22 February 2013

Rwanda: Belgian Companies Defy Govt Directive

A row has erupted between the Belgian Government and the Chamber of Commerce following a decision by some companies to bypass a government directive barring them from doing business with Rwanda. The private sector on the other hand accuses government of mixing politics in their businesses.

As a result, some 30 companies have decided to go on a business trip first to Burundi, then to Rwanda next week. The companies are supported by Awex, a regional export promotion agency in Belgium, and the Brussels Invest and Export Company. Both agencies are umbrella organizations for the business community.

In January, Belgium's foreign affairs minister Didier Reynders said all regional governments and the private sector had to seek government consent before opening any business links with Rwanda. The controversial directive, though not legally binding, was in response to alleged Rwanda involvement in the DRC crisis.

The foreign minister Didier Reynders did visit Rwanda late last year and was reportedly at the centre of an incident at the UN headquarters in New York, when President Kagame supposedly walked out as he spoke. Belgium went on to suspend military cooperation with Rwanda. Separately, a Belgian diplomat was expelled from Kigali early this month for spying.

According to Belgian daily newspaper "La Libre Belgique", Belgian companies have maintained business link with Rwanda despite the unfavourable directives by Didier Reynders, who also acts as the Deputy Prime Minister. Publicly however, the foreign minister has tried to be conciliatory.

"I don't mean that there wouldn't be any economic [business] mission. But it's not time yet", said Reynders in January, adding that it was his mere personal view, which would not, with no doubt, prevent any business missions [from Belgium] from taking place in Rwanda.

Among the 30 Belgian executives travelling to this region on February 26, almost all have indicated that they will continue on to Rwanda. About 15 of these companies, reports the newspaper, have also indicated that they are looking at opportunities in construction, renewable energy and medicine.

Rwanda and Belgium have seen relations deteriorate over the past two years. Last year, a Belgian court froze the bank accounts of Rwanda's embassy in Brussels over a separate case in which a Rwandan man was seeking compensation.

Despite the situation being diplomatic, the Belgian government did react in favour of a partner government.

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