The Rwandan Cabinet has approved an agreement with Russia to advance the use of nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes,” a move that is expected to bolster relations between the two countries and advance the latter’s interests in the region.
This comes ahead of the first Russia-African Forum next week in the city of Sochi, which President Paul Kagame has confirmed attendance, accompanied by a delegation of senior government officials.
The nuclear power deal was first signed in Moscow last December and will see Russian scientists set up a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology in Kigali.
The deal was boosted in May when a Russian government nuclear parastatal, Rosatom Global, reached an agreement to set up the nuclear plant by 2024—that the government says will help in the advancement of technology in agriculture, energy production and environment protection.
It has signed similar co-operation agreements with Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania even as questions over the appropriateness of the technology loom large.
In June Rwanda commenced negotiations to purchase Russian missile defense systems, as reported by the Russian press, as well as signed agreements to develop a military simulation and training centre in Kigali.
The trade and political relationship between Rwanda and Russia has steadily grown over the years as the European country seeks to compete with the US, China and Western Europe for trade and political influence in Africa.
Minister of Trade and Industry, Soraya Hakuziyaremye, met top Russian politicians in Moscow early this year, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as investors to discuss further trade partnerships.
Ms Hakuzumeremyi said she invited more Russian investors to explore what Rwanda has to offer.
“We want to deal with countries on equal footing, and we consider Russia one of the countries willing and eager to pursue that path,” Ms Hakuziyaremye said.
The EastAfrican reached out to the Russian officials, who said they had also negotiated agreements with different institutions including the Rwanda Development Board, Kigali Military Hospital and the Ministry of Agriculture.
Rwanda’s imports from Russia—mainly cereals, machinery, fertilisers, iron, and steel—increased from $20 million worth in 2017 to $31 million worth in 2018, according to Russia’s Export Centre data.
Exports to Russia—mainly agricultural products—however, remained a paltry $3.6 million worth, an increase from $2.4 million worth from 2017, which is a big negative balance of payment that Rwanda hopes to reverse.
The Putin regime also provides aid to Rwanda amounting to $3.5m per year, mainly towards energy development.
The two countries’ military forces co-operate in training and exchange of information through a commission that was set up in 2017.
Russia’s exports to the East African Community increased from $439.8 million in 2017 to $500 million in 2018, coinciding with a new larger plan by President Putin to restore Russia’s status as a great power.
Kenya is Russia’s biggest trade partner in the EAC, followed by Tanzania, with main imports being chemicals, arms, and machinery.