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Rwanda envoy: BRI brings benefits, not 'debt traps'

By Xu Wei | China Daily | Updated: 2023-07-14 07:02

China's presence in Africa is "not anything close to trying to put Africa into a debt trap", and Beijing has played a critical role in shoring up infrastructure development, transforming the economy and improving people's well-being in Africa, a senior Rwandan diplomat said.

In a recent interview, James Kimonyo, Rwanda's ambassador to China, dismissed claims that the Belt and Road Initiative has led to "debt traps" in participating countries, saying that the inception of the China-proposed initiative a decade ago has instead led to "tangible milestones" in participating countries. He said the "debt trap" theories are "perceptional and diversionary".

Citing the debt structure of Rwanda as an example, Kimonyo said that less than 10 percent of the African country's external debts are from China, while a majority of them are from international financial institutions and other lenders, mostly from Europe and North America.

"So there is no way you can tell me that Rwanda is falling into a debt trap because China is giving us money," he said. "We borrow money because we know these projects are going to have a real impact on our economy. China, on the other hand, does not recklessly lend money."

Kimonyo explained that Beijing has a mechanism for tight scrutiny of projects conducted under the BRI framework.

"Rwanda is looking for more resources to invest in projects ... that are going to make a difference to our economic transformation," he said, adding that the BRI has served to "address a very critical issue of economic development — infrastructure and connectivity".

"There's no way you can be talking about economic development or national strategy for transformation without building strong and efficient infrastructure and connectivity," he stressed.

Kimonyo noted that Rwanda has seen a number of BRI projects being completed in the country, which are expected to help connect it with neighboring nations. "We have hydropower projects. We have hospitals. ... We have technology platforms that have been built," he said.

Kimonyo highlighted the crucial role of the BRI in facilitating the development of a unified market in Africa, saying that better connectivity, including roads, railways and effective transportation systems, is a must to promote the growth of trade on the continent.

"Looking into the future, we need to continue embracing the purpose and objectives of the BRI," he said, underlining that the two countries should continue to work together and pool resources for executing some of these important projects.

"I have to emphasize the fact that Rwanda is happy to continue working with China because the programs that are implemented are poised to generate the impact we need in terms of economic transformation," he added.

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, trade between China and Rwanda grew by 31.2 percent year-on-year in 2022 to $477 million, and China has become the largest source of foreign direct investment for the African country.

Desire Rusatira, head of the reinvestment and investor aftercare department at the Rwanda Development Board, said his country is looking to attract more investment from Chinese businesses.

"The numbers speak for themselves. There is a good opportunity for businesspeople from both countries to build up their cooperation and take advantage of the cooperative relations already established," he said.

Rusatira added that there is now a growing trend among the young generation in Rwanda to study the Chinese language, and Chinese people have become the most welcoming presence in the country.

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