By David Himbara
President Paul Kagame, it appears that you are confused. You relentlessly proclaimed that foreign aid is bad for Rwanda and Africa. For a decade and half, you persisted in demanding that aid donors should instead open their markets so that Rwanda can trade its way into prosperity. The U.S. did precisely that by giving you market access free of import duties. But you just made U-turn. You are rejecting American trade arrangement. What a shame.
Kagame, as early as 2004, you advocated trade and investment for Africa while expressing the view that aid was a trap into poverty:
”In Africa today, we recognise that trade and investment, and not aid, are pillars of development.
We are all turning to trade as the engine for our growth and development after many decades of donor-aided development that failed to make an impact on our economies, mainly because it was not aimed at building a basis for market-driven economic growth anyway.
It has instead created an aid dependency cycle from which many have failed to extricate themselves.”
Kagame, here is how, in 2009, you forcefully rejected foreign aid in favor of trade and investment for Africa:
”Development aid, fashioned on this skewed relationship, has long been a key source of income for the continent. While helpful, aid has not delivered sustainable development. It is clear that trade and investment bring greater opportunity for wealth creation. Africa welcomes investment, from the east and west, north and south, and Rwanda is no exception. We want investment that offers skills and jobs, encourages entrepreneurship, and provides the opportunity to improve millions of lives.
This call for investment and trade rather than traditional aid does not mean the latter’s contribution to addressing poverty is not recognized. However, the fundamental problem with the current development aid practice is the danger countries face as they become perpetually reliant on handouts.
For too long, we have not been able to trade fairly with Europe and the US; trade barriers and subsidies, particularly in agriculture, have protected external markets from African products, hindering our ability to trade as equals. Investment and trade with willing countries, including intra-African trade, help the continent to build a much-needed culture of entrepreneurship and development.
A trade relationship built on this new approach would be more helpful in reaching what should be our common goal: sustainable development, mutual prosperity, and respect.”
Kagame, in 2017, you once again said that Africa needs trade, not aid. Here is how you put it:
”The time is right to put commercial and investment relations at the centre of our joint agenda. A broader relationship is therefore necessary between Africa and higher-income countries, together with the international financial institutions that serve us all.”
Kagame, this is what you said in March 2018 when the African heads of were signing the continental free trade area agreement:
“The promise of free trade and free movement is prosperity for all Africans, because we are prioritising the production of value-added goods and services that are “Made in Africa”.
The advantages we gain by creating one African market will also benefit our trading partners around the world, and that is a good thing.
At the same time, we will be in a better position to leverage our growing strength and unity to secure Africa’s rightful interests in the international arena.”
Kagame, now you are singing a different tune — you are rejecting trade with the United States
Kagame, to enhance Africa’s trade, the United States enacted as public law the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2000. AGOA has since been renewed to 2025. According to this law, products made in an AGOA beneficiary country enter the United States free of import duties. AGOA currently applies to over 6,500 tariff lines, including the apparel sector.
Kagame, as you would expect, AGOA calls for a two-way trade between the United States and Africa. According to the AGOA Law, the U.S. expects the following, among others:
”the elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment, including by —
(i) the provision of national treatment and measures to create an environment conducive to domestic and foreign investment;
(ii) the protection of intellectual property; and
(iii) the resolution of bilateral trade and investment disputes.
Kagame, trade as opposed aid is what you have been loudly clamouring for. The United States gave you market access free of import duties until 2025. And what are you doing now? You are breaking the agreement by blocking American apparel products into the Rwandan market. When the U.S. government warned you that you would be suspended in 60 days unless you abide by AGOA, you adamantly stood by your decision to block American products. If you were a head of democratic state, the people of Rwanda would demand an explanation. But of course, you are an iron-fisted ruler, answerable to no one but yourself, no matter how much pain you inflict on the people of Rwanda.