people want. If the majority is behind you, then you know where to go and everything will be fine.
Looking at the process, we can expect a clear process to change the constitution and rules are there. I am sure we will have a completely transparent and fair process to change the constitution and to have elections. I am sure, absolutely sure of that and it is really up to the people of Rwanda to make the necessary decisions.