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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rwanda gets ready for Bush

KIGALI - As the sun set over the picturesque horizon of Kigali, the capital city of 'the country of a thousand hills' yesterday, there was an usual ease as to how the residents went about their business. Apart from flag posts bearing American and Rwandan flags at strategic positions in the city, there isn't much else to show of US President George Bush's visit to this tiny East African nation; no conspicuous vicious patrols by uniformed security personnel, a couple of idlers being rounded up in down town Kigali. But according to residents, this is routine.

The only unfamiliar thing is the roar of huge Air Force plane engines over the skies of Kigali International Airport; a sound neighbours have had to endure since the early hours of Sunday. Kigali city is renown for its spick and span outlook, and so there are no last-minute cleanups and fixes ahead of Bush's visit. Whereas the paint on buildings looks immaculately shinny, it is not wet and freshly applied; the lawns appear just too used to routine manicures.

However, behind all this too-good-to-be-true demeanor, there are mixed feelings in the general populace about the visit of President Bush, and whether or not it will have a deep-reaching effect on their individual ways of life. "Oh, I am very happy about Bush's visit, because I am going to see him for the first time with my naked eye," said Delphine Mukahirwa, a tailor on Nyabugogo Avenue in Kigali. "America! America! Bush!," chanted a group of five boys pointing at US flags being erected at the city centre roundabout in Kwarubangura. Aphrodise Ndagijimana, a motorcycle rider in Kigali, believes President Bush's visit would help to strengthen trade and political relations between Rwanda and the US. "The talks between the two presidents will at least come out with suitable policies that benefit even small scale business operators like me," he said in the local dialect Kinyarwanda.

Kassim Habukubaho, a bus driver, though speaking in Kinyarwanda, was gobsmacking in his knowledge about America's foreign policy and how best Rwanda could benefit from its 'altruism'. "Aid is not the solution; the US should focus on improving projects, innovations and works of individual Rwandese in terms of financing, he argued. "This is because budget financing and direct finances to government could end up being embezzled or taken to other government priority sectors without necessarily reaching the common man within the shortest time possible. On the other hand, rather than giving us aid, allowing us to trade freely with them on equal terms would be a better solution to the biting poverty experienced by the common people here," he added.

Habukubaho has probably listened too much to his president, who has time and again argued that Africa needs not to be seen as an object of charity, but rather a strategic development partner. During this visit, President Bush and his Rwandese counterpart Kagame are expected to sign a bilateral investment treaty, which has been widely described as "America's first such treaty in sub-Saharan Africa in nearly a decade." Over the last five years African nations have seen an exponential increase in development and direct humanitarian aid from the United States as well as benefited from debt relief. Over the same period, trade between the US and the continent has more than doubled with sub-Saharan economies achieving higher levels of growth amid lowered inflation.

For Rwanda, trade with the US rose by 37 per cent in the first eight months of last year to $ 18.6 million, of which $7 million was in imports, mostly Tungsten and coffee.

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