The cabinet, last week, appointed four new ambassadors, among them Alfred Kalisa, a former banker and businessman, who would become the first Rwandan envoy to Angola.
This came as no surprise as the two countries had moved to improve their relations in the recent past. In late 1990s and early 2000s, Rwanda and Angola found themselves on opposing sides during a protracted conflict in DR Congo that sucked in armies from at least seven African countries.
President Paul Kagame and his Angolan counterpart José Eduardo dos Santos held talks in the Angolan capital Luanda, last December, aimed at strengthening bilateral relations. Apart from discussing regional security issues, the leaders signaled their commitment to stepping up bilateral cooperation in various sectors, including investment, a statement from the President’s Office said.
It quoted Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo saying: “Our two nations will continue to work closely together to ensure sustainable peace and economic prosperity for the people of this region.”
President Kagame had last visited Angola in March 2014 to attend a regional leaders’ summit that discussed plans to disarm the DR Congo-based FDLR militia largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Kalisa’s appointment comes seven months after Rwanda and Angola signed three bilateral agreements – a general cooperation agreement, the joint cooperation commission and an MoU on political consultations – during the visit to Kigali by Angola’s foreign affairs minister Georges Chikoti.
The agreements laid the ground work allowing the two nations to cooperate in areas such as political relations and economic development.
Chikoti was then quoted saying: “We are getting into an era of development and cooperation. Wars are far behind us and we all want peace in this region which we can only attain through mutual cooperation”.
‘Strong geopolitical partner’
Both Rwanda and Angola are members of the International Conference on Great Lakes region (ICGLR) and both are signatories to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DR Congo and the region.
The ICGLR, an intergovernmental organisation of 11 countries, is now chaired by the Angola president José Eduardo dos Santos.
Both countries are also members of the eleven-state Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which Rwanda rejoined earlier this year.
Eugene Ngoga, the director of the Africa Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The New Times that Angola was a “strong geopolitical partner.”
“Angola is a very promising partner. It is important in the areas of political cooperation and business,” Ngoga said.
“Angola is a member of the ICGLR and, many times, we have had meetings there regarding issues in DR Congo, especially FDLR, and it has shown some understanding and support in this issue. We are looking forward to establishing very strong relations with Angola. I think it is a key regional player in areas of economics and politics”.
After Mushikiwabo met President Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda back in June 2013, she told the press that there was a mutual need to engage with each other in different sectors such as trade, air transport and security in the region.
The prevention of instability in the DR Congo, she said, was of great concern to the two countries.
‘Can do many things together’
But strong bilateral ties between Kigali and Luanda are also good for business. They are both members of Africa’s largest economic bloc – the 20-nation Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
Angola, a country with a population of about 22 million people – twice that of Rwanda – is the seventh largest in Africa and, as such, an important market. In addition, the southern African nation has vast mineral and petroleum reserves, and its economy is among the fastest-growing in the world since the end of the civil war in 2002.
“As we continue to engage each other, we can find new areas of doing business because much as Angola borders the ocean, it is also centrally located in Africa. We can do many things together,” Ngoga said.
Already, a draft Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) between the two countries as well as other countries, points to such a direction.
A document which The New Times has seen indicates that a designated airline of a contracting party shall, on a reciprocal basis, be allowed to establish in the territory of the other contracting party offices for the promotion and sale of air transportation services.
The document, among others, provides for the exemption from customs duties, inspection fees and other similar charges.
Aircraft of one contracting party which land in the territory of the other contracting party on international scheduled or non-scheduled services shall be exempted from national or local duties except for charges for provision of services.
Rwanda’s national carrier, RwandAir, is likely to begin direct flights to Luanda before the end of the year, thanks to the improved relationship between the two countries.
RwandAir CEO John Milenge said: “It is definitely a very important destination for RwandAir. Given the economic growth the country is registering, we shall be happy to extend our services there in order to connect the two countries. Angola presents enormous economic opportunities.”