On July 12, Rwandan and Ethiopian officials penned three major bilateral cooperation agreements - a general cooperation agreement, another one establishing an Ethiopia-Rwanda joint permanent ministerial commission, and the strategic partnership agreement.
The strategic partnership agreement, in particular, includes a wide range of areas of cooperation, and it leaves room for, "any other field that might be agreed upon."
The new momentum looks to boost the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on education, economic and social cooperation and the air services agreement signed between the parties on May 22, 1997, and another MoU on defense and military cooperation signed on March 26, 2010.
Under the strategic partnership agreement, the two countries agree to cooperate in a wide range of socio-economic affairs including trade and investment - through creating conducive environment, business reforms and customs cooperation, trade and investment information sharing; promoting textile, leather and tannery industries through technology and skills transfer; promoting policy dialogue and regular exchange of trade industry and investment information.
During the signing ceremony, in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Rwanda's Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, said the signing of the strategic cooperation documents was timely as well as necessary; and it will go a long way in formalizing an effective cooperation framework which will further deepen "our" relations.
"I am convinced that there are capacities to be tapped as well as opportunities waiting to be captured by both sides with the support of the strong political will and a conducive and friendly atmosphere that exists between our two countries," Mushikiwabo said.
"We need to set higher goals for our cooperation in all possible fields and build mechanisms for success. A lot more will be achieved if we set realistic timeframes, ensure progress reporting, and establish effective and efficient monitoring mechanisms."
Ato Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the two countries have a great deal in common and, more importantly, "share similar objectives" with regard to the building of a strong and united Africa within the African Union framework.
Desalegn said: "I am sure you will agree with me that we need to strengthen our relationship to this end. This will also increase the effect of our bilateral relations and enable us to play a more effective and coordinated role at continental level."
"It is my sincere belief that the level of cooperation we have achieved so far can now be continued with even more vigor, purpose and determination in various sectors; with the close friendship and cooperation we have developed over many years."
Promoting institution-to-institution and enterprise-to-enterprise exchanges and SMEs development projects, ensuring innovative financing development for SMEs in both countries and develop mechanisms to encourage partnership and productive chain linkages development, are part of the parcel. In addition, there will be cooperation in capacity building in services sectors such as finance and banking, telecoms, ICT and other services incidental to trade and investment; capacity building and cargo cooperation in civil aviation services.
The two countries also look forward to bilateral and regional water cooperation in water supply and sanitation, irrigation and drainage, waste water treatment, flood control and watershed management; all matters related to Nile Basin Initiatives (NBI) and on equitable utilization of the Basin in accordance with the NBI Cooperation Framework Agreement (CFA); cooperation in renewable energy and environmentally friendly bio-energy development
They will jointly work on developing small and large scale hydroelectric power generation and sharing experience in other sources including solar, biomass and wind; and bilateral and regional power interconnection and power trade arrangements, are also part of the deal.
In agriculture, landlocked and densely populated Rwanda hopes to gain much from cooperating and sharing experiences with Africa's largest coffee producer.
The two countries will cooperate in training and capacity building in irrigation and other high value crops, water shade development, food security and disaster management; transfer of appropriate agro-processing and value added technologies for small scale producers; as well as surveillance and control of livestock, fish and crop diseases, pests, control of water weeds.
They will share experience in animal vaccine production and agricultural extension; exchange information on food commodity exchange; transfer of technology in slaughter and preparation (drying, curing and salting) of hides and skins; exchange of information on coffee certification post-harvest management; share experiences and capacity building in technologies of cassava production in addition to any other fields.
Dr. Theogene Rutagwenda, the Director General of Animal Resources in the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), told The Independent that cooperation usually seeks a win-win situation where one party may be stronger or more advanced and this helps the other to benefit because success is not only about doing a different thing but also doing the same thing differently.
Dr. Rutagwenda said Ethiopia or Rwanda may boost their respective agriculture sectors by cooperating and learning from each other's different aspects of agricultural development, and, ultimately, the Rwandan farmer will gain from improved expertise and technologies.
With one of the biggest economies, by GDP, in East Africa and Central Africa, Ethiopia produces more coffee than any other country in Africa. It is also the 10th largest producer of livestock in the world.
Dr. Rutagwenda said: "Rwanda has fully embraced irrigation. We have a lot to gain from them as theirs is a desert country and they have used that long before. In agro processing, we both grow and export coffee. They will gain from us on coffee washing. We shall share experience on certification."
