Frederique De Man is the ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Kigali, Rwanda since July last year and has been a diplomat for 32 years before she came to Rwanda.
She talked to Sunday Magazine’s Sharon Kantengwa about her ties with Rwanda, her admiration at how people in Rwanda managed to reconcile and live alongside each other after the Genocide and how her country is committed to bringing to justice genocide perpetrators.
Tell us about yourself
I am 60 years old and a historian by profession. I studied social and economic history in the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. I started my diplomatic career in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam after a year of training. My career has taken me to Asia, Africa and Europe.
My husband is not here with me. He is the ambassador of the European union in Dar es Salaam and before we started in Tanzania and Rwanda, he was the ambassador in Pretoria and I was ambassador in Maputo, Mozambique, and it’s not easy when you’re not together all the time but we could and now visit each other regularly enough.
When I was head of Humanitarian Aid Division starting in 1996, I visited Rwanda 2 years after the genocide. The official relationship with Rwanda started in 1994.
We had a very active minister at that time, Jan Pronk, and he wanted to help Rwanda with its reconstruction and he first sent a diplomat to Kigali and soon afterwards we opened an office which began relations between Rwanda and the Netherlands. Also my husband has a strong link with Rwanda because he was the special envoy of the European Union to the Great Lakes region for four years (2007-2011).
How do you find Rwanda different?
Rwanda is different because of its history. The genocide history has influenced the people of Rwanda a lot. I always compare it with our Dutch history. I was born 10 years after the Second World War and it’s shadow during my youth is still very tangible. Only after considerable time was it possible for the Dutch to look at Germany as a good neighbour.
And as far as Rwanda is concerned I am trying to discover through talking to people and reading books how it was possible to rehabilitate a country that was in complete disarray. I have a lot of admiration for the socio-economic development that is taking place in Rwanda.
I was given very warm friendship from the very first day of arrival in Rwanda. I am very much aware of the fact that it is not because of me personally but because of the role my country has been playing ever since 1994. In a way, it is a heavy burden because I have to safe guard the achievements of my predecessors.
What are some of your goals as the Netherlands’ ambassador?
For quite some time we have been working first through humanitarian aid and after that through a development programme. Nowadays, we are focusing on furthering the change from aid to trade. This is very much in line with the thinking of the Rwandan Government.
There are some Dutch investments already but I hope that by the time I leave, there will be many more Dutch investments and a vibrant trade between our two countries. My most important task here is to continue working on the friendship between the two countries that is very strong.
How ready are you to help bring to Justice genocide perpetrators and promote investment as you pledged?
It is the policy and strong conviction of the Dutch government that the Netherlands should not be a safe haven of criminals. Also we feel strongly that people suspected of war crimes should be tried from the countries where they have committed the crimes. Of course when it comes to extraditing the legal framework, the independent judiciary is respected and has to have its course.
We understand the legal system because we have been supporting the justice sector ever since 1994. We also work in collaboration with Rwanda Development Board and Private Sector Federation and we have several instruments where we can support the Dutch companies and bring the Dutch and Rwandan companies together.
A lot of useful work has been done over the years and I think that we are going to have some major partnerships this year. I hope that these investments will attract other investors although it takes some time and wherever we can help, we will help. Also through the Netherlands Fellowship Programme, we give scholarships to Rwandans to study in the Netherlands because we have good universities and we are very strong in water, agriculture and law.
However, the number of applicants has gone down but we hope that Rwandans can make use of the opportunities available to them and will apply.
About the King’s Day
King William- Alexander took over from his mother in 2013 and has been our king for three years now. It is the first time in more than a hundred years that we have a king. We have had queens as heads of state from 1890 until 2013.
The King’s Day is the king’s birthday but it’s a public holiday in the Netherlands and our theme colour is orange that symbolises our loyalty to the king and because our King is from the House of Orange. It’s a very relaxed celebration, festive and low key. Festivities here start earlier in the Dutch school where they play games and their colour is orange.Follow https://twitter.com/SharonKMugabo