DFID chief Matthew Rycroft talked to Ivan R. Mugisha on the existing relations between British government and the region ahead of Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Rwanda
From your assessment, how prepared is Rwanda to host the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting?
The UK is working side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends in Kigali in preparing for the next summit.
From what I have discussed with officials on this trip, the preparations are on track. I know that your president and the government have ambition. It is brilliant that they volunteered to host.
It is an honour for any country to host the summit as important as Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and we remember it from the London one, what a great opportunity it was. It will be a good opportunity for Rwanda next year.
Does Rwanda meet the UK criteria for hosting Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting?
Well, the only criteria needed is that every other Commonwealth country thinks it is the right thing to do, which is quite a high bar because the Commonwealth operates by consensus.
If there was only one country that had doubts that Rwanda was the right host, then it would not happen. The fact that it was agreed that Rwanda would host is a testament to the progress that the country has made in embracing Commonwealth ideas.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting tends to leave behind controversies, such as how budgets for preparing the summit are used by the host country.
Taking into account the corruption allegations that rocked Uganda after hosting Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2007, are you confident that this will not be the case in Rwanda?
We have confidence in the Rwandan authorities’ ability to prepare and deliver a successful Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and we are working very closely with them.
The UK has spent billions in development projects in Rwanda. How are they coming about?
I am proud to say that the UK was the very first international donor to come to the support of Rwanda after the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.
We have spent over one billion pounds, and that’s a lot of money. This demonstrates our commitment for the long term. We are prepared to continue spending over £80m annually through DFID.
What is the impact of your projects in Rwanda?
We are particularly proud of the fact that two million Rwandans have been lifted out of poverty while we have been working with your country. That is a real measure of success, lifting people out of poverty but we know there is still a lot of work to do.
But poverty has remained persistent in Rwanda, hasn’t it?
Despite high levels of growth and the economy doing pretty well, there are still a stubbornly high number of people living in absolute poverty living in.
And we are particularly focused on those people. That means that we are looking at, for instance, education, not just helping people get into schools but really making sure they learn.
We are thinking about infrastructure, the agricultural sector, generating jobs and help create future export opportunities for Rwanda.
Will that remain the UK’s commitment to Rwanda even when Brexit comes into force?
Well, we already have good bilateral relations with Rwanda and our friends in the EAC and we hope to maintain and build on them even after Brexit.
Does the UK still support the economic Partnership Agreement between the East African Community and the European Union?
Let me tell you very clearly what our position is, which is in advance of leaving the EU. We have prepared the UK preference scheme which will replicate the EU’s Everything but Arms deal to give duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market for exports from low-income countries including Rwanda and EAC.
Lastly, there is a letter that was addressed to President Paul Kagame by five UK members of parliament regarding the imprisonment of General Frank Rusagara and Col Tom Byabagamba. Do you agree with them that these soldiers should be released on compassionate grounds?
This is a letter from the members of parliament writing in their own capacity; it is not a letter from the British government.
We have a different system from that and members of parliament can write to whomever they like about whatever they like whenever they like and this letter is an example of that and I don’t think it is appropriate for me to comment on the specifics of the letter.