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By: Mostafa Ahmady
The writer is a former press and information officer in Ethiopia and an expert on African affairs.
It was the year 1994 when the Falcon 50 jet carrying Rwanda’s long-serving president Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down by a surface-to-air missile near the capital city Kigali.
No one could have imagined that the assassination of Habyarimana along with his chief of staff would spark one of the bloodiest and most tragic events in the history of the modern world: the Rwandan Genocide. The death of the long-serving president, who hailed from the Hutu ethnic group, ignited mass killings against another ethnic group, the Tutsi, unfortunately with an official go-ahead. This opened the floodgates for an orchestrated onslaught that claimed the lives of roughly one million people in 100 days, while the world turned a blind eye to the tragedy.
The genocide only came to a halt after the Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by a leader from the Tutsi, Rwanda’s incumbent president Paul Kagami, seized control of the country in July 1994. The year that saw bodies scattered everywhere in the streets and piled up in mass graves would become the baptism of modern Rwanda, however.
Some 25 years have elapsed since Rwanda folded that sad page of its history, and since then it has been riding on the crest of a wave, unleashing the potential of its roughly 13 million poeple whose country is now a model for the developing world at large. From scenes of torn body parts and abject poverty, Kigali has turned into the most beautiful capital city in Africa and the third greenest in the world. The country is also one of the fastest-growing economies in the Central and East Africa region, hitting some 6.1 per cent with $24.68 billion in GDP on a purchasing-power parity scale. By next year, the government targets reaching a per capita income of $900 to replace the earlier $290, a step towards getting the nation closer to the goal of a middle-income country.
Rwanda has thus carried the day, and it now has one of the fastest-growing information and communication technology (ICT) sectors in Africa. It is one of the few African nations that has installed a fibre-optic infrastructure covering the whole nation. Earlier this year, Rwanda also launched Icyerekezo, a satellite for providing ultra-high-speed Internet for schools in rural areas. Alongside Egypt, Rwanda is getting ready to launch a mini satellite, the RWASAT-1, a cube-type satellite that weighs less than one kg that when it goes online will send ultra-high-definition images to ground stations. Developed by three Rwandan engineers, the satellite will help the East African nation make precise decisions on crop yields and provide accurate data for soil moisture observation.
Rwanda has also recently stunned the continent by introducing the first-ever smartphone to be completely manufactured in Africa in the shape of its Mara phones. The Kigali-based Mara plant manufactures this smartphone’s components and has a capacity of making 10,000 phones a day. Another stunning fact about this African nation is that Rwanda operates drones to deliver medicines and other related lifesaving supplies to over 450 clinics and medical facilities in distant, rural and mountainous areas.
The country has thus distanced itself from the stereotyped image of Africa, a continent still sometimes unfairly connected with famine, conflict and abject poverty. The German automobile giant Volkswagen has picked Kigali as the destination for its pilot project for electric vehicles in Africa. The programme is a partnership between two German giants, Volkswagen and Siemens, with the latter building 15 charging stations in the Rwandan capital. Moreover, a local manufacturer has already started selling electric motorbikes in the country. Now Rwanda wants to cut its top import of petroleum products and aims to maintain its acclaimed reputation of having a green economy.
The Rwandans have shown the flag, and wonders have not ceased in this small African country. Getting off to a flying start, Rwanda launched the Kigali Innovation City (KIC) last year, an African version of the US Silicon Valley. Spanning over 70 hectares and at a cost of $2 billion, the project will be home to world-class universities (the Pennsylvania-based Carnegie Mellon University has already relocated there), technology companies and biotech firms, among others.
Rwanda is expecting some half a billion dollars of revenue out of the combined production of these firms. The KIC is slated to generate up to $180 million of ICT exports by 2022 and will hone the skills of Rwandan professionals and help create some 5,000 jobs in the sector. Moreover, by the year 2030 Rwanda will be 90 per cent self-reliant when it comes to skilled manpower in the ICT sector.
However, Rwanda is not credited only for such technological or economic achievements, because it has also been a model on the continent for women’s empowerment. The government has allocated 24 out of the 80 seats in the country’s Chamber of Deputies (the lower chamber of parliament) to women, the highest rate of women in a single chamber of parliaments across the world. According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, Rwanda is one of the top five countries in the world for gender equality, beating such deep-rooted democracies as the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Rwanda has also joined a handful of countries, mostly in the West, where women hold half the posts in government.
But the most miraculous thing the Rwandans have managed to embrace is their ability to heal quickly and to learn a lesson that has cost them dearly – namely, that coexistence is a virtue that everyone needs to commit to. The achievements of this small African nation in such a short period of time should change the stereotyped news coverage of Africa in the international media, as the continent today is no longer a synonym for starvation and backwardness, but is instead a promising land of huge economic potential and progress.
Aware of this rising economic power in Africa, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was the first-ever sitting Egyptian president to visit the country. In July 2016, he arrived in Kigali to participate in the 27th African Union Summit, and he also later paid a visit to the nation in August 2017, when he laid a wreath at the Genocide Memorial Centre established in honour of the victims of the onslaught against the Tutsi in 1994.
