I’m surprised that there wasn’t more fanfare in the local media when Gao Hucheng came calling. Don’t know him? That’s a shame. He is the International Trade Representative of the Peoples Republic of China and vice-Commerce minister to boot. Jetting into the country on Wednesday with a delegation of twelve officials, he signed a raft of deals with the Rwandan government that included about 18 million dollars in grants and interest-free loans. But what piqued my interest wasn’t what was signed but rather the overall message that emanated from both sides.
Addressing the Chinese, Foreign Minister Mushikiwabo said “The Government has a clear understanding that meaningful and sustainable development can only result from private business engagement. It is in this regard that I wish to suggest that our bilateral cooperation should concentrate on efforts to promote Chinese investment in Rwanda”. To which the Trade Representative replied, “China will facilitate investment in key sectors in Rwanda such as mining, ICT and infrastructure. We will start new projects in various areas ranging from vocational schools, cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector and solar energy.”
The belief that ‘trade not aid’ will catapult Rwanda into middle-income country status is something that has been taken to heart. And although presently Rwanda-Sino trade is up to 80 million dollars, it certainly can do better. With probably the biggest reserves of foreign exchanges in the world and ranked ahead of the United Kingdom and Japan in terms of providing foreign direct investment, China can only become a better and better prospect for Rwanda. But to be able to do that we have to have a competitive advantage that no other potential investment target has. We don’t have the minerals of DR Congo nor do we have the other advantages that other EAC countries have. I’m not saying that we don’t have competitive advantages (our ranking in the World Bank Doing Business Reports prove that), but we need something that no other nation can provide. I suggest Mandarin.
It’s almost impossible to do business without communication and although the international language of business is English, how long will that remain? The most widely spoken language in the world is Mandarin, not English. So while I see English schools sprouting all over the city, I don’t know of one school teaching Mandarin.
We need business people who can enter boardrooms in Beijing and make multi-million dollar deals, we need civil servants able to negotiate their counterparts and we need students able to study in the prestigious universities and colleges. We must be able to tap into China’s phenomenal growth.
The Chinese government is seen in the West as a predatory animal hell-bent on gobbling up our mineral wealth while thwarting our democratic aspirations. Here is a huge fact check. We, Africans, have the choice whether we become real partners in our own development, or vassal states. Rwanda is aiming to become a real partner. But we need to be able to ‘talk the talk’, and not just walk the walk.