By Magnus Mazimpaka
On May 10, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his team had a luncheon with President Paul Kagame at state house in Kigali. Later, at a joint press briefing on Blair’s third visit to Rwanda, President Kagame told journalists that he was happy to have ”ur usual guest and a friend of Rwanda,’ join him for lunch. Blair’s return to Rwanda is part of his Africa Governance Initiative, and President Kagame said he was also in Kigali to see for himself the progress Rwanda is making in its partnership with the government of Rwanda.
The Office of Tony Blair (OTB) has had a team of experts in Rwanda since July 2008 who will stay in Kigali for 12 months to help government institutions and some private sector businesses build their capacities.
The team is working closely with different individuals to strengthen good governance in Kagame’s administration. They are helping build capacity in the President’s office, the Prime Minister’s office and to assist the cabinet process.
“We work in a very strong partnership where not only gaps are filled but more importantly there is transferring of skills,” Kagame said. ‘Tony Blair himself has been a strong force behind this.’
Another purpose of bringing this expertise and consultancy to Rwanda is to enrich the public policy debate and strengthen the indigenous capacity for independent policy development by helping to set up Rwanda’s first think-tank.
This kind of consultancy is different from the ordinary support offered by other friends and development partners, which often times shoots the beneficiary in the foot.
“Our consultancy is not to tell the people of Rwanda what to do, but to help get done what the president wants,” Blair said.
Blair has been a good friend of Africa in general, trying to promote private sector investment and calling for foreign investors to drive Africa’s development.
He has lobbied for all sorts of policies and support for Africa with a belief that intervening to assist poor African countries is not only morally right, but also in the interest of the developed world.
In 2007, just before Blair completed two consecutive terms as UK’s Premier, he said, ‘I don’t believe that in this time, in the early 21st century, international politics can be just about nations’ interests, narrowly and traditionally defined.’
At this luncheon, President Kagame said his government does not only receive consultancy services, but notably works with Blair to mobilise investments for Rwanda.
“We need capacity, we need investment and all put together certainly helps our development process and growth of our economy,” said Kagame.
Observers say that Blair sees intervention in Africa as a ‘moral’ obligation. This is true for various reasons, which he has profoundly and frequently implied in his public speeches.
The most challenging aspect of Bair’s crusade of volunteerism is to promote the idea that Rwanda is ready for business, among others. President Kagame has tried whatever it takes to persuade foreign investors to take an interest in Rwanda and Africa.
But it is quite a difficult task to convince investors, just 15 years after the mayhem that befell this country, that Rwanda is the safest country in Africa. That it has the most organised government institutions, good policies that favour investors and is full of opportunities across the country.
However, Blair, who has toured almost the whole country and has been given proper information about investment opportunities, said it can be a lot easier to sell Rwanda today than it was a few years back.
He stressed that, ‘The President himself has his personal credibility [‘¦] and that is an asset for the country.’
“I think when people come here and see a lot happening, they may get a lot of confidence from that,” added Blair.
It is challenging to engage people in investments, he said, but remarked that it is very clear that Rwanda is positioning itself to take advantage of the opportunities to present itself to the world in the right way.
In spite of the criticism about Kagame’s leadership, as some observers consider him a progressive dictator, Blair thinks Kagame is a remarkable man with a great vision for the future of Rwanda – a very fascinating and exciting country with vast opportunities. It is this kind of attitude that has led Kagame to refer to him as an usual guest and a good friend of Rwanda.