The Rwandan Ambassador to Singapore looks back on four memorable years stationed in Singapore. He shares with IN Diplomacy Editor-in-Chief Ms Nomita Dhar some of the ups and downs as a career diplomat here at the Island Republic
PLEASE share some of the highlights of your experience here in the past four years.
On the political side, I think it must be the two visits of H.E. the President of Rwanda Mr. Paul Kagame in Singapore in September 2015 and January 2019. Another highlight was the visit of the Minister of State in Charge of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Olivier Nduhungirehe during the High Level Ministerial Exchange in 2018.
Rwanda also had the opportunity to play host to the then Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in June 2018 and his delegation which included by the way a trade mission.
The DPM signed in Kigali, Rwanda, the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which is a major legal instrument for the protection of Singapore investors in Rwanda; there was also signed the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) which allowed Rwandair and Singapore Airlines to use the Rwanda and Singapore airspace and carry passengers in both respective countries.
I am also happy to note during my tenure Singapore investments in Rwanda have increased and Rwandan exports to Singapore are in a good position, ranking sixth worldwide. We export mainly coffee, tea, minerals and honey. The number of Singaporean visiting Rwanda has increased year by year as well as the so-called ‘Friends of Rwanda’ from Singapore.
Something that I do hope will happen is that Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will visit Rwanda next year 2020 during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that will take place in Kigali, Rwanda.
Can you share more about the profile of Singapore investors in Rwanda?
On an individual level, we noticed that there are more Singaporean business ladies who have invested in Rwanda and in such sectors as farming in the chicken industry, honey making, the financial sector and so on. We are not sure why but we do hope that more Singapore men will also take notice of the growing investment opportunities and do the same. The number of Singaporean private companies investing is increasing as well as the greater amounts they are investing there. I am also happy to report that many of them realized the returns on their investments sooner than they have expected.
We have heard how some have described Rwanda as the ‘Singapore of Africa’; how so?
Singapore is among very few countries who have succeeded to pass from a poor country to a rich one in a very short period of time. In 1994, with the end of the Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda was considered as a failed state. In the last 25 years, we have worked hard and succeeded so far in alleviating the numbers of poor people in the country. But a lot remains to be done.
Some other ‘best practices’ aspects of Singapore that are similar to Rwanda is long term planning for the future and the timely execution and completion of planned projects. We make sure (projects) start and end as scheduled. It is a common experience in less developed countries, especially when many projects are funded by donors, they tend to start late and end very late mainly because of the slow disbursements
What are some of the things you will miss about Singapore?
Since my residence is close to Watten Estate I love to walk at night in the neighborhood (the heat is less at this time), or bring along a book and read in the nearby coffee shop. The people and shops in the neighbourhood are used to my habits and by now the waiters bring me a hot latte and sandwich without asking! For food, I will miss the bakuteh (pork bone soup). I don’t think I will find this dish back home.
You are also heavily involved in the Diplomatic Corps here. How has it been?
The Diplomatic Corps in Singapore is very united, more than anywhere I have been posted before. The Dean is playing a big role in making the life of diplomats more fruitful and enjoyable.
Do you have a message for Singaporeans about Rwanda?
Please bear in mind that Rwanda is a very safe country, with a good climate and where it is easy to do business. Come and see for yourself. Visit Rwanda, trade and invest with us. You will not regret it.
After Singapore, where are you headed now?
I joined Rwanda’s foreign service 21 years ago. I have been posted in Washington D.C., Geneva, Netherlands and Singapore. After nine years of being posted abroad I have to go back to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Once in Rwanda they will let me know where they need me to serve.