THE inaugural Rwanda-Zimbabwe Trade and Investment Conference was held in Kigali last week. The event, which was organised by ZimTrade and its partners, helped strengthen bilateral trade relations between Harare and Kigali in line with President Mnangagwa’s economic diplomacy agenda. The Sunday Mail Editor Victoria Ruzvidzo (VR) spoke to Zimbabwe Ambassador to Rwanda Professor Charity Manyeruke (CM) about the deepening bilateral relations between the two countries.
VR: Ambassador, for how long have you been here and how has been your stay?
CM: I have been here for two years now.
My stay has been a wonderful experience, seeing that the relations with Rwanda are growing and in fact they are deepening; deepening from an economic point of view.
You can see that this week there was a conference which started on Monday and ended on Thursday.
The conference was focusing on trade and investment between the two countries.
You saw what happened, there were many business deals that were agreed upon and many business relationships which were created between businesspeople from both countries, and also there were opportunities explored here in Rwanda because the business delegation from Zimbabwe had an opportunity to visit the Special Economic Zone for Rwanda and many other areas where processes are happening; industrialisation and productivity is taking place.
So there was a lot of exposure in terms of the opportunities that are abound in Rwanda.
We are hoping that the business delegation here in Rwanda will also travel to Zimbabwe.
But this is a culmination of so many events that happened during the week.
There were five MoUs that were signed; among those MoUs we had the trade MoU, there was also an MoU on ICT, and MoU on agriculture.
And these are some of the core issues in terms of trade, even tourism.
You know these two countries have so many similarities.
In Rwanda they are proud of their gorillas, which do very well in terms of tourism; in Zimbabwe, we have our Big Five.
So we have a lot in common. We have Air Zimbabwe they have RwandAir.
So you know we are co-operating and collaborating very well.
And we share a lot of culture, you know. I noticed that the chevron identity which we have in Zimbabwe — that symbol of being Zimbabwean — is the same symbol that is also here in Rwanda.
So we do have not just economics and business to talk about, but our cultures. We have so many similarities.
Even the languages, there are so many words that are similar, you know. We are one people that are integrated.
But we just didn’t know much about each other.
We, therefore, remain very proud of Presidents Mnangagwa and Paul Kagame who saw it fit to ensure that we are close to each other and that they know each other, they deepen their relations.
And you heard it for yourself.
You of course know that today our two golf teams for Zimbabwe and Rwanda played together, the businesspeople, but you also heard that in a few weeks, golf players from Rwanda are also going to play golf in Zimbabwe.
So we have so many of these things that are going to be happening.
We can only be proud as an African people because we are really integrating not just in commerce, but as a people.
You also heard President Kagame saying let us have people from Zimbabwe coming to assist Rwanda in terms of education.
You know, this is why he called for Zimbabweans here in Rwanda and I am certain that our Government will make this request a reality in terms of implementing this understanding.
Because there is a general understanding, the relations are excellent and we are proud of that, and we are proud of our two Presidents in terms of the leadership they are showing.
They are showing us as a united people, sharing knowledge, sharing even trade.
So I must say it is not just about this.
Earlier on in March, six MoUs were signed; one in communication was also signed then, another one related to prisons and rehabilitation.
So there are six of them that were signed and we also had the mining and the energy MoUs that were signed.
This is why you see that the Rwanda Energy Group and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority are in an understanding of doing business together, (and) of exchanging and sharing knowledge.
Now they are working on some projects in Zimbabwe related to electricity transmission, to electricity meters and to street lighting and projects like that.
Zimbabwe is also providing some training to engineers from Rwanda, and Zimbabwe will be providing transformers to Rwanda.
So there is a lot of great work that is happening.
VR: On that note Ambassador, I am curious to know. What has happened now to elicit so much activity between the two countries, particularly this year, what has really happened behind the scenes?
A: Before I answer your question, I really wanted to highlight that we have had high-level engagements including through our Minister.
We also had Minister of Transport and Infrastructural (Development), Minister Mhona. We also had the Speaker of Parliament Honourable Mudenda visiting Rwanda.
We also had Minister Kazembe Kazembe visiting Rwanda and their counterparts have also said they are ready to visit Zimbabwe.
It is a reciprocal relationship that is there because they see that each side can provide goods and services in line with our African Free Trade Area that is among us.
So we are very happy about the relations that are improving like this at such a fast pace.
I must thank President Mnangagwa and President Kagame for that because it was in their wisdom that they saw it fit . . . that you know . . . Rwanda to Zimbabwe and in the same year also Zimbabwe to Rwanda.
So there is now improvement in terms of understanding the country, the opportunities and making the information available to our governments — the two governments.
So now it is like discovering each other.
You know you can live with your own family members and you don’t know much about them until you get to eat together, then you are sharing stories, (and) what happened in the past.
You begin to share, understanding each other.
You even see colours, even the chevron pattern.
I also noticed that here they have the chevron pattern, and in Zimbabwe we value and cherish that, and we have it on our national dress.
So imagine on our national dresses it is the same.
And here if you look at the way they dress, their traditional dress, also if you remember the dressing of Mbuya Nehanda, it is almost the same.
I can say there is even that spiritual connection between the two countries.
There is a lot we share.
I think its history as Africans, this is why in my own view, why we are sharing.
They also eat millet, sorghum, groundnuts and its exactly what we have back home.
You know the issue of valuing the family unit extended family and community at large, it is the same, they do the same.
So we have the same values, even respecting our traditional leadership, the village heads, it is also the same.
VR: So you being the first Ambassador how has it been, how do you describe that terrain?
CM: I think I said yesterday Zimbabwe is open for business and Rwanda is in business.
