FEATURED: How Rwanda and Japan Have Deepened Diplomatic Relations

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Vincent Biruta and H.E. Mr. Masahiro Imai, Ambassador of Japan to Rwanda

The Emperor’s Birthday

On February 23, I am privileged to commemorate the 61st birthday of His Majesty, the 126th Emperor of Japan. His Majesty Naruhito acceded to the throne on May 1, 2019, and this is the third year since we entered a new era. Indeed, the year 2019 was a notable year not only for Japan itself, but also for our relationship with African countries. In 2019, Japan hosted the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7), and His Excellency President Kagame participated in this important event. Last year has been a special year for all of us around the world with the new challenges for health and well-being, which we are still facing in 2021.

We appreciate the consistent efforts of the Government of Rwanda in responding effectively to this worldwide crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Looking ahead to a brighter future, I would like us to take a quick dive into the history and the prospect of Japan-Rwanda relations on this memorable occasion:

The History of Japan-Rwanda relation

The diplomatic relationship between Japan and Rwanda dates back to 1962, the year Rwanda gained independence. In this earliest era, a Japanese banker, Masaya Hattori, became the first Governor of the Central Bank of Rwanda upon the request of IMF (International Monetary Fund). Hattori devoted himself to increasing and diversifying agricultural production as well as establishing its trading system. His contribution has always been a milestone in the history of Japan’s engagement in the development of Rwanda.

The relationship between Japan and Rwanda has been deepened through various cooperation projects as Rwanda’s reconstruction efforts progressed: His Excellency President Kagame has visited Japan three (3) times on the occasion of TICAD. Based on the strengthened bilateral relation, the Embassy of Japan was established in Kigali in 2010.

Development Cooperation

Japan’s development cooperation in Rwanda is made through loans, grants, and technical cooperation. As of now, economic infrastructure development, agricultural development, social service improvement, and human resources development for sustainable growth and job creation are Japan’s four priority areas of assistance to Rwanda. While we take into account the VISION 2020 and Rwanda’s other national policies, we can never overlook the importance of those areas in the development and growth of Rwanda’s economy.

In 2020, Japan realized projects to support Rwanda’s national response to the COVID-19 pandemic in partnership with UNDP, UNICEF, and UN Women. Also, we provided medical equipment to hospitals and laboratories in Kigali and all four provinces of Rwanda so as to strengthen the country’s health system. There are other efforts Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been making on top of its technical cooperation.

Business

Having worked in the private sector in Japan, I believe the promotion of investments and the introduction of money from Japanese private sector is a vital key to the growth of Rwandan economy and an important step toward further consolidation of Japan-Rwanda relationship, which is already robust.

The Rwandan Government is also keen to reinforce business ties between the two countries, and with their strong engagement, the number of Japanese companies has increased from 4 to 30 since 2014. As a businessman-turned-diplomat, my goal is to further contribute to the promotion of Japanese investment in Rwanda.

Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day: We need to create business opportunities with the involvement of different actors step by step. JICA is active in facilitating public-private partnerships using different schemes. Municipalities in Japan also play an important role. The City of Kobe is keen to cooperate with the City of Kigali and the Ministry of ICT in the field of ICT business; and the City of Hachimantai has been in close cooperation with Rwanda on agribusiness.

Although many activities are constrained due to the pandemic, we remain eager to spur economic cooperation between the two countries. In this regard, the Embassy of Japan will organise a business webinar in March 2021 to facilitate the establishment of collaboration between Rwandan entrepreneurs and government officials and Japanese businesses.

Culture

Finally, strengthening the cultural ties is of paramount importance for further development of Japan-Rwanda relationship.

Among Rwandan people, Karate is perhaps the most famous and popular Japanese traditional sport and culture. The Embassy of Japan organised the Karate Ambassador’s Cup five times in close cooperation with FERWAKA. In respectfully considering his contribution towards promotion of Karate and bridging the two cultures, Theo Uwayo, President of FERWAKA was awarded the decoration ‘‘The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver ray’’. Unfortunately, neither the conferment ceremony for Uwayo nor the Ambassodr’s Cup were organized last year due to Covid-19. However, we remain active in all possible ways to encourage the cultural and sports exchange between Japan and Rwanda.

Furthermore, in 2021, Japan is going to host the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games. Japan is devoting all necessary efforts to organise the Tokyo 2020 games in the respect of Fundamental Principles of Olympism. In regard to Rwandan Olympians, the aforementioned City of Hachimantai will be the host town of Rwandan national teams. I wish great success to the Rwandan players in the Tokyo 2020 game.

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