CHOGM 2018 - UK-Rwanda Relations By Lord Popat (New African Magazine)
The sun may have set on the 2018 Commonwealth summit, but momentum for Africa is heating up in more ways than one. News that Rwanda will host the next Commonwealth summit in 2020 has been greeted with much enthusiasm in the UK. Rightly so. Rwanda is not only an example of African success and potential, but of immense transformation in the face of adversity. At a time of new beginnings, this is a powerful signal. With Her Majesty the Queen announcing that Prince Charles will succeed her as Head of the Commonwealth, change is afoot. What better way of ushering in the next era than by having our newest member take on the mantle?
The process has already started. The recent summit was much more than a meeting of Heads of State, it was an outreach to businesses, to people, to hearts and minds; a celebration of diverse cultures and national narratives united by the shared bonds of history. It was wonderful to be here and witness first-hand the Commonwealth family of 53 nations in all its colours, out in full splendour.
I particularly welcomed the summit’s emphasis on business, which I hope will translate into a drive for increased trade. The Commonwealth Business Forum which took place within the official programme, brought to light the immense promise and untapped potential within Africa: Six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are there. Africa has some of the most innovative and largest cities, 60 of which now have a population of over 1 million; and it is home to a third of the world’s natural resources.
If Africa is the new economic frontier, Rwanda is its rising star. Since I started my work as Trade Envoy to Rwanda and Uganda, and having visited Rwanda many times, I’ve witnessed its progress with great admiration. The facts speak for themselves. Since 2010, the average economic growth rate has been 7%. In 2014 the World Bank named Rwanda “the most improved economy worldwide”.
In my quest to promote Africa as a destination for UK exporters, Rwanda is the country I highlight. As one of the smallest countries in Africa with one of the fastest growing economies, Rwanda has achieved success against great odds – in defiance of all predictions, and in the face of unspeakable national tragedy. The country’s story is, by all accounts, miraculous.
I recently hosted a special reception in parliament to showcase Rwanda’s achievements in the context of growing trade relations between the UK, India and Africa. The turnout was tremendous. The atmosphere was buzzing. Over 120 guests including business leaders from across the UK-India-Africa triangle were there. We were joined by Members of Parliament and UK Ministers. I was honoured that the Rwandan Trade Minister, Vincent Munyshyeka, joined me on the platform to set out the country’s vision.
The event confirmed to many what I have known for a long time: Rwanda is ripe and ready for business. In February, I had the pleasure of leading a horticultural business delegation to Rwanda which aimed to explore the opportunities on offer. The visit as whole was deemed successful, but the business environment in particular left a lasting impression. Rwanda is ranked as one of the easiest places to do business in the world for a reason: it is fast and refreshingly efficient. This strength – which is its advantage – has not been lost on potential investors.
One of the most exciting developments I have helped secure is a three-year partnership between Rwanda and Arsenal FC which will see Rwanda promoted as a tourist destination on the club’s shirts next season. Rwanda has a burgeoning tourism sector and Arsenal has a massive Rwandan following which make for an excellent collaboration. The deal is a huge breakthrough (even though I am a Tottenham fan!), and one of the strongest signals yet that Rwanda has entered the mainstream.
I have always argued that for export to work, the right infrastructure has to be in place. We need to build bridges, and by that I mean the full panoply of personal connections, institutional and financial support. This includes air routes to African capitals, which will be of paramount importance for exporters going forward. One of my greatest achievements has been to establish a direct route from London to Kigali, which I hope will be the first of many steps that the UK will put in place to strengthen the UK and Rwanda’s connections.
If Rwanda is a glimpse of what’s possible, Africa has a wonderfully bright future ahead. CHOGM 2020 will shine the light on Rwanda. The whole Commonwealth family will be watching.