Al-Sisi’s visits were cornerstones in harnessing the launch of a giant economic platform that the Africans have been longing for in the shape of the African Continental Free-Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). This was officially signed in Kigali in May 2018 by 54 African nations, and it entered into force in July 2019 after it had been ratified by 27 nations including Egypt and Rwanda. This Continental Agreement will play an important role in furthering inter-African trade, given the huge $2.5 trillion combined GDP of its signatory countries. Enforcing the agreement will also help lure investments to the continent and create millions of jobs for its nationals.
These are incentives which the Africans must heed if they want their continent to grow as a major world power.
By: Doaa El-Bey
Members of the G20 and African Union had a chance to hold meetings, strike deals and exchange opinions during the three-day Compact with Africa (CwA) summit.
CwA was launched in 2017 as a means to promote investment in Africa, support economic development and tackle illegal migration and terrorism. It was initiated by Germany and 12 African countries that committed themselves to undertake specific economic reforms the better to attract investments from European companies.
While economic and business deals dominated coverage of the summit discussions about regional problems, especially Libya, were also important.
As chair of the African Union, Egypt went to the CwA summit with three main files: discussing regional political challenges, finding ways to boost African development and, on a mare bilateral level, increase investment and trade between Cairo and Berlin.
Libya topped the agenda of the meeting of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the CwA.
Both leaders expressed their continued commitment to supporting a peaceful settlement in Libya, says Ali Al-Hefni, a former deputy to Egypt’s foreign minister.
“Only via a peaceful settlement that includes all parties will Libya be able to rebuild the state, arrange for elections and stabilise the country anew,” he said.
Libya was also discussed during Al-Sisi’s meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Libya is a major transit country for Africans seeking to migrate to Europe across the Mediterranean. According to estimates by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Libya currently hosts between 700,000 and one million refugees.
CwA has long sought to encourage G20 members’ private sectors to more actively explore investment opportunities in Africa. In line with the Africa 2063 Agenda, one of President Al-Sisi’s focus points during the CwA summit was on ways to facilitate the integration of developing countries in the world economy.
“The most important asset in Africa is its young population. Young people make up 60 per cent of the continent’s 1.2 billion inhabitants, a figure likely to double by 2050. It is essential to invest in the continent’s human resources and provide young people with the training they need either to serve their countries, or fill jobs in developed countries. That is the only way to halt illegal migration,” argues Al-Hefni.
On the bilateral level the summit gave a further boost to Egyptian-German relations that have been growing closer for five years now.
“Since Al-Sisi came to power he has managed to improve Egypt’s relations with different world powers, including European countries, in general, and with Germany in particular,” says Al-Hefni.
Following Al-Sisi and Merkel’s meetings on the sidelines of the CwA Merkel said Egypt, as a fundamental pillar of stability and security in the region, is one of Germany’s most important partners in the Middle East, according to Egyptian Presidency Spokesperson Bassam Radi.
Al-Sisi also met with the speaker of the German parliament and a delegation from the German Federal Defence and Security Industries Federation (DFID). During the latter meeting prospects for diversifying military cooperation between the two countries were discussed.
He attended the joint Egyptian-German Business Forum which aims to facilitate constructive dialogue between Egyptian and German companies in order to establish new joint projects.
The CwA summit saw the signing of bilateral agreements worth €300 million.
Two financial and technical cooperation agreements, worth €44.9 million, to finance projects in the fields of energy, the rehabilitation of schools, small and medium enterprises, urban infrastructure and the promotion of labour market access, were finalised.
A further €101 million worth of agreements covered private sector innovation, drinking water and sanitation management, solid waste management, social development and employment.
Last week’s two-day CwA summit in Berlin was attended by the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and other partners.
The 12 countries that have joined the initiative, setting out their reform programmes within the framework adopted by G20 finance ministers in March 2017, are Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo and Tunisia.
By: Bassem Aly
Egypt signed two memoranda of understanding (MoU) this week with Djibouti and Angola covering bilateral relations in terms of investments and cooperation in agriculture, tourism, industry, infrastructure, mining, construction and health, respectively.
The two agreements were signed during the Investment for Africa Forum (IAF) held in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital earlier this week. Organised by the Ministry of Investment and international cooperation, the forum brought together government representatives and individuals from the private sector, civil society, and international financial institutions to talk about inclusive and sustainable growth in the African continent.
The forum was just one sign among many of increasing volumes of business taking place between countries on the African continent.
According to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), the government statistics agency, total trade exchanges between Egypt and the African countries increased to $3.2 billion during the first eight months of 2018, around $700 million more than the year before.
The value of Egyptian exports reached $2.8 billion between January and August of 2018. The value of imports to Egypt from the African countries during the same period was $1.3 billion.
Egypt “is located at a strategic north-eastern position on the African continent, indeed at the ‘crossroads’ to both the Middle Eastern Gulf countries as well as the European states along the Mediterranean,” Harry Broadman, chair of the emerging markets practice at the Berkeley Research Group in the US told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“It thus provides a natural, and advantageous, outlet to those important markets for African countries located in the middle and southern portions of the continent who wish to export northwards to Europe and the Middle East.”
