China comes to Rwanda bearing gifts, as search for natural resources and political influence increase its engagements in sub-Saharan Africa.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rwanda on Sunday for a two-day state visit, aims at signing several agreements with President Paul Kagame, who is also the chair of the African Union.
The leaders are expected to follow up on a number of agreements on trade, investment, infrastructure and defence, which they discussed during President Kagame’s visit to China last year.
Although experts have continuously pointed out that China’s engagement with Africa targets natural resources and political leverage, the country played down suggestions that it eyes Rwanda’s resources.
“The purpose of the visit is to develop and boost bilateral relations and not to get natural resources from Rwanda or other African countries,” said China’s ambassador to Rwanda, Rao Hongwei.
His sentiments are shared by Rwandan lawmakers, who said President Jinping’s visit is focused on investment promotion and strong political ties.
“Of course China has its own interests, but the two countries are mainly looking to grow investment ties,” said Juvenal Nkusi, a Member of Parliament.
Agreements to ratify
China is one of Rwanda’s largest trading partners. Trade volumes between Rwanda and China registered $157 million in 2017, an increase of 11 per cent compared with 2016.
Rwanda mainly imports machinery, accessories, building materials and medical supplies from China, while major exports are coffee, tea, minerals and animal hides.
Experts argue that although cautious optimism is necessary while opening up to Chinese investments, Africa needs to exploit China’s willingness to provide alternative bilateral opportunities that compete with interests from western countries.
Although economists have often referred to China’s expansionist interests in Africa, Rwanda is confident that its interests will come first in any negotiations with President Xi.
“These are two friendly countries that have a number of agreements that need to be ratified to promote trade and bilateral cooperation,” said Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs.
President Kagame visited China in March 2017 and is expected in Beijing this September for the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation.
Since 2008, China has trained hundreds of Rwandan soldiers.
Ahead of President Xi’s visit, Rwanda received multiple Chinese delegations, including a military one.
Details of the military agreements between Rwanda and China are largely undisclosed, but both states maintain that they deal in logistical and training support.
As early as 2010, most of the military equipment that Rwanda’s army used in peacekeeping missions was from China.