New Delhi: In the space of 24 hours, leaders of China and India—Asia’s largest and third-largest economies—will be visiting tiny Rwanda in east Central Africa spotlighting the tiny country which has Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo as its neighbours.
Both President Xi Jinping of China and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India are on their first visits to Rwanda and both will be signing a clutch of pacts in Kigali in a bid to shore up ties. Xi landed in Kigali on Sunday and Modi reached the Rwandan capital on Monday.
The reasons for this courtship are not difficult to fathom.
Rwanda under President Paul Kagame has left behind memories of a horrific genocide in 1994 which saw majority Hutus ethnic group target the minority Tutsis leaving hundreds of thousands dead. An article in The Economist last year said that “buoyed by better farm incomes, since 2000, Rwanda has notched up growth rates of 8% a year, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world (though still one of the poorest). Many talk of a “Rwandan miracle", and look to it for lessons in development."
The International Monetary Fund in an assessment in April said that while Africa would clock an economic growth of 3.8% in 2018, Rwanda’s economy is likely to expand at 7.2 %. Agriculture, mining and quarrying are the key economic activities. The country is one of the largest producers of tin, tantalum, and tungsten besides good quality silica sands.
Seemingly buoyed by its economic success, Rwanda is also increasingly playing a role in African affairs. In March, Kigali hosted the Assembly of the African Union where the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA) establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area was signed. “Forty-four members of the African Union signed the agreement. When ratified, the agreement would be the largest free trade area in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organization," T.S. Tirumurthi, secretary, economic relations in the Indian foreign ministry told reporters last week. “Rwanda is the third largest troop contributor for peacekeeping in Africa and plays an important role in the UN Mission in the Central African Republic," he added.
During his visit, China’s Xi is expected to sign a number of pacts on trade, investment, infrastructure and defence, news reports said. The visit could also help Rwanda secure funding for key roads, and the expansion of the national carrier RwandAir, a report on the EastAfrican news website said earlier this month.
Rwanda is also looking for funds to build rail lines—one linking Kigali to Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam and another to Mombasa in Kenya besides a third to the Ugandan capital Kampala. “Given China’s strategy in Africa, Rwanda could well get funding for these projects when Xi visits," said a person familiar with the development.
India on its part will be extending its “development partnership" when Prime Minister Modi lands in Kigali on Monday evening. Rwanda is already a recipient of credit worth $400 million. “We expect to conclude two lines of credit—one of $100 million for development of industrial parks and Kigali Special economic zone and another for $100 million for agriculture and irrigation," Tirumurthi said adding pacts in the areas of defence, dairy cooperation, leather and agriculture are to be signed during Modi’s visit.
While China has opened an embassy in Kigali, New Delhi appointed its first ambassador to Rwanda two weeks ago.