This week’s forum was not only about Egypt’s economic ties with Africa, however, but also focused on enhancing intra-African trade and business activities.
In a speech at the event, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi called for finding “solutions based on regional integration to transform Africa into a global industrialisation hub to provide job opportunities for African citizens and attract foreign investments.
“Africa’s success in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires accelerating the pace of infrastructure development through cross-border projects, which are among the priorities of the African Union, including the project linking Cairo to Cape Town, the north-south electricity-linking project, and linking the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Victoria,” Al-Sisi added.
A major initiative that could help to bring Africa closer together is the African Continental Free-Trade Area (AfCFTA), which entered into force on 30 May. As a result, many of the “restrictions and barriers hindering intra-African trade are being dismantled, which means that investors can go into the continent without difficulties,” Obi Emekekwue, global head of communications at the Afreximbank, said.
AfCFTA will lead to the “opening up of the entire African market as a single market,” he said.
“As one of the most advanced economies in Africa, Egypt’s investors stand a unique chance to benefit from expanding into other African countries because Egyptian industries can more cost effectively meet the needs of many of these countries in terms of many of the products they currently import from outside the continent,” he added.
Emekekwue emphasised the increasing consumption potential of the continent because of the “increasing growth and expansion of the African middle class”.
Broadman agreed on AfCFTA’s potential, saying that if free-trade rules were implemented across the continent, this would vastly open up flows of intra-African trade and investment.
“Unlike in other regions of the world, most African countries trade more with countries outside the continent than between each other at the moment,” he said.
According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Economic Development in Africa Report 2019, AfCFTA could generate welfare gains of $16.1 billion and boost intra-African trade by 33 per cent in its transition phase alone.
Bineswaree Bolaky, a co-author of the report, told the Weekly in July that the removal of tariffs, supplemented by trade facilitation in the African Continental Free Trade Area, could lead to intra-African trade increasing by 52.3 per cent or $34.6 billion in 2022.
However, Andy Mckay, University of Sussex economics professor who previously gave policy recommendations to governments of developing countries, is skeptical about the extent to which AfCFTA will be really implemented, saying that the past record on this has been poor.
“Countries have signed up to many free trade agreements and regional integration arrangements, but actual implementtaion, in terms of really liberalising trade has been limited,” Mckay pointed out.
“There has been a bit more progress recently in the East African Community but countries have been very reluctant to liberalise trade because they fear some of their industries will lose out,” he said.
African countries are also hopefull AfCFTA will help attract more attention to Africa from investors in other parts of the world.
According to a report in the Gulf newspaper Gulf News, the United Arab Emirates is seeking to leverage its expertise in construction, shipping, logistics, tourism and energy to persuade the world that it is a suitable entrance gate to Africa.
The Gulf country annually organises a Global Business Forum to discuss investment and business opportunities in Africa.
South Africa’s Central Energy Fund (CEF) said earlier this month that it expected to produce more than 300,000 barrels of crude oil a day thanks to a refinery that will be established along its east coast.
The project, announced in January, will start operating in 2028, creating the region’s largest refinery. It is a partnership between South Africa and Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, in further evidence of external business interest in Africa.
AfCFTA could also be a way for Africa to withstand global economic challenges, including the so-called “trade war” between the United States and China.
African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina told the news agency Reuters on Monday that the African states had to diversify their exports and add value to raw materials in order to avoid the fallout from economic tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
“Many African countries export... raw materials to China. If China’s economy weakens, [then] demand for raw materials from Africa weakens,” he said.
He also underlined the fact that “Africa trades quite a lot with Europe but also with the UK,” and this could be disrupted by the upcoming Brexit. He called on Africa to focus on the “most important things” and “what works for it,” in other words, a free-trade area for Africa.
But challenges persist to AfCFTA’s success. On 14 November, Nigeria, Niger and Benin, all signatories to AfCFTA, decided to establish a joint border patrol to combat smuggling across neighbouring states in West Africa.
Nigeria partially closed its borders in August to fight smuggling, and in October it indefinitely stopped trade through its land borders.
Developing infrastructure in Africa is another concern, as the African countries need it to both attract local and foreign investment and to facilitate the development of their societies.
A 2015 report prepared by the World Bank and the UN Economic Commission for Africa concluded that “adapting infrastructure planning and design… has great potential to reduce climate-change impacts in drier areas and to take better advantages of higher water availability in wetter areas” in Africa.
In his address to the IAF, President Al-Sisi called on regional and international institutions and Africa’s development partners to participate in achieving their goals and ambitions through financing the needs of development in Africa and the necessary infrastructure.
Egypt was highlighted during the event as an example of how infrastructure could serve development. Prime minister Mustafa Madbouli told those present that the private sector would not have invested in the New Administrative Capital, if it had not been for the government’s efforts in preparing the infrastructure for private developers.
He added that overhauling the infrastructure and energy sectors would encourage the private sector to pump new investment into the economy.