The Independent (Kampala)

South Sudan: Rwanda Hopeful of South's Strategic Link to North Africa

interview

As south Sudan prepares to become Africa's 54th state, Rwanda's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mary Baine, shares with The Independent's Magnus Mazimpaka Rwanda's expectations for the new state and whether the recent military escalations will affect the country's peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

What does Rwanda expect to gain from an independent south Sudan?

If southern Sudan is peaceful it means that the rest of us will be able to deal with it. When there is a conflict you cannot trade with the country or engage in a lot of developmental projects. So the minute the country is out of conflict it is a direct benefit whichever way you look at it.

And politically?

If you look at the East African region it is basically at the heart of the continent. We have been engaging directly with central Africa and southern Africa, but when we look at our engagement with northern Africa it hasn't been very easy. Southern Sudan being very big and sharing borders with Kenya and Uganda and with the East African Community is not only an economic benefit, but a political benefit because it opens the route to the northern part of Africa. Will Rwanda support south Sudan to join the EAC?

The EAC is really a family. It is a family that is primarily hinged on the quest to improve the livelihood of its people. So, if southern Sudan wants to join the EAC and if you look at its proximity to the EAC it would only make economic and political sense. But there are conditions that are set for joining the EAC that the south will have to meet.Will the south's independence impact Rwanda's relations with north Sudan?

I think every nation has its sovereignty and you deal with the nations in an independent manner. The independence of southern Sudan should not in any way affect our dealings with the north because we deal with them as an individual nation.

What does Rwanda think about the military escalation in Abyei?

Rwanda looks at it with a lot of concern. Conflict is not something that anybody likes and conflict in the region always means that resources are used to manage the conflict that would otherwise be deployed in developmental projects.

Does Rwanda see Bashir as a partner in peace to the conflict?

I don't think it can be an individual who can resolve the conflict because as they say it takes two to tango.

Does Rwanda intend to maintain its peacekeeping mission in Darfur for the long term?

Rwanda went there because as a country that's experienced genocide we are committed to fighting genocide wherever it is, so wherever Rwanda can make a contribution Rwanda is always happy to go and make that contribution. Rwanda took a decision to go into Darfur with the basic principle to protect human lives. We're there on behalf of the international community and I think so long as the conflict is still there, there is always going to be discussion about us being there.

How can you describe the impact Rwanda has had in that region?

It's been a very positive impact. The presence of Rwanda in the region has saved lives. Initially the crisis had reached an epic level where many people were dying. While they still die, the numbers have been reduced. Two, if you look at the forces present in Darfur they have been able to help the community in terms of establishing projects that help their livelihood. It is also a very difficult region in terms of employment and so on; our forces have been able to deal in community work and bring back honor to the communities they serve. It is a force that not only ensures that the fighting is not affecting the people, but they also go the extra mile to make sure they impact positively on people's lives.

Can you mention some of the challenges our soldiers face in Darfur?

Part of the challenge is the climate, but I think the biggest challenge is that they went there because there is a conflict. The conflict has not abated, the conflict is still ongoing and the process in terms of attaining peace is quite slow. The second challenge is maintaining the force there in terms of resources. They are far from home, they need food and other resources to sustain them and above all it means that you're managing a force in a foreign land.

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