"Ethiopia has a way they treat their hides and skins and make items like shoes, and belts by artisans - we can share experience in this area. We too have crop intensification and they will learn from us on how we have turned agriculture around and, how we, or they, handle post-harvest. The value addition of the MoU is an increase in working together, training, sharing experiences and learning together and moving ahead together."
Dr. Rutagwenda noted that Ethiopia has the Pan-African Vaccine Production Center which is producing animal vaccines, doing quality control on behalf for the African Union (AU) on all vaccines used in Africa, and "cooperating with them will definitely be useful."
In addition, Dr. Rutagwenda who now serves as the vice president of the world Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Regional Commission for Africa, said, the MoU's last item leaves the cooperation open - "any other field mutually identified"- and perhaps, tomorrow, "a particular disease may strike and we share and cooperate in its fight, or trade in a particular commodity and so on."
Education and Health
In the education and social affairs realm, the two countries will work together in areas of science and technological research; physical education and sport; share experience in the promotion of girl and child education; as well as promoting alternative basic education. Under higher education, they will promote direct cooperation between higher education and research institutions of both countries based on relevant fields and education needs; training and exchange programs [professors, technical personnel and publications]; and will facilitate and allocate scholarships and internships to students from each other in the same conditions as nationals.
There will also be Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) through capacity building in policy development, competence based training as well qualification framework in both formal and informal sector.
In the health sector, the two countries intend to collaborate in areas of HIV/AIDS prevention and control, treatment education/training; Malaria control; epidemiological surveillance, research, exchange of health professional for the purpose of sharing new techniques and technologies; telemedicine networking of health institutions; nutrition; pharmaceuticals and medical consumables; health financing; as well as training and experience sharing in issues such as reproductive health and family planning.
Dr. Jean Bosco Butera, the chairperson of the Rwandan community in Ethiopia, is also optimistic. He hopes the agreements will create enabling conditions for Rwandans to be able to venture into business in Ethiopia. There are over 117 Rwandans in Ethiopia - mostly university students, professionals working in regional and international organizations, in addition to members of the Rwandan diplomatic mission and their families. Dr. Butera told The Independent that the agreements are a valuable opportunity for Rwanda to strengthen cooperation with one of the countries with a fast developing economy on the continent, with the third largest population in Africa and a key player in the broad eastern Africa region.
Dr. Butera said: "As Rwandan community in Ethiopia, we do hope that the agreement will open possibilities to Rwandans to engage into activities both in the business and professional areas. We do hope also that Rwandans and Ethiopians will be able to travel to the respective countries in a framework that facilitates mobility of people like for example it is the case in Eastern Africa community. Indeed, ultimately, talking about an African Union of the people begins by facilitating mobility on the continent among the different countries."
According to Dr. Butera, in the last few years, Rwanda has sent students to Ethiopia to study in academic fields like aviation, engineering and medicine, and an expanded capacity exchange in targeted areas is a domain in which Rwanda can benefit substantially from this cooperation.
"Ethiopia is developing a huge hydroelectric industry. I believe as a member of the Eastern Africa electricity grid entity, Rwanda can benefit from this as the country strives to acquire more energy both industrial and domestic consumption."
"With a population of about 80 million people and being a member of COMESA, Ethiopia constitutes a valuable partner to develop trade ties with and diversify destinations for Rwanda products like Akabanga, Agashya, Rwandan traditional baskets that do sale already very quickly in any trade or diplomatic fairs that are organized in Addis Ababa," Dr. Butera added.
According to Dr. Butera Ethiopians too will benefit, especially in areas like health delivery to communities where a system like the community health insurance system [mutuelle de santé] has made tremendous changes on the lives of grass root communities. "Ethiopia would also benefit in terms of trade exchanges as Rwanda is centrally located in the great lakes region and can serve as a hub for Ethiopian businesses."Landlocked Ethiopia is one of the oldest sites of human existence known to scientists. It is the second-most populous nation on the continent, with over 84,320,000 inhabitants, and the tenth largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2.
Its capital Addis Ababa is currently the headquarters of the African Union, the Pan African Chamber of Commerce, UNECA and the African Standby Force. There are 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia.
Rwanda and Ethiopia will also work together in many areas in the sphere of diplomacy, defense and security including military training, education and technical cooperation; sharing of peace keeping experiences and building peace support operation capabilities; exchange of information on defense, security and intelligence matters; collaboration within the African Standby Force; and in defense science and technology.
They will cooperate in Police training, education and technical cooperation; share Police peace keeping experiences and building peace support operation capabilities; as well as cooperate within the East African Standby Force Police component and East African Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO).