And why do economic analysts in the region concur that visa fees exemption will bring glory days in the already blossoming Rwandan Tourism Sector which has been the leading foreign exchange earner of the East African country for the last five years or so?
By George Kalisa
President Paul Kagame said that his government is committed to exempting visa fees to make it easier for citizens from mostly the African Union, the Commonwealth, and the Francophonie visit Rwanda. The President, however, adds that his country’s open foreign policy will give equal treatment to visitors from other countries outside these two clubs of nations.
“We intend to make it even easier to visit Rwanda, by exempting citizens of the African Union, the Commonwealth, and the Francophonie from paying visa fees. We are going to do it even with some other countries that are not members of these stated organisations (…),” said Kagame while officiating the Annual Diplomats’ Luncheon for over 60 diplomats on January29 in the capital, Kigali.
“We have either taken care of that, or we will also take care of that. We want more people to visit us. I was going to say, we don’t want more money but no, we want it. We are going to exempt only visa fees; the rest we want it,” added Kagame.
Now, economic analysts in the region contend that Rwanda’s exemption of VISA fees is a brilliant and strategic move for it will enhance the country’s investment and tourism sectors.
Kagame, also, the current Chairman of the East African Community (EAC) unveiled Rwanda’s stance to enhance its openness to the world just after he had invited the international community to the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Rwanda the latest entrant to Commonwealth joined the in 2008, and will host CHOGM June22-27.
Rwanda first opened its doors to the outside world in 1994 after President Kagame had stopped the genocide against the Tutsi which claimed over one million Tutsi.
Kagame added that the energy of preparation was already high for one of the world’s largest meetings and was confident one of Africa’s smartest and greenest cities, Kigali will host “a successful summit”.
CHOGM is the biggest meeting Rwanda will host this year and economists in the region now say Rwanda’s step to exempt Visa fees is not only timely but part of Rwanda’s startling innovations that have helped the number of visitors and revenues increase year after year.
Member states of the EAC abolished VISA fees for citizens in the economic bloc in 2007 to allow free movement of people, which is one of the main principles of EAC integration process and all partner states signed protocols pertaining to it.
The down-to-earth President and Africa’s exemplary leader who came to global limelight for excellent performance in good governance, security – and masterminded and popularized the zero tolerance to corruption principle and homegrown solutions said that the EAC integration remains a priority.
His championing of the Anti-Corruption fight in public sector for the defense and promotion of the wellbeing of his people has attracted heavyweight world leaders including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Indian PM Narendra Modi, Emir of Qatar, the Chines leader Xi Jinping and others.
Rwanda’s next ambitious goal is to transform into a high-income economy by 2050. Kagame described Vision 2020 as successful after it achieved over 90 per cent of its goals adding that his country needs more productive cooperation to achieve the goals of Vision2050.
“We have gained valuable capabilities and experience for our ambition to transform Rwanda into a high-income economy by 2050,” remarked the President, “There is no doubt about the importance of strong and productive cooperation, both in our region and with the rest of the world”.
While he was Chairman of the African Union President Kagame pushed for the creation and signing of the largest world’s single market by number of member countries, Africa’s free trade zone, AfCFTA.
Kagame paid tribute to the diplomatic corps and African Heads of State for the support they gave him as Chair of the African Union saying he would not have prevailed over the progress without it [support] and hence he “couldn’t afford to let them down”.
H.E Amb. Guy Nestor Itoua, the Dean of the diplomats in Kigali and Envoy of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Rwanda had earlier mentioned a long list of achievements Africa gained during President Kagame’s term.
“Your Excellency Mr President, the 30th of May 2019 saw the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement comes into effect, having been signed here in Kigali in 2018 when you chaired the AU in an exemplary manner. Your Excellency Mr President, allow us to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. The Diplomatic Corp also commends the Government of Rwanda for decisions made in 2019; especially the collaboration that became evident on borders when it comes to stopping the spread of Epidemics like Ebola after it became evident in the Eastern part of the DRC. That helped us to carry out our duties with ease here in Kigali and in the Provinces,” said Itoua.
“Thanks not only for the compliment, but also to you and through you to the Heads of State of Africa. They are really the ones who made my work easier. With them giving the support they did give to me, I couldn’t afford to let them down. So that’s why we made progress,” observed Kagame.