So if you combine the two, we are all talking of implementing the business strategies that are open and easy for people.
Doing business is an easy and simple way to transform the lives of our people.
This is why in Rwanda it takes six hours to register a company from anywhere and you are already in business.
Here, we have Rwanda Development Board and in Zimbabwe we have our ZIDA, so you can see we have a lot of similarities and the two nations are doing great I must say.
And you can see the way President Mnangagwa works every day, emphasising on production and production, and you can see what is happening with our roads, the transformation that is there is amazing.
You can imagine the Seke community waking up with a new road and other feeder roads.
Talk of the Beitbridge road development, the Harare-Mutare Road.
There is that and if you look at the new Parliament Building, the housing projects in Zimbabwe, that is also the spirit here in Rwanda.
Everyday there are a lot of roads being made, even sports facilities. We can do all these developments; we must all have facilities at home.
This is why you also see President Kagame likes, loves Arsenal and here he is always promoting sports.
Twice a month, we have car-free days.
You can see the same if you look at our own President Mnangagwa there, the teams Dynamos and Highlanders visiting him at State House.
Not just those, even youngsters that went there to the State House, even the boxers.
You know even the personalities of (Passion) Java, Mai Titi and so forth.
That is being open.
VR: So, how can we sustain this relationship where today we are the best of friends, Zimbabwe and Rwanda . . . ?
CM: There should be political will to continue to deepen the relations.
You can see that there is reciprocity, you saw it with the Zimbabwean golfers, the Zimbabwean businesspeople playing; I also played.
You can see that in Zimbabwe, we are using our own energy, hands and minds to make a difference.
You know that story he was telling us about litter dropping, so it’s a choice that was made by Rwanda to make Rwanda clean. So it’s those things, those are the strategies, making choices and very difficult situations that you find yourself in as countries.
VR: What would you want Zimbabwe to emulate about Rwanda?
CM: The other issue is about littering, because litter is a cost.
Someone is deciding to litter, imagine if everyone decides not to throw litter, it means that no one is going to pick litter because it is not going to be there . . . They produce their things on their own; they still work as co-operatives and produce.
So I feel that is a good way of life, working together as a community.
Coming to Zimbabwe, in terms of what Rwanda can learn from Zimbabwe, there is resilience that Zimbabwe has, resilience as a people.
When they made a choice . . . they have made a decision to say let us use our hands, let us use our minds and planning power to produce, and you know (what happened) with Pfumvudza.
To see everyone tilling the land, you know, digging those holes and having an increase in terms of production, that is really something that I really admire.
Every household in Zimbabwe should be given merit for being resilience.
In Zimbabwe we baked our own bread, people eat rice even at breakfast time. Sometimes I hear people saying that aaah, but it’s very traditional and healthy to do so. That is the alternative that became available, to say, if I can’t have bread, what can I have?
Then you have sweet potatoes, then you have those ordinary ones because you are planting them on your own.
You are nurturing them until you can consume them.
So now, with some other products, we just used to go to the shops, but now can you see how people are getting into producing for their tables; they produce to eat.
At people’s backyards even in towns you see they do lettuce, they do onions because they want to consume what they have produced.
It is coming from the vision of the President, so that is really one issue that I think we can share with Rwanda.
But Rwanda is also doing the same because people here also have three rain seasons in a year, so they are always producing as well.
They till their land.
We actually have many people preferring to stay out in the districts in rural areas because they are always producing potatoes, bananas, vegetables and they eat very healthy I must say.
They have a lot of vegetables in their diet, which is really good.
That’s one area where we can exchange notes because both sides are doing great.
VR: So still on similarities, we have the Buy Zimbabwe Campaign and here I think they have what they call Made in Rwanda. How similar are those two?
CM: They are very much similar; it is an area also where I can say Zimbabwe has done very well because we have a lot of varied products in Zimbabwe.
The Buy Zimbabwe is basically made in Zimbabwe, that’s what it is.
We have a lot that is made in Zimbabwe. We know even the human capital is made in Zimbabwe.
You can see that we have exported a lot of this human capital and we do benefit as a country as well from the Diaspora remittances, which is a good thing; value the Diaspora.
It’s part of the economy, we are adding the value in a great way as well.
VR: So how many diasporians are here in Rwanda?
CM: There are 60 people. Some come on short-term contract, so if we include these . . . we can get to a hundred or more.
I tell you there is a lot of travel between these countries.
Some are into production even for this region, so it’s not just Rwanda as the market, we also have a number of people in the UNDP family, others in health.
VR: How do you describe the just-ended Rwanda-Zimbabwe Trade and Investment Conference?
CM: It was a great conference. The signing of those MOUs was very significant and as you heard the Rwanda business community is keen to come to Zimbabwe.
President Kagame himself took time to attend, which shows commitment at such high levels.
He said Rwanda is ready to do business with Zimbabwe. So there was a lot. Some even clinched deals while others are in discussions.
So there was a lot in terms of business.
I think those strong linkages are coming out of the conference.
We must acknowledge our two Presidents for creating an enabling environment and an enabling framework. So there is going to be a lot of activity I can tell you.
VR: I was interacting over the last few days with a lot of Rwandans and Zimbabweans based here who commended you for working extremely hard to make things happen. What drives you?
CM: I am driven and inspired by the mandate I was given by my principal, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, HE E.D Mnangagwa.
The emphasis of my work is economic diplomacy, to improve the livelihoods of our people and in particular to increase trade flows between our two great countries, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.
VR: Thank you very much for your time Ambassador. If you have any special message?
CM: My special message to the people of Zimbabwe is that let us continue working hard and focusing more on production and production!
We also continue to emphasise our foreign policy of affirmation, engagement and re-engagement.