A reciprocal visit, several handshakes, a banquet, pen-to-paper, and boom; 23 bilateral agreements signed, sealed, and delivered.
The bilateral agreements signed last week between Morocco and Rwanda suggest that where there is a will, there is a way.
The political will by President Paul Kagame and King Mohammed VI illustrates how leaders on the African continent can convert words into actions – provided they have the will to do so.
The visit by King Mohammed VI last week came after a two-day visit by President Kagame to Morocco back in June this year, where the President presumably invited King Mohammed VI for a state visit.
During his visit, the king, who was accompanied by high ranking officials and members of the private sector, illustrated how developing nations can explore investment opportunities and future partnerships with their counterparts.
The South-South Cooperation, a framework described in the international development discourse as collaboration among countries of the South in the political, economic, social, technical, and many more domains, is not something new.
In fact, since the early 80s, partnerships involving two or more developing countries either in a bilateral or regional context, have been struck with the aim of boosting economic, political and social cooperation among countries of comparable strengths and weaknesses.
According to economic data by Rosales and Kuwayama, in recent years, South-South trade grew at an average annual rate of 13 per cent during the period from 1990 to 2008, which amounted to US$2.9 trillion in 2008.
The development scholars also add that the share of South-South trade in total world trade jumped from 9 per cent in 1990 to 18 per cent in 2009.
But, the longevity of this cooperation hasn’t always yielded the results developing countries yearn for – most of the agreements have remained just that, agreements.
Take the Yamoussoukro Decision as an example. In 1999, African ministers responsible for civil aviation adopted an agreement that committed 44 signatory countries to deregulate air services and make regional air markets open to transnational competition.
As if the first agreement wasn’t enough, the Yamoussoukro Decision was later endorsed by head of states, and became fully binding in 2002.
But where are we today? A friend recently travelled from Kigali to Mauritius, and found himself out of the continent first; in Dubai, for a connecting flight to his final destination.
It is an indication that despite some considerable success in eliminating some barriers of trade such as tariffs within trade blocs, a significant number of non-tariff barriers as well as regulatory barriers still inhibit movement of people, goods, services, and most importantly capital.
Many such agreements have been left suffocated by countless barriers, many bureaucratic and others quite simply the lack of political will to take them from being just agreements to actions.
I read somewhere that everything starts and ends with political will. I agree. You see, political will, the determination of an individual political actor or actors to put into action policies or agreements that bring about change, cannot be underestimated.
In Rwanda where political will radiates from the very top of government administration, it is easy to see why we are increasingly seeing bilateral agreements like the ones with Morocco converted into action with tangible benefits!
Of the 23 bilateral deals signed last week, for instance, two deals caught my attention; first, a deal for a Moroccan pharmaceutical firm to set up a manufacturing plant in Rwanda, and second, a deal by Palmeraie Development to invest in the construction of 5,000 housing units.
For Rwandans, these two deals alone spell employment and a partial answer to the problem of inadequate housing units.
Perhaps the rest of Africa ought to borrow a leaf from Rwanda and Morocco. In a continent where development efforts are needed the most, South-South cooperation offers us a chance to focus more on what is mutually beneficial as opposed to what we are used to – the advancement of ideological interests of developed countries that don’t always play in our favour.
Compared to other partnerships, it is my opinion that the South-South cooperation framework has a better chance to be guided by respect for national sovereignty, non-conditionality, non-interference in domestic affairs, whilst at the same time, able to maintain flows of foreign direct investment, trade of goods and services, technology transfer, and so on.
The thing to remember is that, for this kind of cooperation to move from agreements into action, a strong political will is needed at the national level as much as it is needed at the continental level. Identifying problems and prescribing the right policies or agreements is only half the job. Implementation is the other half needed to finish the job.
President Kagame and King Mohammed VI demonstrated last week that mutual agreements between developing countries can be struck. Better yet, the two leaders demonstrated how South-South Cooperation deals don’t have to be subject to years of delays and years of back and forth unnecessary meetings.
The two leaders understand that we live in times where time alone is a scarce resource. Twenty-three bilateral agreements signed between Rwanda and Morocco after just four months! The rest of Africa, please take note.
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