Deals on the cards as Xi Jinping visits Rwanda

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Rwanda on July 22 for a two-day state visit, during which he is expected to sign a number of agreements on trade, investment, infrastructure and defence.

President Xi’s visit could help secure funding for key roads, and the expansion of the national carrier RwandAir.

However, the financing of the planned standard gauge railway linking Rwanda to the Indian Ocean will not be on the cards.

“There are a number of agreements, MoUs and projects that will be signed. We are finalising them, but financing the SGR is not among them,” Rwanda’s State Minister of Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe told The EastAfrican.

Rwanda is exploring two lines, one linking Kigali to Dar es Salaam and another to Mombasa.

In January, Rwanda and Tanzania announced plans to embark on the construction of the Kigali-Isaka line by October this year, but sources say the project is on hold and will not meet the deadline.

The 521-km Kigali-Isaka line is expected to cost at least $2.5 billion, according to the Ministry of Infrastructure. Kigali is also looking at the possibility of a rail connection to Kampala following the revival of the Northern Corridor Projects.

State Minister for Transport Henri Jado Uwihanganye said details as to whether Rwanda is pursuing both lines or if work on the Kigali-Isaka line will commence in October will be available in August.

Cautious approach

A source in Kigali however says Rwanda has been cautious in its dealings with China. In 2015, China committed over $60 billion to invest in Africa in what President Xi termed a “win-win investment co-operation” between China and African countries.

Last month, Minister Nduhungirehe said the visit will see the two countries further strengthen bilateral relations and “will serve as an occasion to sign new agreements and launch projects that will be of mutual benefit to the two nations.”

President Paul Kagame paid a state visit to China in March 2017. He is also expected in Beijing in September to attend the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation.

In recent years, the Chinese have faced accusations of lending to African countries on unfavourable terms. Chinese investors are being accused of exploiting Africa’s natural resources as well as siphoning capital and importing labour that can be obtained locally.

Rwanda and China, however, maintain mutually beneficial political relations, with Rwanda’s ruling party RPF Inkotanyi maintaining close ties with the Communist Party of China.

Kigali has limited the number of Chinese workers in the country unlike other African countries that are facing an influx of them.

In 2015, the Rwanda government kicked out state-owned Beijing Construction Engineering Group for failing to deliver the Kigali Convention Centre on time and to meet the agreed standards. The Chinese firm was awarded the deal to build the facility in 2009.

Despite the cautious approach, China’s presence is eminent. The Chinese government donated a five-storey ministerial complex worth $37 million.

Construction of the block, located in Kimihurura sector in Kigali, started in 2016 and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. It will host the Prime Minister’s Office, and several ministries and government institutions.

The Ministerial Complex stands adjacent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs block, which was donated by China and completed in 2009 and is worth about $8.9 million.

Last year, Chinese investments in Rwanda were estimated at $200 million. Rwanda imported goods worth over $358 million from China the same year. Rwanda also reportedly procures defence and military equipment from China.

President Xi is expected visit Senegal, South Africa and United Arab Emirates (UAE) on this tour kicking off on July 19 to July 24.

According to the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry announcement made on Thursday Xi is paying the state visits at the invitation of Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said in a statement that President Xi is expected to attend the Tenth BRICS summit to be hosted by South Africa from July 25 to July 27.

According to a short statement, on his way home, President Xi is expected to make a stopover in Mauritius. Key on his visit will be exploring investment opportunities and inclusive economic growth according to Chinese officials.

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