I must confess that the starting of RwandAir’s direct flights to London last May so excited me that I can no longer keep it to myself. The journey that used to take nearly two days, traversing two or more countries depending on which route one took; now it takes just hours. You may not begin to understand the sigh of relief breathed by those who used to go through this hassle. I’m a keen follower of Rwanda’s interaction with other nations on the global stage, but whatever happens between Rwanda and UK is of direct personal interest to me.
Nearly two months ago I dropped my son to Kigali International Airport, hugged him goodbye, and eight or so hours later he was being hugged by his mother on the other side of the trip – at London Gatwick! Despite being his first travel alone, we were not bothered, because we knew he was in the right hands.
Today you can take a 10a.m flight from Kigali and the same day evening you are in London, chill the night out, conduct your business in London and on day two, take an evening flight and you are back in Kigali in the morning of day 3. That’s if you have to do that.
Let me move from the personal on to the general interests. I’m very optimistic that the above situation will apply on trade between the two countries. And agriculture sector, fruits and fresh produce to be specific, are set to benefit, but only if we work smart.
On September 27, 2017 a Rwandan delegation from National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) headed by its chief executive, Amb. Bill Kayonga, and Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the UK, Amb. Karitanyi, toured the New Covent Garden Market in London. This 57-acre market is one of UK’s largest wholesale of fruits, vegetables and flowers. It’s one of the fresh produce markets – just one of several – in this vast city of nearly eight million people by day. Approximately 200 companies operate in this market, supplying fresh produce to the rest of UK and Europe. This tour was facilitated by Rwanda High Commission and UK’s Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC).
I know all previous attempts to exploit this market failed due to huge cargo fees. Now with RwandAir’s 3-weekly flights to London, with a cargo space of about 60t per flight, we have no excuse. Add the impact of Brexit freeing up UK trade with nations outside of EU, British Airways (BA)’s reduction of its coverage of East Africa, and we can only have ourselves to blame if we don’t leverage this situation to increase our exports, not only to the UK but to the rest of the world.
Africa’s food trade with the rest of the world is predicted to hit $1tn by 2030, according to the African Development Bank, and Rwanda can claim her own share of this market but, I repeat, only if we learn to work smart. By working smart I mean we need to carefully study these markets, and since we are not gifted with large swathes of land to engage in larger scale agriculture, we need to work our land smartly to grow high-cash yielding produce needed in these markets.
Now the stage has been set by the Rwandan Government through RwandAir, the rest is in our hands – Rwandans inside and outside the country.
The writer is a former chairman of the Rwandan Diaspora in the UK.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.