Kagame who has chaired both the Continental and regional bodies [AU and EAC] took to the occasion to share his experience of leadership which could be “perplexing”
Kagame who will hand over the EAC Chair February this year said that this term unlike previous ones in the same office has been difficult. He said leading the six-member state region was a toll on his life compared to the simplicity he experienced while at the helm the African Union.
“Apparently, leading the East African Community has become more difficult. Even with fewer countries, being the chair of the Community this past year, is more difficult than leading the whole continent, with so many countries,” observed Kagame.
“Well, I even find a lot of problems leading my own country, and it is just one country. So leading a community is assumed to be more difficult,” he added.
He blamed the challenges of leading the EAC today to his neighbours particularly Uganda which he accused of hosting and supporting negative forces seeking to distabilise the security and stability of his country.
“I am sure you are aware of the challenge we had in our country with our neighbour, let me say neighbours, but particularly the neighbour to our north, which is Uganda,” said Kagame.
Gatuna border closure is a scapegoat
Kagame accused Uganda of intentionally using Gatuna border closure as a scapegoat to distract the world from the root causes of the heart of the escalating hostility between the two countries, even after he had repeatedly and frankly discussed the issue with his counterpart President Yoweri Museveni on many occasions.
He said the closure of the Katuna border is a mere symptom to the root-causes that currently need urgent attention in the process of seeking a last solution to the growing conflict.
“No, there is what causes the difficulties at the border. And I think those ones need to be paid more attention to. How did we come to the point where we had difficulties at the border? It’s because of something else. We have to address something else, and by that we will be addressing the difficulties at the border,” observed Kagame.
The President’s bold statements have ended widespread speculations about the root causes of the collapsed relations between the two neighboring countries that have been awash the regional media for now close to two years.
Repeated arbitrary and illegal arrest, torture, detention and deportation of hundreds of Rwandan national whose families and relatives hold him accountable as they seek his intervention, is another contentious issue, said President Kagame.
“We have had hundreds of Rwandans arrested in Uganda. And we have raised this matter with Ugandan authorities. We have families of hundreds of families coming and appealing to us asking why you don’t ask Uganda to release our people. And that matter has been raised with Uganda repeatedly, several times, by different layers of our administration,” said Kagame.
In an unusually long speech, the Rwandan leader explicitly underscored why he accuses Uganda of killing the relations between the two countries, stressing that Uganda’s hostility against Rwandans was a clear message written in black and white that Uganda no longer wanted Rwandans to move on its territory.
“I myself travelled there. The families of these people in prison are asking me what I am doing to have their people released and brought back home,” charged Kagame.
Recently, Uganda released nine Rwandans that have spent years under illegal detention in Uganda, but Rwanda alleges that hundreds of others illegally arrested by CMI are still languishing in safe houses in Uganda. In the process of restoring peaceful relations Rwanda exposed material evidence to back up its case but Uganda still denies all the accusations.
Early last year Rwanda issued its national a travel advisory against Uganda after it had proved to be unsafe country for Rwandans. But, Ugandans still freely visit and do business in Rwanda.
Kagame said opening the border is possible if Uganda stops the mistreatment of his people and releases the rest there.
“Now, if you stop that first (mistreatment of Rwandans], and second, if you really stop associating with these groups you have been giving support to in order to destabilise our country, automatically the borders would be open. It’s automatic. It’s just a direct consequence, a result of the other” he said.
Kagame attacked fellow African leaders that he accused of thinking and misleading the region that integration can happen because of mere slogans about integration on their lips. Yet, they were busy undoing integration efforts and violating EAC protocols mostly those related to the movement of people and goods.
“(…) there is so much talk about integration. Yes, we can have as many lectures for as long as you want about integration, but integration of regions and communities does not happen just because you are making a slogan about it. No, it happens because you are doing the right thing which actually needs to be done in order for that to be realised. You can say people are closing borders, because borders are there. In other words, they shouldn’t be there,” said Kagame.
The President dismissed information traded by his northern neighbour that the root-cause of the bad relations is the closure of the border.
Kagame reiterated that President Museveni knows well that they raised serious issues mostly security and political responsible for the persistent hostility between the two neigbouring East African countries.