The EU has taken a leading position in supporting Rwanda’s fast paced progress. Ambassador Michael Ryan, Head of the EU Delegation to Rwanda, reflects on the achievements so far and the prospects ahead.
European Times: How would you describe the political and economic relations between the EU and Rwanda?
Michael Ryan: The relationship is close, and has been for over 30 years. Rwanda and the EU view many global issues similarly, such as climate change, regional security, counter-trafficking. Our close partnership is well portrayed by the joint agenda of our cooperation programme worth €460 million which is now in effect, focusing on energy, agriculture, and support to economic and democratic development. Over 80% of EU assistance takes the form of budget support. This gives Rwanda “five star aid treatment” in recognition of its capable economic management. Rwanda is in fact the leading recipient of EU budget support in Africa as a percentage of the aid provided.
European Times:Which priorities of Rwanda will be addressed by the EU cooperation programme?
Michael Ryan: Our priorities are those of the government: to improve access to electricity for all (70% of consumers in the near future), and to improve agriculture.Reducing poverty is fundamental, so we will be supporting the agriculture sector, helping farmers to grow the crops needed to feed their families and to feed the country. We will fund improvements to financial management in 2017, and give backing to democratic governance, which means ensuring that citizens and civil society can be equipped to hold state institutions to account.
European Times:Which other perspectives and challenges are up the road?
Michael Ryan: Rwanda has set itself ambitious economic growth targets, while it builds its tourism, convention, financial services, mining, light manufacturing and agro-processing capability. Its major challenge is attracting foreign investment, and we see distinct signs of improvement. The government is doing a great job in managing its foreign exchange reserves, balancing payments and encouraging export earnings, while at the same time meeting the needs of the population in terms of education, health and infrastructure. As in every society, the hardest task is making progress meaningful to all citizens, particularly the poor.
Rwanda is an active member of the East African Community (EAC), and pushes for greater and faster integration on transport, customs union, single visa, security and financial co-operation. As a landlocked country, it presses for better rail and energy linkages within the Northern Corridor group. The EU has negotiated an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the whole of the EAC and the European Union. It seeks to generally and gradually liberalize trade. Rwanda and Kenya have signed, but we hope the remaining states will soon join in ratifying this major trade deal, opening EAC exports to the EU’s 500 million consumers. I am particularly encouraged by Rwanda’s instinctive readiness to join the trade pact. The gains from the EPA are clearly understood and appreciated in Kigali.
Rwanda is an extremely safe country to work in. The environment here fosters and encourages private sector investment, and the administration is agile and responsive to the needs of incoming investors.