Rwanda’s Economic Diplomacy and the Opportunities for Enhanced South-South Cooperation

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The Human Development Report, recently published by the Rwanda Country Office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), highlighted the important contributions of home-grown Initiatives to improving Rwanda’s Human Development Index (HDI) across social, economic and health indicators. Yet, as the world enters the final decade of Agenda 2030 – when the global community aims to have eradicated extreme poverty – and for the first time since the HDI was utilised, many countries have either seen their human development indicators stagnating or going backwards amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This guarantees that much of the emphasis in Africa and the world will be on the prospects for economic recovery and supporting efforts towards overcoming the health and economic effects of the pandemic. Much of the focus will also turn to the need to support the creation of regional value chains in Africa and the global South in order for the continent to be in a more resilient position to face future pandemics, thus necessitating mutually beneficial relations in development cooperation, trade, and investment. All of these will play a complementary role in reinforcing the importance of economic diplomacy not only as an imperative for Rwanda but also as an imperative for Rwanda’s neighbours and partners beyond Africa.

International Development Cooperation (including South-South & triangular cooperation) is a core component of International Cooperation. Rwanda’s engagement in South-South Cooperation (SSC) brings unique experiences on how to overcome challenges with limited resources. This gives Rwanda an important comparative advantage to play a proactive role and add its voice to an evolving international development landscape.

As one of the institutions in charge of Rwanda’s development cooperation implementation, Rwanda Cooperation has the mandate to promote Rwanda’s Innovative Development Initiatives (home-grown initiatives and good practices) within the global South, which is embedded within the objectives of Rwanda’s economic diplomacy. The institution works in close collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, as well as the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, in scaling up various development programmes and projects through knowledge exchange on Rwanda’s Innovative Development Initiatives.

In offering programmes geared towards promoting and sharing Rwanda’s home-grown initiatives and good practices, Rwanda Cooperation aligns itself not only to Rwanda’s Economic Diplomacy objectives but also to the country’s South-South Cooperation (SSC) Strategy, which puts emphasis on the utility of triangular cooperation as a complement to SSC.

Furthermore, the nature and scope of Rwanda Cooperation’s work also allow it to take an active role in building negotiating capabilities within Rwanda’s diplomatic network and other stakeholders. It is also important to note that the sharing of Rwanda’s know-how is an integral part of the institution’s activities. Expanding the knowledge cooperation programmes will thus act as a catalyst for attracting more tourism and investment in the economy, through providing a platform to explore mutually beneficial economic activities.

Indeed, in contemporary times, development cooperation is not only limited to least developed countries but also to middle-income countries that continue to grapple with development challenges and the persistence of poverty. A number of these countries, which are also close trade partners with Rwanda and are seeking to increase their knowledge of the country and its systems, often have available resources for knowledge exchange programmes and cooperation, with a view to better understanding Rwanda’s emerging economic landscape and its governing regulatory frameworks.

While the demand-driven approach is important to the work of Rwanda Cooperation, the nature of the said mandate gives the institution the ability and agility to proactively establish relations and partnerships with governments, public institutions, and civil society organisations in the global South, as well as with development partners in the global North, creating greater interest in its programmes, expertise, and services. The organisation’s ability to proactively initiate and participate in new South-South and triangular cooperation projects allows it to perform an important dual role of meeting the demands of its existing development partners through knowledge cooperation, study visits, and training, while also initiating new projects and partnerships by providing research and advisory support, as well as project implementation services through various areas of expertise.

Rwanda Cooperation is also forging partnerships with academic institutions and think tanks in Rwanda and abroad, especially given the alignment with Rwanda’s Economic Diplomacy’s priorities of enhancing the attractiveness of the country’s higher education and knowledge sector.  Indeed, much of the work of Rwanda Cooperation is rooted in the belief that, through knowledge exchange, Rwanda and partner countries can benefit from each other’s knowledge and experiences to support their continued growth and development, which is a key tenet to economic diplomacy.

With the growth of economic diplomacy in the country’s foreign policy orientation, Rwanda Cooperation envisions to include offering exchanges and programmes in the area of aid for trade. These exchanges are geared towards finding mutual opportunities to unlock the economic potential in a continent that is set to increase its population to above 2 billion by 2050 and is on the verge of creating the largest free trade area in the world through the AfCFTA. Exchanges can thus also be geared towards sharing how Rwanda has managed to become an increasingly important business and technology hub while also conducting exchanges on trade facilitation to ensure a more open and efficient trading landscape for a landlocked country needing open access to larger markets.

Rwanda’s economic diplomacy and SSC strategy both lay a foundation for an outward-looking engagement that brings in Rwanda’s diplomatic missions and foreign missions accredited in Rwanda. In aligning these two frameworks, Rwanda will also be in a position to emphasise the importance of triangular cooperation, which should not be seen in isolation, but as part of a wider range of tools that could possibly be deployed in realising various development goals at both the national and international levels.

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